Starry-eyed surprise: The rise of wireless Internet startups?
By Leslie Ellis and Sara Dirkse
In case you’ve managed to forget the tragic tale of Aereo, brace for some flashbacks. Aereo founder Chet Kanojia announced last week that he is introducing a new Internet service – called “Starry” – that uses millimeter wave technology to wirelessly deliver Internet speeds up to 1GB. Kanojia aims to disrupt the business of broadband with this latest venture, a new take on fixed wireless technology.
“It costs the cable guys around $2,500 per home to deal with the construction costs of laying down cable,” said Kanojia on a Jan. 27 phone call with TechCrunch, setting the scene for his next big reveal. “And beyond cost, there are regulatory hurdles that slow down the process.”
We can’t really speak for the legal or regulatory challenges Starry might face (thank the heavens and – heh-heh! – stars), but it’s probably safe to assume that ISPs are already all over it. However, on the latest episode of Re/code Decode with Peter Kafka, Kanojia shared a more optimistic view. “Comcast isn’t going out of business,” he said when asked if he expected another legal challenge. “It is better for them to have a few small competitors in the market so that the government is satisfied.”
Potential legal battles aside, it appears Starry might face some challenges on the technical front too. Re/code’s Ina Fried put together a great analysis of some of the technical stumbling blocks that Starry might face, based on issues that plagued similar ventures in the past.
Here’s the basics: Starry uses technology called “millimeter wave band active phased array technology.” This being Translation Please, indulge us in doing what we endeavor to do.
Starry Beam rooftop module (Image credit: Engadget)
In a nutshell, Starry puts a bunch of little nodes called “Starry Beams” on rooftops in densely populated areas (this might ring a bell with anyone who used Aereo), and gives its customers little receivers called “Starry Points” to stick outside of a window.
Starry Point window receiver (Image credit: Engadget)
The Starry Beam shoots out millimeter waves in a bunch of different directions (this is what they mean by “active phased array”), and these waves bounce off of buildings and other obstacles until they reach your Starry Point. Aereo claims that they can transmit a reliable signal without line-of-sight from the node to the receiver, unlike previous attempts at fixed wireless Internet.
Aereo also offers the optional Starry Station, a $349 Android-powered router with a touchscreen that monitors its own connections, handles parental controls, and a bunch of other tricks.
The (optional) Starry Station (Image credit: Engadget)
According to Kanojia, this approach will save Starry, and its customers, a lot of time and money. “We can deliver faster broadband with no regulatory wait time and it will cost us only $25 per home,” he said on the TechCrunch call.
No word yet on pricing, other than that Starry will be a tiered service based on speed (topping out at 1 GB up and down).
Chet isn’t alone in the landscape of wireless startups targeting larger ISPs. Two San Francisco-based companies, Artemis Networks and Webpass, are working together on a similar service. This one is particularly interesting because Artemis claims to have invented a way to use interference as a channel for transmitting and receiving data – so the more interference, the better the connection. (It all sounds so … Hedy Lamarr!)
We can’t wait to see this one in action – and according to Artemis founder Steve Perlman (yes, that Steve Perlman — former head of WebTV, Rearden Steel and Moxi), we might see it in Boston later this year (assuming the FCC gives the nod).
Plus, Chet’s just an interesting guy to keep an eye on. He started out in cable, founding Navic Networks in the early 2000s. Remember? Microsoft bought Navic in 2008 for a reported $250 million; Chet’s been throwing wrenches at the industry that launched him ever since. Which makes us wonder: Who pissed Chet Kanojia off so bad?