With Aereo, Chet Kanojia took on the broadcast industry — and lost spectacularly. Now, he is getting ready to go up against an equally formidable foe: Kanojia is about to unveil a new startup that could provide wireless internet access in major metropolitan areas across the U.S., and in turn directly compete with big incumbents like Comcast and Time Warner Cable.
Kanojia has been working since the end of 2014 on this new project, and thus far succeeded in keeping a cloud of secrecy around his efforts. His new company, which has hired at least 20 former Aereo employees, is currently in stealth mode, using the name “Project Decibel” to keep outsiders guessing. The company’s website simply states that it is “creating powerful and unique technology products and services that have meaningful impact on consumers.”
Next week, Project Decibel has invited select journalists to an event in New York to unveil what it has been up to — but there’s enough evidence out there already to piece together what’s to be unveiled.
For starters, Project Decibel registered a trademark for “Starry” last fall. That trademark application covers “wireless and wired telecommunications and data networking hardware; network routers; wireless routers; wireless access points” as well as “providing access to the Internet; providing access to digital content; Internet access provider services,” amongst other things.
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But Project Decibel didn’t stop there. The company also incorporated a new entity called “Starry Inc.,” which has since registered with the IEEE – a standards body for the wireless industry — to build wireless devices. Separately, Project Decibel became part of the Wifi Alliance, further suggesting that it will build Wifi-based hardware.
Both companies registered numerous web domains, including Starry.com, Starrywifi.org and Starry.us to prepare themselves for a commercial launch. During that process, numerous connections made it clear that Starry and Project Decibel are in fact one and the same. For example, Project Decibel registered the Starry.com domain on September 20 of last year, only to switch the registered owner to Starry Inc. on October 11.
But the most damning piece of evidence for what Kanojia is up to comes in the form of a FCC application filed earlier this month. On January 8, a corporate entity called Starry Spectrum LLC asked the FCC for permission to test some new wireless equipment. Starry Spectrum just happens to be using Project Decibel’s office address, and the application personally lists Project Decibel engineer John Westbrook.
The application details that Starry is working on wireless transmission equipment operating in the 3.8 Ghz range. Each test setup would consist of 15 base stations to be installed at a central location, and up to 250 devices presumably placed in people’s homes — suggesting that Starry is testing some kind of wireless internet access points. Basically, the company may sell or lease consumers a special kind of router that connects to a nearby wireless transmitter, very similar to the way a cell phone works, but for in-home internet access.
And here’s the kicker: Starry doesn’t just want to test this setup in Boston, where it is currently headquartered, or in New York, where it also has an office. The company applied for tests in 15 metropolitan areas across the U.S., including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Washington D.C., Seattle and Denver.
In this context, it seems all too fitting that Kanojia suggested a talk titled “Challenging the Monopoly: The New Broadband” to the upcoming SXSW event in Austin, Texas. (This event, as well as the Starry trademark, were first reported by Cnet Thursday). During his talk, he planned to deliver “a compelling discussion of the new technologies on the horizon that will change how we access the internet.”
A Project Decibel spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by Variety, so we will have to wait for next week’s event for an official word on what the former Aereo team has been up to. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s all about wireless internet access.
And who knows? Maybe Kanojia will also throw some media play in for old time’s sake. The Starry trademark application also mentions “electronic transmission and streaming of digital media content.” Because if you take on Comcast, you may as well meddle with their video business too.