Networking

Gigabit internet over the air is coming

Starry is using millimeter wave technology to wirelessly deliver internet connectivity to homes. If successful, it could disrupt cable companies, telcos, and the broadband market.

The Starry Station is the in-home Wi-Fi station by Starry. It will retail for $350.
Image: Starry

Starry, a new startup by the founders of Aereo, wants to deliver faster internet access to your home wirelessly, and with no data caps or complicated contracts. Starry, a part of Project Decibel, announced its debut on Wednesday.

The technology works by leveraging what Starry claims is "the world's first millimeter wave band active phased array technology for consumer internet communications." Starry can deliver speeds up to one gigabit—comparable speeds to Google Fiber—using hardware that consumers can install themselves and get connected "in minutes."

SEE: For the internet to keep growing, we need a next-gen TCP

Typical Wi-Fi signals exist on the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz radio bands. Millimeter waves, on the other hand, occupy what is sometimes referred to as the Extremely High Frequency (EHF) range from 30 GHz to 300 GHz. The EHF is traditionally used in fields such as radio astronomy and remote sensing, a geographical field.

Because these millimeters waves are a higher frequency than what is commonly used in Wi-Fi, and because they interact differently as they travel, they are better suited to transmit large amounts of data.

Gartner's Akshay Sharma said to think of the millimeter waves like the sine waves in calculus.

"If you pack more ups and downs, or more cycles, per period of time, you're actually packing in more data. So, you can think of them as zeroes and ones in a period of time," Sharma said. "If you've got more zeroes and ones at the higher frequency, you're going to have much higher data rates."

And, the need for that extra data will be a reality very soon. Sharma mentioned that the May 2015 Cisco Visual Networking Index predicted that, by 2019, 80% of consumer internet traffic will be video. Additionally, the growing use of 4K and 8K video will create even greater strain.

Also, Sharma said, the technology is being experimented with for use in 5G connectivity as well. Samsung has trials in the higher frequency wave range and Nokia had trials above 70 GHz, he said. Millimeter wave frequency is not a requirement for 5G, but some feel that it's the best option to push it forward.

SEE: Google Fiber plots biggest deployment yet in San Antonio (ZDNet)

Starry also makes use of orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM), a technique that makes it easier to transmit data over a radio wave by splitting the signal into many, smaller sub signals. Additionally, it also leverages MU-MIMO (multiuser multiple input, multiple output) technology, which helps with bandwidth distribution and is currently being used in Wi-Fi and LTE.

Along with the new service, the company also announced a hardware product called the Starry Station, a Wi-Fi router that "provides users with a window into their home's internet health and device connectivity."

The 802.11ac Starry Station features a 3.8-inch capacitive touchscreen and has a built-in speed test, device finder, and parental controls. Additionally, users can get support directly through the Starry Station.

Small receivers stations are mounted outside of a user's home and the signal is sent to the router by a WAN Ethernet connection. This speaks directly to what Sharma said would be the biggest challenge for properly leveraging millimeter wave tech in that higher frequency often "gives you worse in-building penetration if it's an outdoor device."

However, if the hardware is implemented correctly and the signal is routed properly, it seems like they could circumvent the issue with the current setup by having a power antenna outside the home connected by wire to a versatile router inside the home. Still, there are other challenges to using higher frequency bands in that line of sight is required most of the time and weather can interfere with the signal.

The Starry Station will cost $350 and interested users can reserve one on the company's website until February 5, at which point they'll be available for sale on Starry's website and Amazon. Orders for the Starry Station are to begin shipping this March.

The Greater Boston area will be the first to get the Starry Internet beta this summer, but more cities will be announced as the year goes on. The company hasn't released any details on pricing yet.

Top 3 takeaways

  1. Starry will use millimeter wave band active phased array technology to deliver gigabit speed internet connection, wirelessly, to your home.
  2. Starry also announced the $350 Starry Station, an 802.11ac Wi-Fi station that monitors your home network.
  3. Starry presents an interesting option for SMBs and remote workers who need more speed and a fast implementation, and who don't want to wait for fiber to be dug in their area.

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About

Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.

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