Starry "beam" used to transmit fixed wireless broadband service to buildings. Photo: Starry

Upstart internet provider Starry is trying to help small- and medium-sized cities accelerate investment in high-speed internet.

Why it matters: When it comes to fast, reliable broadband, installing fiber in the ground is the gold standard.

  • But fiber is too expensive for a lot of towns. Starry and others are offering "fixed wireless" service as an alternative that is cheaper and faster to deploy. It's also a potential competitor to incumbent broadband providers.

Driving the news: A the National League of Cities' City Summit this week, Starry is releasing a "toolkit" designed to be a guide for cities looking to partner with competitive broadband providers to expand access.

How it works: Fixed wireless bases beam internet signals to receivers located in homes and offices, where the majority of traffic is consumed. It's typically used in rural areas where robust fiber networks are not practical.

  • Windstream, like Starry, is using millimeter wave spectrum recently auctioned by the FCC to provide fixed wireless in mid-sized markets.
  • Wireless internet service providers (or WISPS) often use the technology to connect smaller communities.
  • Verizon is using its own fixed wireless approach to roll out 5G in some areas.
  • Starry operates in Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., and now has spectrum licenses to cover cities in more than 20 states.

A lot of mid-sized cities have hoped that a provider will fund the build-out of broadband throughout a market.

  • "But the moment it doesn't work from a balance sheet perspective, it falls apart," said Starry CEO Chet Kanojia. "What we've done is figured out the pieces of the pie to invest and make the model work."
  • Fixed wireless may not be whole solution, but it can fill last-mile gaps or unserved areas in coordination with other providers and technologies, Kanojia said.

The bottom line: Expanding broadband with wireless technology is only one piece of the puzzle, as all wireless networks including 5G need to connect to fiber infrastructure.

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