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Starry’s broadband internet is among the next generation of new wireless technologies that support high-speed, low-latency internet connectivity using millimeter-wave bands capable of sending large amounts of data over short distances. That sounds like 5G, and I’d say it’s definitely similar — but Starry doesn’t quite bill itself as a 5G home internet provider. Why not? Whereas 5G focuses on mobile, roaming access to the internet, Starry’s technology is focused solely on establishing a fixed, targeted connection to your home.
What’s the difference? Mobile wireless carriers, such as T-Mobile and Verizon, send signals in virtually all directions throughout an area, signals that may reach your phone as you drive around the city, or reach a gateway at your home that rebroadcasts the connection as a Wi-Fi network (both T-Mobile and Verizon offer 5G home internet plans like that). A fixed wireless connection, like the Starry Internet service, sends internet signals directly to and from dedicated points.
Whether or not that makes for a noticeably better connection than what 5G offers remains to be seen — and we’ll look forward to putting all of these new types of internet connections to the test as soon as it’s feasible to do so. Still, quality of the connection aside, there’s much to like about Starry’s prices and terms. The company has nixed contracts, data caps and arbitrary price increases in favor of a simple, straightforward approach that seems more customer-friendly than much of its more established internet service provider competitors.
That, along with Starry’s plans to expand service to tens of millions of additional homes by the end of 2022, makes this a provider worth knowing about — and worth considering, too, if it’s available at your address. Here’s a complete rundown of what you should know about Starry’s technology and speeds, as well as a close look at the company’s plans, prices and terms.
Starry Internet plans and pricing details
The standard Starry Internet service plan, Starry Plus, comes with download speeds of up to 200Mbps and upload speeds of 100Mbps, starting at $50 per month. There are other plans, but not all will be available throughout every Starry market. For example, Starry Pro and Starry Gigabit are only available in select areas. Starry Connect, an affordable internet program, is available to all residents of qualifying buildings or public housing units. Here’s a look at those plans:
Starry internet plans
|Plan||Max speeds||Monthly rate||Equipment fee||Data cap||Contract|
|Starry Basic||50Mbps download, 50Mbps upload||$30||None||None||None|
|Starry Plus||200Mbps download, 100Mbps upload||$50||None||None||None|
|Starry Pro||500Mbps download, 250Mbps upload||$65||None||None||None|
|Starry Gigabit||1,000Mbps download, 500Mbps upload||$80||None||None||None|
|Starry Connect||30Mbs download, 30Mbps upload||$15||None||None||None|
All plans come with unlimited data, no equipment fees and no contracts
Regardless of the Starry Internet plans available in your area or the specific plan you choose, all offer unlimited data, no additional fees for equipment and no contract requirements.
While unlimited data and no contracts are fairly common among cable and fiber internet providers — AT&T, Spectrum and Verizon Fios all offer unlimited, contract-free service, for example — the free equipment perk is a big one, as equipment fees can easily add $5 to $15 or more to your monthly bill. Ditching that extra fee could save you anywhere from $60 to $180 per year — that’s not something I’ve come to expect from an ISP.
No promo pricing means no startling price increase after 12 months
Promotional offers and pricing deals are certainly tempting, and in some cases, like the first-year savings you get with Xfinity, they can be well worth signing up for. But after that first year, what was once a cheap internet plan can lose much of its value when the standard pricing kicks in.
Starry doesn’t do promotional pricing, which unfortunately means you aren’t “saving” anything for the first year, but it also means you aren’t in for an abrupt price increase in Month 13. Between Starry Internet’s standard pricing model, free equipment and unlimited data, customers will more or less know what their bill will be each month, and I applaud the pricing transparency.
A closer look at the Starry Connect discount plan
Most providers have an affordable internet plan intended for seniors, students and low-income households. They’re typically $20 to $30 per month, offer download speeds around 10Mbps to 25Mbps (and much lower upload speeds) and require a lengthy application process. Starry’s affordable internet plan exceeds those expectations in several ways: It’s only $15 per month; it offers symmetrical upload and download speeds of 30Mbps; the only requisite for service is living in a building where it is available.
Starry SVP of Government Affairs and Strategic Advancement Virginia Lam Abrams explained that Starry partners with housing owners to eliminate individual eligibility requirements (such as proving income or an enrollment in WIC or school lunch programs, which are required by many ISPs to qualify for their affordable internet programs) to qualify for Starry Connect.
“We tied qualification to our program directly to the premises,” Lam Abrams said. “So, no matter who lived in apartment 101, if apartment 101 was a part of our Starry Connect program, regardless of who lived in that unit … they would always get offered the opportunity to sign up for Starry Connect.”
Starry Internet availability
Boston has the greatest availability, with coverage spanning most of the city. Service in New York is currently reserved for much of lower Manhattan, but can also be found in parts of Queens and Brooklyn, and across the river in Hoboken, New Jersey. Residents of the DC area are most likely to find Starry Internet availability just north of the city in the Georgetown, Cleveland Park, Glover Park, Woodley Park and Columbia Heights vicinities, as well as south into Arlington, Virginia.
Denver serviceability tends to run from the city’s center to the southeast, whereas serviceability in Los Angeles extends northwest from the city center. There is currently no data available from the Federal Communications Commission for Starry Internet service availability in Columbus.
A spokesperson says Starry is “continually building out coverage in these metro areas and has an expansion road map and spectrum footprint that cover more than 40 million households nationwide.”
If you live in one of the six cities where Starry Internet is currently available, your best chance of getting service is by moving into an apartment or condo complex equipped with a Starry Trident to receive service. That said, it is possible to get Starry Internet service at smaller housing units or single-family residences.
Merger, going public will boost expansion efforts
Starry announced in October 2021 a definitive merger agreement with FirstMark Horizon Acquisition. Upon completion of the merger (which is expected to be finalized in the first half of 2022), Starry will become a publicly traded company under the stock ticker STRY.
In addition to the potential of public investors and funds, the deal provides Starry with up to $452 million in cash, which is sure to stimulate the ISP’s expansion. In the press release announcing the merger, Starry declared its intent to increase the number of serviceable households from 4.7 million to 25 million by 2026 — that’s a coverage increase of more than 500% in the next four to five years, significantly larger than we’ve seen from any major provider in recent years. And while Starry already owns the spectrum licenses needed to offer service in many of the planned markets, the additional funds will undoubtedly assist and expedite the expansion efforts.
How does Starry’s fixed wireless internet work?
Say you want to catch water in a cup. Mobile wireless internet is like holding that cup in the rain. You can catch raindrops pretty much anywhere as you move around the city, though it may be raining more heavily in some places than others (and the upgrade to 5G definitely means it is raining harder). Fixed wireless is more like aiming a water gun directly at your cup.
As you can imagine, a fixed wireless connection is better equipped to deliver a stronger, more consistent internet stream than 5G, but most fixed wireless connections use unlicensed bandwidth toward the bottom of the spectrum, and that means that the speeds are pretty limited (to go back to the water and cup analogy, imagine the sort of cheap toy water gun that you might use to spray a misbehaving cat).
However, Starry is different from other, slower fixed-wireless providers like Rise Broadband or AT&T because it licensed the use of higher frequency bands in the 24 to 37GHz range that can permit faster speeds and a higher rate of data transfer — even more so than most 5G connections, which typically operate in the sub-6GHz range. As a result, the connection is closer to a Super Soaker than a cat-sprayer, and it allows Starry to aim a fast, wireless connection at antennas perched atop buildings such as apartment complexes, condos and public housing units. The individual residential spaces within get wired to the antenna, and presto, everyone’s online.
A fixed wireless flex
If you’re familiar with fixed wireless internet, you may associate it with rural internet, but Starry’s technology is intended and optimized for the urban setting. So much so, that Starry can deliver speeds and value that rival fiber and cable internet providers in some of the biggest US markets. It’s slightly different from fiber or cable internet, though, so let’s get into how Starry works before moving on to availability, plans and service terms.
Starry transmits wireless internet signals from base stations called Starry Titans, which are strategically affixed to a radio tower or the top of a building — something high up where signal interference is minimal.
Starry COO Alex Moulle-Berteaux says that similar to a satellite provider, Starry finds height is an advantage and enables the company to use “much higher-frequency bands [than 5G], because we are targeting fixed points… So we ended up designing everything to be 24GHz-and-above-capable, and thereby using the properties of millimeter-wave bands that are very, very high-bandwidth, very, very high-data-speed bands.”
Conversely, 5G networks position similar base stations closer to the ground to allow the signals to bounce around trees, moving objects and more to reach multiple destinations.
Starry Tridents — also located up high in a fixed position atop an apartment or condo building — receive the internet signals and send them along the building’s existing wired network to your Wi-Fi router. There is also a smaller receiver, the Starry Comet, designed for smaller buildings and single-family homes.
Starry developed and manufactured the technology behind the service, from the base stations to the receivers and even the Wi-Fi router, so everything is designed to work together for optimal performance. It’s also worth noting that, since Starry doesn’t have to lay expensive cables and can use the existing infrastructure of buildings it beams service to, initial and ongoing operational costs are relatively low. As you’ll see in the Starry plan and service details below, Starry passes those savings onto the customer.
Whose idea was all this, anyway?
That would largely be Starry founder Chet Kanojia, who seems to have a passion for simplifying access to information and media. Before Starry, Kanojia founded Aereo, an ahead-of-its-time streaming service that used small antennas to pick up live TV broadcasts over the air, enabling users to watch and record those broadcasts on “virtually any internet-connected device.”
Aereo ceased operations after a series of legal setbacks, including a Supreme Court ruling against the company. Not long after, Kanojia shifted his wireless initiatives from television to broadband internet, launching Starry Internet in 2016 with service available to those in the greater Boston area.
In the past five years of operation, Starry serviceability has expanded to include Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Washington, DC, and most recently, Columbus, Ohio.
Comparing Starry Internet
If Starry Internet is an option where you live or where you’re moving to, there’s a good possibility cable and fiber-optic options will also be available. Here’s how Starry Internet compares with popular cable and fiber-optic providers that operate in the same markets as Starry.
Starry Internet vs. cable internet
Depending on which Starry Internet market you live in, Spectrum or Xfinity are likely to be your cable internet provider options (though Cox could be available in the DC area or Optimum in New York).
Pricing for Starry Internet is a bit lower than for Spectrum, especially when you get into the higher speed tiers, and it’s roughly on par with Xfinity’s pricing, at least at the surface level. For example, the Starry Basic plan offers speeds up to 50Mbps for $30 per month. Xfinity has a similar plan, Connect, starting at $20 or $25 per month for the same download speeds. As you get into the higher speed tiers, 200Mbps and above, starting prices for Starry Internet and Xfinity are almost identical.
However, you’ll want to look at more than the starting price when comparing internet services. Though Xfinity’s introductory pricing for the 50Mbps plan is cheaper for the first 12 months, it can increase by $30 or more after the introductory pricing expires, whereas Starry Internet pricing remains the same after the first year.
Additionally, you’ll get significantly faster upload speeds with Starry Internet than you will with cable. Starry Internet speeds are symmetrical with the 30Mbps and 50Mbps plans, which means that the uploads are just as fast as the downloads. With the higher-speed plans (200Mbps, 500Mbps and 1,000Mbps), you’ll see uploads that are 50% as fast as the max download speeds. Compare that with a gigabit cable plan, which will typically offer download speeds around 1,000Mbps — but upload speeds no faster than 35Mbps.
Fast upload speeds are something cable internet can’t (or in the case of Altice brands Optimum and Suddenlink, refuses to) deliver. Fiber internet, on the other hand, is capable of faster upload speeds, so let’s see how Starry compares with fiber.
Starry Internet vs. fiber internet
AT&T and Verizon Fios are the two fiber providers you’re most likely to encounter in Starry Internet markets, though the Denver area may also have CenturyLink as an option. In any case, Starry Internet pricing is roughly the same as AT&T and Verizon Fios. Gig service from Starry and AT&T starts at around $80 per month and Verizon’s comes in just above that at $90 per month. Also, Verizon charges $15 per month for equipment, though you do have the option to use your device and avoid the fee. AT&T and Starry include the equipment fee in the monthly standard charge.
When you consider the free equipment, Starry pricing can be a bit more favorable, but I’d have to give the speed advantage to the fiber providers. For one, you’re likely to have a few speed options in all fiber-optic service areas, including a 200Mbps or 300Mbps option plus a gigabit plan (or more, in the case of AT&T), whereas 200Mbps is the standard with Starry Internet and faster speeds are only available in select locations.
On top of that, the dedicated wire connection that comes with fiber-optic service will likely deliver a more reliable connection, and the potential for even faster uploads than Starry, too. Precipitation, foliage and other environmental factors can affect the service quality over a fixed wireless connection, though the millimeter-wave technology and height of base stations and receivers do help minimize the potential for signal interference.
Starry Internet vs. wireless internet, including 5G
Compared with other fixed-wireless connections, like those from Rise Broadband, AT&T and T-Mobile, Starry Internet can deliver much faster speeds, and often for a lower price, along with unlimited data. It’s doubtful you’ll have the option of choosing between Starry Internet and another fixed wireless provider, however, unless it’s Google Webpass, which also operates in the Starry market of Denver. Webpass, another high-speed fixed wireless service, only comes with one plan option, gigabit service, starting at around $70 per month, or $63 per month if you pay a year in advance. It’s slightly cheaper than Starry’s gigabit plan, but there are no additional, or cheaper, plan options with Google Webpass like you’ll get with Starry.
As for comparing Starry with 5G home internet, providers like Verizon and T-Mobile offer plans in the range of $50 to $70 per month (possibly cheaper if you’re a mobile subscriber, as well), with speeds from 100Mbps to 980Mbps depending on the provider and location. That’s certainly impressive for wireless service, but you’re still likely to get more speed options, faster download and upload speeds and better value from Starry. That’s nothing against 5G — the technology is ideal for delivering fast speeds in suburban and rural areas, but Starry’s technology and network are optimized for the urban setting, and that’s where the company is currently operating.
Starry Internet customer service and satisfaction
Customer satisfaction indicators like the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Better Business Bureau and J.D. Power don’t specifically name Starry Internet in their reports, but the company points to its Net Promoter Score, which “measures customer experience and predicts business growth,” as an indication that Starry is on the right track.
According to a Starry spokesperson, “In an industry where NPS scores hover somewhere near zero, Starry’s NPS score has ranked consistently high, averaging between 60 and 70, highly unusual when stacked against other internet service providers.”
The spokesperson also added that “our customer care team is focused on delivering personalized support and they can do that because we designed the entire technology stack, from base station to home Wi-Fi hub, and we have a level of transparency into our network performance that allows our support team to quickly diagnose or proactively identify a problem a subscriber might be experiencing. That level of personalized care and our overall company focus on being customer-first is an important feature.”
At any rate, we’ll keep an eye on Starry as the company grows and starts developing a deeper track record on customer satisfaction. When we have more metrics to share, we’ll update this post.
Summing it all up
Starry stands out among fixed wireless providers, enough to compete with cable and fiber-optic services in large cities such as Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Washington and now Columbus, Ohio. Plan pricing is fair and transparent, especially when you consider that the equipment is included and pricing doesn’t automatically go up after 12 months, and speeds can be comparable to fiber or faster than cable in select markets.
If Starry is available at your address or the building you’re moving to, it’s worth checking out, but as with any home service, be sure to explore all your options before signing up.