Despite being 'constantly poor,' Starry shoots for substantial growth
There's a big tech solution to just about every day-to-day problem: Need a ride? There's Uber. Need immediate delivery of any product ever made? There's Amazon.
Need fixed broadband speeds at lower deployment and customer costs? Well, no app for that just yet, but this is where the fixed wireless startup Starry wants to come in.
That's how Starry put it on a slide in its January 2022 analyst presentation – released in tandem with Q4 2021 operational results last week – whereby the company claims that "technology solves complex problems and reduces costs, but fixed broadband is untouched." Starry, it says, is the solution.
Ambitious claims are part of Starry's modus operandi. The company launched in 2016 with plans to cover the whole world. It has since focused on US markets but is growing fast, reporting what it called "continued strong momentum" in Q4 results.
According to those results, Starry – which is available in Boston; Los Angeles; New York City; Washington, DC; Denver; and Columbus – said it added 8,152 "customer relationships" in Q4 (how the company defines individual subscribers and all units under bulk billing arrangements in apartment buildings). That represented an 83.3% annual increase, bringing total customers to 63,230.
The company also grew its Starry Connect program, bringing high-speed Internet to low-income housing, to reach more than 55,990 units – an 87.6% increase from Q4 2020.
Further, its serviceable footprint expanded to 5.3 million homes, representing 27.5% year-over-year growth, according to Q4 results.
Starry's spectrum – comprising 24GHz licenses and a market test authority for the 37GHz band – currently covers roughly 40 million US homes in 37 states. Based on those licenses, as well as Starry's anticipated receipt of $269 million through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, pending final approval from the FCC, the fixed wireless provider plans to be able to service 25 million of those homes by 2026.
"We intend to become one of the largest US broadband providers," the company says in its analyst presentation.
One key to Starry's future success, say company execs, is its ability to be vertically integrated as a tech developer, network operator and service provider. As it notes in its presentation, "full integration is necessary to continue to drive cost and capacity improvements over time."
To that end, last year Starry chose to move all of its assembly stateside, to Massachusetts where it is headquartered.
The shift began with a small experimental assembly facility, said company CEO and co-founder Chet Kanojia. Once it became clear that stateside manufacturing would help the company control things better, "being sort of crazy people that we are, we're like, alright, let's just go all in," he said.
Starry now plans to assemble "tens of thousands" of its fixed wireless products in the US in 2022.
"Everybody's complaining about the supply chain, and it's a real problem. But we are continuously designing obsolete components out, hard-to-find components out, and designing new ones in. We can run that very closed loop," said Kanojia. "It's turning out to be a good offensive strategy in terms of both cost management and quality management and driving yield."
According to Kanojia, Starry expects to hire an additional 300 to 400 employees this year.
Key to making all of this happen is Starry's forthcoming IPO. The company announced in October 2021 that it made a deal with FirstMark, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), to raise $452 million.
"Obviously this IPO is not a liquidity event. You know, all of us are deeply committed, including our shareholders," said Kanojia.
Rather, the IPO is to solve for what he says is "somewhere between $400-600 million on the balance sheet."
"It's really crazy to have an infrastructure/hardware company, plus software, plus service provider, that's going to continue to double every year," he said. "You feel constantly poor because you're putting so much money into the fundamentals."
In a press release about the intended IPO in October, Amish Jani, chairman and president of FirstMark said, "Starry is not a 'grand idea.' It is a proven and operational technology that is already transforming how networks are built and significantly changing the customer experience into something that delights, not frustrates."
Perhaps one signifier of that is another stat from Starry's analyst presentation: that 52% of its subscribers made the switch from another service provider, a trend Starry will want to hold if it's to become the Uber or Amazon of fixed wireless broadband.
— Nicole Ferraro, site editor, Broadband World News; senior editor, global broadband coverage, Light Reading. Host of "The Divide" on the Light Reading Podcast.
Here's where you can find episode links for 'The Divide,' Light Reading's podcast series featuring conversations with broadband providers and policymakers working to close the digital divide.
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