If you live in the U.S., you’re familiar with the dismal state of Internet service. Chances are that if you can even get broadband where you live, then you have no choice whom you pay for service, you pay a lot, and your bill is only going to go up.
But that could be about to change. On Wednesday, the tech world learned about Starry, a company hoping to bring ultrafast wireless internet service to cities.
Starry won’t have data caps, so you won’t have to worry about streaming too much Netflix during a billing period. It won’t require a technician to come to your home to install anything. It will be available at speeds up to 1 gigabit per second, which is much faster than your typical Internet connection. It won’t have long-term contracts. And Starry promises that if you have an issue, a technician will call you within five minutes.
Oh, and it will be significantly cheaper than comparable service from your traditional Internet service provider like Time Warner Cable and Comcast.
The company hasn’t gotten specific about pricing, but Chet Kanojia, Starry’s founder and CEO, actually laughed when a reporter asked him whether it would cost less than typical broadband. “That’s the easy part,” he said, smiling. “Consumers want more competition, better products, and cheaper prices,” Kanojia told reporters at a press event on Wednesday.
It almost sounds too good to be true.
And it sort of is—at least for now. The service isn’t available yet. Starry says it will be beta testing in Boston, where the company is based, starting this summer, but it hasn’t given a timeline for when the service be available anywhere else.
The primary reason there’s pretty much no competition when it comes to Internet service is that the infrastructure that has been required to bring it to your home—cable and fiber—is expensive to install. Companies have to rip up a street or sidewalk to install it, so it doesn’t make economic sense for more than one company to wire your home or building. It’s similar to why you don’t have a choice for an electric or gas company.
But Starry says it will get around this by transmitting internet service wirelessly to your home.
Here’s how it is supposed to work:
Starry Beams, roughly 4-foot-high transmitters that are installed on the tops of buildings in a city or town, transmit a wireless internet signal in the form of millimeter waves. Subscribers install a small receiver—called a Starry Point—in their windows, which picks up the signal and converts it into one that a traditional router can then broadcast as normal WiFi.
Each Starry Beam can support “hundreds” of Starry Point antennas, Kanojia told Tech Insider in an interview.
The company calls Starry Internet a modular service because it requires little installation. The Beams may present a challenge to install—the company has to get rights to put them on the roofs of buildings—but most of them simply have to be plugged into a power outlet.
That’s because only one out of every four or five Beams needs to be wired to a fiber connection—existing fiber infrastructure that’s already installed in cities — because the Beams speak to one another to send data.
Kanojia said a city could be outfitted with Beams in a matter of “weeks, not months.”
All of this sounds like great news for consumers. Competition in the broadband space is sorely needed, and Google’s Google Fiber service, which is wiring some cities for high-speed internet and bringing competition to a handful of cities, has been slow to roll out.
We know that competition works. Last year, it came to light that AT&T was charging $110 a month for its gigabit internet service in Cupertino, California, $40 a month more than it charged for the same service in Austin, Texas, and Kansas City. In Austin and Kansas City, Google Fiber is available, but in Cupertino, AT&T was the only game in town that offered high speeds.
If Starry succeeds with its ambitious goal, which the company, and its high-profile investors, think it can do, then it will bring real competition to a space that has been dominated by monopolies. This will not only give consumers another choice for an ISP but it will also force big cable companies to lower their prices, ditch data caps, and improve customer service if they want to compete.