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Internet, But Over The Air: How A Startup Plans To Take On The Cable Companies

Starry says its high-frequency radio technology can bring broadband-speed internet to homes, without the cables.

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Internet.

But through the air.

Chet Kanojia is not the first person to have this idea, but his new startup, Starry, promises to revolutionize how the internet gets delivered to people's homes — instead of using cables, it plans to use the air. If it can pull it off, Starry will bring some much-needed competition to the broadband market, where cable companies often have a local monopoly. But that's a giant "if."

Kanojia's last company, Aereo, also had grand visions of disrupting the airwaves, through tiny antennas that sucked up free-to-air TV signals and streamed them to viewers over the internet. It looked promising, until the Supreme Court ruled it was violating copyright laws, in a decision that effectively killed the company.

The secret sauce this time around is the use of high-frequency radio spectrum, which has been used for point-to-point communications in the military and in scientific research, but is still a fairly novel proposition for use by an internet service provider.

Using this spectrum means you can transmit huge amounts of data quickly, but it comes with drawbacks — in particular, it only works over short distances. To get around this, Starry requires a series of devices: Rooftop antennae every couple of kilometers, connecting to receivers on household windows that broadcast into the home.

Starry claims this setup can provide internet at faster speeds, with no data caps and at a lower cost than cable companies. The big savings come, Kanojia said, from the much lower cost of building out the infrastructure for the service. No digging trenches along roads and sidewalks, no mile after mile of cable and the maintenance crews that come with it.

"It's frankly amazing technology," Kanojia said. He estimated that the per-home cost of building out the service would be $25, not the $2,500 he said traditional fixed-wire broadband costs. But rolling out those huge networks of rooftop devices won't be easy.

And the details are still limited: Starry and its representatives declined to comment on where the service would launch outside of Boston (where it will have a trial this summer), how much it would cost, how much money the company had raised, or its valuation.

“Plug it in, set it up, and in a few minutes like magic, you have faster than broadband internet, through the air,” a slick promotional video said.

The company has about 50 employees, including several senior executives from Aereo. It has big name investors like Tiger Global, the private equity firm KKR, and Aereo backer IAC. While Kanojia's last venture flamed out after its defeat at the Supreme Court, he earned many fans in the tech industry for his hard-charging approach to shaking up an old, cushy set of incumbents.

And this time, he doesn't expect lawsuits to be his biggest headache — instead, the challenge will simply be delivering on the promise of a "magical" alternative to rolling out a cable network. "I don't see a legal problem," Kanojia told reporters. "It's a huge execution problem."




Matthew Zeitlin is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Zeitlin reports on Wall Street and big banks.

Contact Matthew Zeitlin at matt.zeitlin@buzzfeed.com.

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