Analysts say Starry’s 802.11ax is a far cheaper fixed wireless solution than 5G

The IEEE/WiFi community may have failed to insert itself into the heart of the 5G standards process, as some had hoped, but it has an ambitious roadmap which, in some ways, mirrors that of 3GPP. When 5G is considered as a broader platform than just the 3GPP radio, it is sure that WiFi will play an important role.

The forthcoming 802.11ax standard, for instance, will vye with 5G New Radio as the best wireless system for environments with very dense levels of devices. However, high profile start-up Starry is using 11ax to challenge 5G on another front, fixed wireless.

Starry says its 11ax-based fixed wireless service is more cost effective than a 5G NR fixed wireless service, of the kind Verizon and AT&T will deploy from this year.

Financial research firm Oppenheimer said, in a client note, that it calculates that it will cost Starry about $2bn to cover 70% of the densely populated areas of the US with its fixed wireless network. To do the same with 5G would cost $35bn to $50bn, a figure that would be twice as high if the operator also needed to deploy fiber.

“Starry’s deployment costs multiples less than 5G fixed wireless. Management stated generously it would cost $10K per mile to lay fiber, whereas Starry’s capex costs are $20 per home passed in dense areas,” wrote the Oppenheimer analysts. In addition, it said Starry’s Beams (base stations) do not require municipal approval as they are only 18 inches square.

The report continues: “Starry’s roadmap is much more economical than 5G fixed wireless … and speeds are comparable without the expense/complexity that accompany the deployment of thousands of 5G small cells.”

Starry has been testing its services in Boston and plans to expand them to 16 major markets this year, charging $50 a month for 200Mbps speeds (slower than Verizon’s promised gigabit rates). According to Oppenheimer, Starry’s equipment and installation costs total $480, and the firm aims to reduce that to $360 by 2019.

The analysts wrote: “Starry is at nine sites in Boston and will go to 18 by year end. This will blanket Boston, covering ~600K homes passed at an incremental capex cost in the ~$25m area. A quick analysis puts the cost for Starry to cover 70% of the dense parts of the US at ~$2bn in capex ($20 per home passed x 120m homes x 70%), which is well below the potential cost of running fiber at anywhere from $85bn (120m homes x 70% x $1,000 per home passed).”

Starry uses 600 MHz of spectrum in the 37.0-37.6 GHz bands, although the FCC has not yet finalized the rules for this spectrum.