Starry Not Looking for a Fight, but Broadband Vision Draws Skeptics

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install its network of antennas quickly and easily. For example, it’ll take time and resources to strike deals with property owners to install the transmitter antennas, and the company will likely need to negotiate with apartment landlords and condominium associations to secure permission for tenants to install the receiver dishes outside their windows, Barr says.

Webpass’s experience illustrates how painstaking this process can be. In Boston, it has taken eight months to get the company’s antennas on top of about 10 buildings, Barr says. Across its five cities, Webpass has installed antennas on 850 buildings total. “It takes months, sometimes years, to get a landlord to agree. That’s when you have a customer inside the house, inside the building,” he says.

Some landlords sign exclusive agreements with a large cable or phone company to provide service in their buildings, in return for a cut of the revenue from tenants, Webpass says. That makes it harder for smaller companies like Barr’s to reach new customers. “Landlords are the biggest obstacle to the Internet,” he adds.

Starry will also have to make sure it can get access to prime locations to hook up to Internet providers’ fiber connection—and to lease those connections on terms that allow Starry’s business model to thrive. Those factors will govern “where they can roll their service out and how quickly,” says Mark Lowenstein, managing director of Brookline, MA-based wireless consulting and advisory firm Mobile Ecosystem.

Starry officials shrug off those potential hurdles. The company will no doubt draw on the experience its team had with Aereo, whose streaming TV service required installing antennas on the roofs of data centers. With Aereo, Kanojia and company also learned how to build out a technology city by city, as it plans to do with Starry, a spokeswoman points out.

Another possible pitfall down the road: the segment of radio spectrum that Starry is currently experimenting with might be utilized in the rollout of fifth generation (5G) mobile networks. That could be an expensive problem for Starry, considering that mobile carriers paid billions of dollars in a 2008 auction to snap up spectrum that became the building blocks of 4G LTE networks in the U.S. “I wouldn’t want to go into something in the [spectrum] band they’ve chosen if it’s going to be a fight with the FCC, Congress, AT&T, and Verizon over 5G,” says NetBlazr’s Turner. “That sounds very risky.”

Kanojia doesn’t seem worried. There’s plenty of underutilized high-frequency radio spectrum available for Starry to license, he says. He also points out that the FCC is still deciding how to regulate much of the high-frequency spectrum, and parts of it might be used for multiple purposes, including mobile networks and fixed broadband.

“I think philosophically, globally at this point, all people are looking at this idea of shared [spectrum]—how do you build systems that without interfering can operate in licensed bands or lightly licensed bands” Kanojia says. “We’re not setting up for a fight with anybody.”

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