Aereo founder unveils newest startup: Starry, a high-speed home wireless service

Starry CEO Chet Kanojia.
Starry CEO Chet Kanojia.

The founder of Aereo, a TV streaming service that collapsed after losing a copyright case at the U.S. Supreme Court, is unveiling more details about his new startup.

The company, Starry, said Wednesday that it plans to offer high-speed wireless Internet to consumers. It’s aiming to provide an alternative to the broadband services from cable companies, such as Comcast Corp., which most households rely on.

“Far too many people don’t have a choice in how they access that connection,” CEO Chet Kanojia said in a news release.

The company wouldn’t say how much the service will cost, but it plans to start testing the wireless systems in Boston this summer.

Like Aereo, Starry’s operations are split between two cities, with engineering workers in Boston and general business functions in New York. The company was founded with about 25 veterans of Aereo and now numbers about 50, Kanojia said in an interview.

Aereo raised $97 million from investors for its streaming service, which charged users a fee to watch broadcast TV channels online. But the company filed for bankruptcy in 2014 after the Supreme Court ruled that it violated copyright law by retransmitting programs produced by the networks.

Starry said its service will be delivered by a series of transmitters that can be installed on rooftops, which will beam wireless connections to receivers that consumers install in their windows. The underlying Internet service will be provided by other companies that can connect Starry’s transmitters to high-speed networks, Kanojia said.

Starry also said it will sell a new kind of wireless router, with a touchscreen and features such as parental controls and technical support, for about $350.

The general idea behind Starry’s wireless service is not entirely new. Another Boston startup, netBlazr, already offers wireless service in several parts of the city through a similar transmitter and receiver setup.

NetBlazr charges about $40 per month for a lower-speed service that is considered best for one or two residential users, with more expensive prices for faster speeds. It also charges $200 for an initial equipment installation. NetBlazr’s wireless Internet connects to fiber-optic connections provided by other companies.

Companies like netBlazr or Starry, which send wireless signals at higher frequencies, have to contend with buildings, trees, and other objects can absorb or scatter the wireless signal, said Sundeep Rangan, an electrical and computer engineering professor at New York University.

Providers can try to solve that problem by having a large number of transmitters and by using advanced antennas that “steer” the beams toward the receivers as Starry says it will do, Rangan said.

“They’ll have to build out a network that places one of these access points fairly close to each home. That means you’ll have to have enough subscribers to make this profitable, and that will be a challenge,” Rangan said.

Brough Turner, netBlazer’s founder and chief technical officer, said some of Starry’s claims about how its connections can deal with obstructions sounded “optimistic.” But Turner said he was eager to see more entrepreneurs tackle the market for faster home Internet.

“Our goal with netBlazr is to disrupt monopolists, so I’m keen to see other people come in,” Turner said. “There should be netBlazr and a dozen others working on this.”

Kanojia said previous attempts at building high-speed consumer wireless services have been hampered in part because the systems are large and difficult to install. Starry plans to have consumers set up their own receiver stations, which will cut down on its costs. To do so, it’s focused on making the receivers very easy to set up and use, Kanojia said.

“It’s difficult to change consumers’ habits,” he said. “A small number will be adventurous about it, but unless you make it very easy, adoption is really hard.”