Starry adds Quantenna WiFi 6 chips to its pitch against 5G

Starry, the new network operator on the block in the US, has selected WiFi silicon specialist Quantenna, deploying both WiFi 5 (802.11ac) and WiFi 6 (802.11ax) chipsets in its base station technology as it attempts to disrupt the broadband delivery market.

Starry continues to be an intriguing prospect after first launching a totally non-5G approach to point-to-multipoint fixed wireless technology two years ago, to much hype. The latest installment in its plan sees the start-up plan to optimize Quantenna’s QSR10GU and QSR10GU-AX products, with 8×8 MIMO and advanced Multiuser-MIMO, for millimeter wave bands, which Quantenna says brings cost savings to Starry’s operations.

Starry’s chances of success were seen to be boosted earlier this year when it tapped WiFi 6 chips from Marvell, combined with its own mmWave, point-to-multipoint fixed broadband transceivers, so this week’s enrolment of Quantenna suggests Starry wants to offer varying qualities of service, as we know Quantenna chips are more expensive than Marvell’s.

The possibility of transferring over to 5G instead has also been raised and the pressure is now on to build out its promised fixed wireless services commercially in 16 major US markets before the end of this year. Another issue for Starry is its lack of fiber assets for backhaul.

Starry is run by Chet Kanojia, the one-time CEO of the now defunct Aereo. Kanojia is an expert in antennas, and essentially this is an antenna play. It uses 600 MHz of spectrum in the 37 to 40 GHz band, for which the FCC has not yet finalized rules, and then uses a box inside the home to convert the signal to 802.11ax WiFi which, after all, companies like AT&T and Verizon are going to have to do anyway, since most broadband in-home is delivered wirelessly.

Financial research firm Oppenheimer said earlier this year, 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 a fixed wireless network. To do the same with 5G would cost $35bn to $50bn, and could be twice that if the operator also needs to deploy fiber. It is offering speeds up to 200Mbps at $50 a month. The recent 5G announcement by Verizon was for 300Mbps, but at the cost of $70 a month, yet Starry’s fees are significantly higher than other, more established wireless internet services.

These costs have risen partly due to expensive access point technology with advanced phased array arrangements, and also because of the dense areas being targeted by Starry over rural regions, meaning more base stations to occupy its mmWave spectrum.

The addition of Quantenna’s capabilities to the smart antenna RF technology in Starry’s base station, coined Starry Beam, aims to provide end users with ultrafast speeds, increased bandwidth capacity and extended range. The collaboration will cover Los Angeles, Washington DC and New York City.

Starry may well be cheaper than whatever 5G push the major telcos can offer, but when true 5G deployments sweep the US in the coming years and price wars ensue, its relevance will be in jeopardy.