Hate your cable company? Superfast, wireless Internet is coming

A startup called Starry hopes to roll out a nationwide wireless broadband network to compete with local cable and phone companies.

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Starry Station, a $350 Wi-Fi hub, is the company's first product.

Starry

Can your broadband connection be faster, cheaper and wholly wireless?

A startup called Starry thinks so and intends to take the place of your cable or phone company.

The New York- and Boston-based startup, created by the folks who tried to shake up the television industry with the now-defunct Aereo, hopes to create fresh competition for major cable and telecommunications players that sell Internet. Starry plans to launch a wireless broadband service called Starry Internet at a lower price than current providers. The company plans to roll it out in Boston this summer and spread to more cities throughout the year. The eventual goal is to go nationwide.

A Starry representative said the startup is still developing its pricing, but expects it to be cheaper than current services because Starry won't need to lay down cable wires to homes.

"Wired infrastructure is just difficult," Starry co-founder and CEO Chet Kanojia said Wednesday at a press event in Manhattan. "It should be wireless."

If Starry delivers on its promise to offer up to a 1-gigabit connection, or 10 times the average home broadband speed, it could shake up the broadband industry. For many, this would be far faster than what they get from the cable or phone companies. Starry represents another potential alternative for high-speed online access, which includes Google's $70 Fiber service in a handful of markets.

Such efforts have encouraged existing Internet service providers to speed up their connection speeds in some markets. And it may encourage them to spruce up their customer service, which is routinely panned. Surveys last year by the American Customer Satisfaction Index found that the "vast majority" of the lowest-performing companies for customer satisfaction offered either Internet service or pay TV, with Time Warner Cable at the very bottom of the list.

"I think there's a lot of sentiment for a competitive alternative," Kanojia said. "I don't think there's a single person inside the establishment that thinks there's sufficient competition inside this marketplace."

Still, there have been other major efforts to provide wireless broadband service, such as from WinStar and Clearwire, though they didn't take off.

Verizon declined to comment. Cable providers, including Comcast and Time Warner Cable, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The first major product from Starry will be the Starry Station, a $350 Wi-Fi hub with a touchscreen that includes monitors for your Internet connection and speed, parental controls and the ability to support connected devices. The device, which can be used with any available Internet service, will provide a Wi-Fi connection to your phones and other devices and will support future devices in connected homes.

The device is available for pre-order on Starry.com and will also be available on Amazon Launchpad in early February. The routers will start shipping in March.

Starry Internet will be powered by hubs called Starry Beams that will be placed at the tops of buildings and other locations and will send out signals at the high radio frequency of 39 gigahertz (In comparison, Verizon and AT&T use spectrum that runs at 700 megahertz). That frequency, which Starry has an experimental license to use, offers high speeds but doesn't travel far, so these hubs will have to be built roughly every mile. Only experimental Beam units are out in use now.

Subscribers to the service will need to get a device called the Starry Point, which picks up the Beam's signal and pipes it into the home. However, because the 39 GHz spectrum has a difficult time traveling through walls and windows, the Point was constructed so that part of it sits outside the home through a closed window while the rest is indoors. The Point, whose price wasn't yet disclosed, will then provide the Internet signal to the Station.

A fourth device is the Starry Wing, a signal extender for inside the home that will go on sale sometime between the late spring to early summer. A price for that device wasn't announced either.

While consumers are interested in more broadband options, there's still a lot about Starry that needs to be fleshed out, particularly whether its Internet service actually works, said Avi Greengart, research director at Current Analysis.

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"I have so many fundamental questions here," he said, "like can the technology work, what's the cost to build it out, what's the cost to the consumer for the service."

Before Wednesday, details were sparse about Starry, which was operating under the name Project Decibel. Kanojia was working on the new business in secrecy, though a few clues pointed to a potential involvement in Wi-Fi and broadband.

Starry offers a new opportunity for Kanojia to get back in the tech and media spotlight. His former company, Aereo, used tiny microantennas to capture free over-the-air broadcasts that it then sold to broadband users as streaming video. Broadcasters didn't receive a cut from the subscriptions.

While it had only about 100,000 customers, Aereo became a lightning rod in the media industry, with broadcasters accusing it of pirating their signals. In 2014, the startup ended up in the US Supreme Court, which sided with broadcasters and ruled that Aereo's service was illegal. (Disclosure: CBS, CNET's parent company, was one of the plaintiffs.) A few months later, Aereo was no more.

Starry said its investors include FirstMark Capital, Tiger Global, IAC, KKR, HLVP and Quantum Strategic Partners, though it declined to say how much money it raised. IAC was a major shareholder in Aereo.

Updated at 3:11 p.m. PT: To include additional executive and analyst quotes and background.

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