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Starry Internet overview: Fast, affordable internet, no strings attached

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Starry Internet

Starry 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 a lot 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 like 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 a gateway at your home that rebroadcast the connection as a Wi-Fi network (both T-Mobile and Verizon are currently offering 5G home internet plans like that). A fixed wireless connection, like the one from Starry Internet, sends internet signals directly to and from dedicated points.

Whether or not that makes for a connection that’s noticeably better 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, which eschew 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 ISP competitors

That, along with Starry’s plans to expand service to tens of millions of additional homes by the end of 2022, makes this an internet provider worth knowing about — and worth considering, too, if it’s available at your address. For now, 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.

A fixed wireless flex

Say you’ve got a cup to catch water with. Mobile wireless internet is like holding that cup in the rain. You can catch rain drops pretty much anywhere as you move around the city, though it may be raining heavier 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 compared to 5G, but most fixed wireless connections use unlicensed bandwidth towards the bottom of the spectrum, and that means that the speeds are pretty limited (to go back to the water cup analogy, imagine the sort of cheap, toy water gun that you might use to spray a misbehaving cat). 

However, Starry is different to other, slower fixed wireless providers like Rise Broadband or AT&T because it licensed the use of higher frequency bands in the 24-37GHz range that can allow for 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.

How does Starry Internet fixed wireless internet work?

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, in fact, that Starry is able to deliver speeds and value that rival fiber and cable internet providers in some of the biggest US markets. It’s a little different from fiber or cable internet, though, so let’s get into a bit about how Starry works before moving on to availability, plans and service terms.

A Starry Internet technician installs a Trident base unit high up on a radio tower — once activated, it’ll transmit an internet signal to nearby receivers perched atop apartment buildings and other places where people want to connect.

Starry Internet

Starry transmits wireless internet signals from base stations (aka 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, height is an advantage, and one that enables Starry 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 in order 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.

It’s important to note that 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.



Starry Internet availability

Starry Internet launched in Boston around five years ago and has since expanded service to include Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, DC and, most recently, Columbus, Ohio. 

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 center of the city to the southeast, whereas serviceability in Los Angeles extends northwest from the city center. There is currently no data available from the FCC for Starry Internet service availability in Columbus.

A spokesperson says Starry is “continually building out coverage in these metro areas and has an expansion roadmap and spectrum footprint that covers 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 that is 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.

Starry Internet plans and pricing details

Starry Internet’s standard 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. Starry Pro and Starry Gigabit, for example, 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 chose, all come with 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 internet service provider.

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 Internet 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-$30 per month, offer download speeds around 10 to 25Mbps (and much lower upload speeds) and require a lengthy application process. Starry’s affordable internet plan exceeds those expectations in a number of ways — it’s only $15 per month, it offers symmetrical upload and download speeds of 30Mbps, and 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 premise,” 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.”

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 to 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 Spectrum, especially when you get into the higher speed tiers, and they’re roughly on par with Xfinity, 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, Performance Starter Plus, which starts 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. 

You’ll want to look at more than the starting price when comparing internet services, however. 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 30 and 50Mbps plans, which means that the uploads are just as fast as the downloads. With the higher-speed plans (200, 500 and 1,000Mbps), you’ll see uploads that are 50% as fast as the max download speeds. Compare that to 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, refuse to) deliver. Fiber internet, on the other hand, is capable of faster upload speeds, so let’s see how Starry compares to fiber.

Starry Internet vs. fiber internet

AT&T or 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 Verizon starts at around $80 per month and, while AT&T’s is cheaper for the first year at $60 per month, the price jumps up to $80 after that. Also, keep in mind that AT&T comes with an inescapable $10 per month equipment fee. Verizon’s is $15 per month, though you do have the option to use your own equipment and avoid the fee.

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 200 or 300Mbps option plus a gigabit plan, 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 does help minimize the potential for signal interference.

Starry Internet vs. wireless internet, including 5G

Compared to 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 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 to 5G home internet, providers like Verizon and T-Mobile offer plans in the $60-$70 per month range (possibly cheaper if you’re a mobile subscriber, as well), with speeds ranging from 100-980Mbps depending on the provider and location. That’s certainly impressive for a 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 or J.D. Power do not 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 60-70, 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 definitely 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 Internet stands out among fixed wireless providers, enough so to compete with cable and fiber-optic services in large cities including Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, DC 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 definitely worth checking out, but as with any home service, be sure to explore all your options before signing up.