Starry seeks to test mmWave gear in nearly two dozen cities

Fixed wireless broadband provider Starry potentially shed some light on its expansion roadmap, requesting permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct tests of prototype millimeter wave (mmWave) equipment in 22 cities. These include more than a dozen where it does not currently provide service today.

In its application, the company said it wants to test approximately 15 prototype base stations and 250 prototype end user devices running on spectrum between 37 GHz and 38.6 GHz at each location. Cities named in the filing include its current territories of Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington DC and Denver as well as Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Manchester, Memphis, Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle and Sioux Falls.

The company previously stated it is pursuing an expansion roadmap that will see it cover more than 40 million households across the U.S. It reached a total of 5.3 million homes as of the end of Q4 2021.

Starry explained in the document that previously-granted experimental licenses allowed it to prove out its technology in different geographies and weather environments and test different business models as a new provider. But it added there’s more work to be done.

“We continue to iterate on improvements to our technology stack and to evolve our business model,” the company stated. “Increasing the number of base stations and customer terminals will allow Starry to continue to test millimeter wave propagation in the 37 GHz band in deployments over a wide area and with more transmitters.”

Specifically, Starry is looking to get a better sense of how the combination of electronic steering, multi-user MIMO and point-to-multipoint technologies will perform in dense urban settings with more physical obstacles. The conclusions of its proposed testing will ultimately help determine what it considers to be the “optimal network architecture” for deployments.

“When we combine these technologies in urban settings and with varying density and topography, the radio frequency environment dramatically changes relative to a deployment with a single link. Experimentation with this technology is necessary to determine how to maintain quality links over meaningful distances, and across different urban topographies and rain zones,” the company noted. “Further testing also is necessary for Starry to continue to develop and refine our equipment and deployment practices, as well as the network algorithms necessary to create a robust network.”

In a note to investors earlier this week, New Street Research’s Jonathan Chaplin argued the kind of fixed wireless service Starry provides poses more of a threat to cable operators than the kind offered by mobile juggernauts T-Mobile and Verizon. That’s because it makes use of dedicated mmWave spectrum that “circumvents both the supply and demand constraints” faced by mobile operators who are using the same mid-band and mmWave airwaves to serve both their fixed wireless and fully wireless customers. Meanwhile, operators using Starry’s model can “deliver a fiber-like experience over millimeter wave spectrum,” Chaplin wrote.

The company noted in its application with the FCC that it’s working to boost its bandwidth capabilities even further with the development of new dual-band equipment that will combine unlicensed 6 GHz airwaves with licensed millimeter wave spectrum. It currently offers download speeds ranging from 50 Mbps to 1 Gbps, with availability depending on the location.

“These additional channels will be combined for throughput with the millimeter wave channel and therefore in many cases, will double the overall throughput,” it said. “With a greater variety of real-world end user data consumption profiles, Starry can test the efficacy of solutions in a manner that better approximates commercial deployment scenarios.”

Starry’s application with the FCC was filed on April 1 and remains pending.