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Starry Wins 24 GHz Spectrum to Launch 200/200 Mbps Unlimited Wireless in 25 States

Starry, Inc., a fixed wireless internet provider, this week announced it has won 104 licenses in the FCC’s recent spectrum auction, allowing the company to launch service to over 40 million people in 25 states, potentially covering more than 25% of all U.S. households.

“We are excited to take this important next step, augmenting our shared spectrum strategy with exclusively licensed spectrum,” said Starry CEO and co-founder Chet Kanojia. “This gives us the ability to provide access to unlimited, affordable, high quality internet access. We built our technology to be agile and operate across a range of frequencies, so that we could take advantage of opportunities like this to expand and grow our network.”

Starry’s internet service advertises 200/200 Mbps speed without data caps for a flat $50 a month, equipment included. The service will now also use licensed frequencies in the 24 GHz band and reach customers over a point-to-multipoint network that serves multi-dwelling residential units primarily in dense urban areas, but can affordably service other areas with a significant population density.

Starry claims to offer a simple, no bundles, no-long-term contract, no-data caps, no-hidden fees plan of $50 per month, and is up and running in parts of Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York City, and Denver. Customers give Starry a rating of 4.9 out of 5.0 stars in over 100 Google reviews.

Customers like Raphael Peña are fans.

“It’s awesome so far, 300 Mbps down and about the same up,” Pena writes. “The price is right and I can play Battlefield V or any other game with no lag. I just wish you could get this for homes but I’m loving it in my apartment.”

So far, Starry is focused on serving multi-dwelling units like apartments and condos in downtown areas that are increasingly attractive to younger residents. The technology can be extended to serve other customers at an average cost of around $20 per residence. Most of their customers are young cord-cutters or cable-nevers, and Starry only sells internet service, skipping video and phone service. Starry works closely with real estate developers and owners to deploy Starry internet service, sometimes as an amenity to attract new renters and keep current ones happy.

With the latest spectrum acquisition, Starry plans to expand service in phases, starting with Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Miami, Memphis, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Manchester, N.H., Portland, Ore., and Sioux Falls, S.D. But the company also plans to reach cities in the 25 states where it now holds licensed spectrum. How fast it reaches these cities will depend on available funding and subscriber interest:

Starry’s Spectrum Licenses Cover These Communities

State Cities
Alabama Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile
Arizona Tucson
Arkansas Little Rock
Colorado Colorado Springs, Fort Collins
Florida Jacksonville, Tallahassee
Idaho Boise City
Illinois Decatur
Indiana South Bend, Fort Wayne, Bloomington
Kansas Wichita
Kentucky Louisville
Ohio Cleveland, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, Columbus
Massachusetts Springfield
Mississippi Jackson
Nevada Las Vegas, Reno
New Mexico Albuquerque
New York Buffalo, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester
North Carolina Fayetteville, Greensboro, Charlotte, Raleigh
Louisiana Baton Rouge, New Orleans
Pennsylvania Harrisburg
South Carolina Charleston
Tennessee Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis
Texas San Antonio, Brownsville, Lubbock, El Paso
Virginia Virginia Beach
Washington Spokane
Wisconsin Milwaukee, Madison
Courtesy of: Starry.com

Light Reading’s Mike Dano discussed how to build an affordable fixed 5G internet service with Alex Moulle-Berteaux, chief operating officer for Starry, at the Big 5G Event in Denver on May 8, 2019. (16:41)

Cable One: A Regime of High Prices and Data Caps

Cable One has the highest average revenue per customer of any publicly traded cable company in the United States, with the average customer paying Cable One $70.80 a month, mostly for internet access.

The company’s first quarter earnings growth of 5.5% reflect the company’s recent price increases and regime of low-allowance data caps, which have pushed 10 percent of its customers to pay an extra $40 a month to bring back unlimited access. Others are upgrading to costlier, faster tiers with more generous usage allowances.

“During the first quarter, we saw roughly 50% of our new customers choose our 200 Mbps or higher speed service and nearly 10% of our new customers opted to purchase our unlimited data plan,” said Julia Laulis, Cable One CEO.

Laulis

Cable One’s 200 Mbps plan (with a 600 GB data cap) costs $65 a month after promotions expire. A DOCSIS 3.0 modem lease fee of $10.50 applies. A $2.75 monthly internet service surcharge may apply. If a customer wants unlimited access to avoid overlimit fees, there is an additional charge of $40 a month (a 5 TB cap applies to the “unlimited plan”). Customers choosing a 200 Mbps broadband-only package with unlimited data will pay up to $118.25 a month.

Cable One’s broadband customers are concerned about staying within the data caps to avoid overlimit fees. While Comcast and Charter Spectrum customers consume over 300-400 GB of data per month (Comcast has a 1 TB cap, Spectrum only sells unlimited service), Cable One customers use an average of 290 GB, with usage growing at a 30-35% annual rate. Many Cable One customers have little choice either. Laulis noted that Cable One’s DSL competition is not very relevant when customers want to watch streaming video. Speeds are often so slow, customers do not have a good experience streaming HD video over DSL.

 

Cable One is also shedding its video customers in record numbers, with just 305,000 of its cable TV customers left. More than 29,000 departed year over year, and that number continues to rise as consumers rebel against the company’s high prices and unwillingness to negotiate.

MoffettNathanson warned that Cable One’s high pricing may eventually price itself out of broadband growth, as consumers elect to sign up with telephone companies instead. But many of its service areas are still served by low-speed DSL, and despite Cable One’s high cost, the company added 10,600 new internet customers in the last quarter.

In addition to raising prices, the company also plans to spend between $9-11 million to change its name from Cable One to Sparklight over the next two years.

Average Spectrum Broadband-Only Customer Now Using More than 400 GB a Month

Charter Spectrum’s broadband-only customers run up more than double the amount of broadband usage average customers subscribing to both cable TV and broadband use, and that consumption is growing fast.

“Data usage by residential internet customers is rising rapidly and monthly median data usage is over 200 GB per customer,” Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge said on a morning quarterly results conference call. “When you look at average monthly usage for customers that don’t subscribe to our traditional video product, usage climbs to over 400 GB per month.”

Last week, Comcast reported its average broadband customer also used over 200 GB a month, but did not break out the difference between those subscribing to cable TV and those who do not. If Comcast’s broadband-only customers are consuming a comparable amount of data, they could be nearing half of their monthly usage allowance (1 TB), in markets where Comcast caps its customers’ usage. But because that is only an average, it means many more Comcast customers are likely nearing or now exceeding Comcast’s data cap, exposing them to hefty overlimit penalties.

Spectrum does not impose any data allowances on its customers — all usage is unlimited.

Charter officials also reported their average mobile customers use “well under 10 GB a month.” The fact Charter did not get more specific about mobile usage is important because the new product is getting scrutiny from some on Wall Street concerned it will have a hard time becoming profitable because of its wholesale agreement with Verizon Wireless, which provides the 4G LTE service for Spectrum Mobile.

Subscribers have been primarily drawn to the $14/GB plan, which includes unlimited talk and texting, because it offers a very low entry price for a full-function wireless plan. But a customer only needs to use more than 3 GB of service per month to find their bill higher than what they would pay subscribing to Spectrum Mobile’s $45 unlimited usage plan. If Charter executives said the average mobile user consumed 5 GB of data, analysts could deduce what the average customer bill probably looked like. To maximize profits, Charter needs customers to select an unlimited data plan and keep data usage low to assure it can cover the wholesale costs Verizon Wireless charges the cable company for wireless connectivity.

Rutledge

Rutledge stressed he expects Spectrum Mobile to be profitable with the current Verizon Wireless MVNO contract in place — the service simply needs a larger user base to overcome its current losses.

Rutledge also announced Spectrum Mobile was testing dual SIM technology, which could allow it to eventually offload more of its 4G LTE traffic to its own (cheaper) network, which could eventually include mid-band wireless spectrum and the CBRS spectrum the company is already testing for fixed wireless service for rural areas. Spectrum could also follow Comcast with its own in-home network of publicly available Wi-Fi or innovate with unlicensed wireless mobile spectrum using small cells or external antennas.

Charter executives noted that customer data demands were pushing many to upgrade to higher speed internet products.

“Over 80% of our internet customers are now in packages that deliver 100 Mbps of speed or more and 30% of our customers are getting 200 Mbps or more,” Rutledge said. “We’re also seeing strong demand for our Ultra product, which delivers 400 Mbps, and we have gigabit service available everywhere.”

The costs to continue upgrading service for broadband customers are negligible on the company’s current platform, Rutledge admits. In the future, Charter Spectrum is considering offering 10 Gbps and 25 Gbps symmetrical service to customers, and it can scale up upgrades very quickly.

“For example, in only 14 months we launched DOCSIS 3.1, which took our speeds up to 1 Gbps across our entire footprint at a cost of just $9 per passing,” Rutledge said.

The Average Comcast Customer Now Uses Over 200 GB of Data Per Month

The average Comcast broadband customer now consumes over 200 GB of online data per month, an increase of 34% over just one year ago, according to Dave Watson, president and CEO of Comcast Cable Communications.

The increased usage accelerated during the last quarter of 2018, Watson told investors on a quarterly conference call.

What remains unchanged is Comcast’s data cap, which remains fixed at 1 TB per month for many customers. To avoid overlimit penalty fees of $10 for each additional 50 GB block of data consumed (up to $200 per month), Comcast is still pitching its unlimited data option — insurance against Comcast’s own overlimit penalties, which costs a growing number of customers an extra $50 a month.

Watson knows data usage over Comcast’s network is about to grow exponentially, mostly thanks to streaming video.

“I think that we start with the central view that streaming is going to happen, video over the internet is more friend than foe. and we wish every bit was our bit,” Watson told investors this morning. “If people consume more bits and video clearly does that, and 4K video does even more than that, that is the sweet spot of where this company is going to grow.”

Translation: We intend to make a killing on usage growth. Comcast can market you a faster internet package at a higher price, or as your usage approaches the data cap, scare you into buying overlimit insurance.

Remember that Comcast drops usage caps for some customers willing to rent their latest network gateway (available only in some areas at this time).

Verizon Says Its 5G Home Broadband Will Only Be for Urban Areas

Verizon, the country’s leading provider of millimeter wave 5G wireless broadband, is promising to expand service nationwide, but admits it will only service urban areas where the economics of small cell/fiber network infrastructure makes economic sense.

At the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona, Spain, Verizon’s vice president of technology planning told PC that when it launches its mobile 5G network later this spring, home wireless internet service will come along for the ride.

“It is one network, based on 5G, supporting multiple use cases,” Verizon’s Adam Koeppe said. “Enterprise, small/medium business, consumer, mobility, fixed. When the 5G network is built, you have a fixed and mobile play that’s basically native to the deployment you’re doing.”

That means Verizon’s millimeter wave 5G network is designed to be shared by everyone and everything, including businesses, residential customers, cell phone users on the go, Internet of Things applications like smart meters and intelligent traffic systems, and more. But that network will not be everywhere Verizon or Verizon Wireless currently provides service.

“Our deployments of millimeter wave are focused on urban centers. It’s where the people are, where the consumption is,” Koeppe said.

Verizon faces significant costs building out its 5G wireless network in areas where it does not already offer FiOS fiber to the home service. Verizon’s 5G network is dependent on a fiber optic-fed network of small cells placed on top of utility and light poles at least every few city blocks. That means Verizon is most likely to get a reasonable return on its investment placing its 5G network in urban downtown areas and high wireless traffic suburban zones, such as around event venues, large shopping centers and entertainment districts. The company has chosen to deploy 5G in some residential areas, but only within large city limits. So far, it has generally steered clear of residential suburbs in favor of older gentrified city neighborhoods with plenty of closely-spaced multi-dwelling apartments, condos, and homes, as well as in urban centers with converted lofts or apartments.

Koeppe

Rural areas are definitely off Verizon’s list because the millimeter waves Verizon prefers to use do not travel very far, making it very expensive to deploy the technology to serve a relatively small number of customers.

Other carriers are not committing to large scale 5G deployments either.

At a debate held earlier today at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy, former FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, now a paid lobbyist for T-Mobile, warned that unless T-Mobile was allowed to merge with Sprint, its deployment of 5G will only happen in “very limited areas.”

Sprint has plans to introduce its own flavor of 5G, which won’t use millimeter wave frequencies, by June in nine U.S. cities. T-Mobile has talked about deploying 5G on existing large cell towers, which means one tower will serve many more customers than Verizon’s small cells. But with more customers sharing that bandwidth, the effective speed customers will see is likely to be only incrementally better than T-Mobile’s existing 4G LTE network. AT&T is initially moving in the same direction as T-Mobile, meaning many customers will be sharing the same bandwidth. That may explain why AT&T’s current 5G hotspot service plan also comes with a 15 GB data cap.

Verizon says its millimeter wave network will, by geography and design, limit the number of people sharing each small cell, making data caps unnecessary for its 5G fixed wireless home broadband replacement, which delivers download speeds of around 300 Mbps on average.

“We engineer the network to give the customer what they need when they need it, and the results speak for themselves,” Koeppe said.

Verizon is already selling its 5G service in limited areas for $50 a month to Verizon Wireless customers, $70 a month for non-customers. There are no data caps or speed throttles.

Based on the plans of all four major U.S. carriers, consumers should only expect scattered rollouts of 5G this year, and only in certain neighborhoods at first. It will take several years to build out the different iterations of 5G technology, with millimeter wave taking the longest to expand because of infrastructure and potential permitting issues.

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