Whaddya know; Chet Kanojia is going even bigger this time.
The entrepreneur whose previous upstart, Aereo, was abruptly shut down by the U.S. Supreme Court last year for rebroadcasting the content of TV networks to its own cord-cutting, online subscribers, announced Wednesday in Manhattan that he is at it again.
"We are leapfrogging over outdated tech and Internet infrastructure," Kanojia said. "...We are leveraging an underutilized resource: airwaves."
This time he's not just angling to give customers content on their devices; instead, he's carving out an entirely new distribution network. It's called Starry, and it's one of the first products--if you can call a WiFi network that travels over the millimeter wave spectrum a "product"--launched by the new company, previously known by a code name, Project Decibel.
Starry, according to the company, is "the world's first millimeter-wave active phased array for consumer IP communications." Yes, that's a mouthful. It's basically completely wireless Internet access--so no more digging trenches or installing thick fiber cords through walls. Instead of cables, Starry uses a part of the public airwave spectrum to bring a signal from a few big devices on rooftops throughout a city directly to the windows of urban subscribers--via a tiny triangular device in the home.
"It's a little bit like witchcraft," Kanojia admits. And the service will be reasonably cost-effective, Kanojia projects, at about $25 per home.
Starry, like Aereo, is based in both New York City and Boston. Much of the founding and technical team of software and hardware engineers, industrial designers and user-experience experts carried over from Aereo, which was disassembled after the Supreme Court's shocking ruling last year. Now, thanks to infusions of funding from Kanojia himself along with a slate of investors, the team is almost 50-strong, and hiring for about a dozen new positions.
Starry will be aiming for even more splashiness than did Aereo, which had a cult following among tech-savvy, mostly younger consumers. But due to Aereo's limited distribution in maybe a dozen cities, and court-ordered strangulation, it never found a mainstream foothold. Starry's job postings call out some of the most customer-friendly startups of today as peers: Apple, Nest, Casper, and Uber.
Those who know Kanojia say he's a hacker in spirit with a passion for design, and great concern for appearances. Of the innovations crafted by Aereo, one of his proudest was the dime-sized metal antennae the company created to individually broadcast network TV to nearby users. His aesthetic veers toward the sleek, clean, and modern. And he has a thing for stylish shoes. For his mood, just check his feet. (Wednesday, black, clean tennis shoes with white soles. Casual confidence.)
On Wednesday, he showed a slide of a blinking Internet router, the big flat black box variety: "effectively a dead spider upside down." And then displayed a new product by Starry: "by far the most beautiful piece of technology that has come out in a long time."
It is called the Starry Station, and it looks like an Apple-inspired, white slice of watermelon, crafted out of extruded aluminum, with a 3.8-inch color touch-screen display on one side. The display shows an array of floating orbs, each representing an internet-connected device nearby. The size represents data use, and the color the "health" of the connection (blue is great; red is trouble). The device includes child-access controls, and customer-support. It's also IoT-ready. The station is available for : $349.99. pre-order today
Still, Kanojia seems to have some healthy skepticism of Internet of Things devices, saying: "I'm not sure how many refrigerators are going to get connected or what the value of that is."
While Starry promises to create a "full stack" of consumer products for this new type of access to the Internet (which itself should make ISPs shudder), Kanojia isn't looking to manufacture everything and your kitchen sink. When asked if Starry might someday make an Internet-connected vaccuum cleaner, Kanojia unblinkingly replied: "No."