How to get Internet Access when living off the grid
Going off-grid doesn’t mean you have to cut all ties to civilization. In fact, thanks to modern technology, you can still live your off the grid dreams while still staying connected to the rest of the world.
One of the questions I receive most from people looking to go off-the-grid is how they can access the internet when living in remote areas of the country. This is especially important for those who rely on the internet for our jobs. It’s also a major consideration for preparedness minded people who want to connect to the internet during a power outage or long-term, grid-down situation.
When we originally wrote this article ten years ago the options were pretty limited, today in 2022, finding internet access in remote parts of the world has become a lot easier.
OFFGRID INTERNET OPTIONS – Connecting to the internet from Rural areas or during long-term disasters
Simple Cell Phone Connections
For those looking for rural or off-grid land, plenty of locations have accessible cell towers within reach of the land. If you live within range of one of these towers, you can use a data-capable cell phone to stay connected and surf the web. While these connections are still pretty slow in rural areas, they are one of the cheapest options on the market and can be a good choice for those who will not require a lot of bandwidth.
You can use your smart phone and/or tablet to access the internet via the data plan with your cellular carrier.
- One of the cheapest options for Off-Grid Internet Access.
- Gives you the ability to make phone calls and have a dedicated phone number.
- Completely mobile and can be taken with you anywhere in the world.
- Depending on the phone, you may have the ability to use the phone as a WIFI enabled hotspot or tether for your other electronic devices.
- Depending on how up to date your local towers are, older technologies may see some of the slowest connection speeds out there.
- Small screen size — unless you are using the phone as a hotspot, which you may need to pay more for your data plan then.
In some areas, a signal booster will be needed to reliably hit a tower. If you have weak cellular signal in your home, a cellular signal booster can help boost your signal and hit the closest tower.
Cell signal boosters generally have three main components: an external antenna outside your home; the booster, which cleans and amplifies the signal; and an antenna inside your home that interacts with your outdoor antenna. They’re all connected by coaxial cable.
The Top Signal Boosters on the market include:
Cellular Router with Modem
One other option we want to touch on, and something popular with RVers, is the Cellular Router with Modem.
This is a pretty specialized piece of hardware. They come with one or two modems, so you can use them simultaneously with more than one SIM card / data plan for the best coverage across multiple carriers. It provides a central hub from which you can connect all of your cellular devices to access the internet.
Wireless Internet Access: Your own Hotspot
Depending on how remote you live, using a wireless provider for internet access can help keep you connected 24/7. Most Cell Phone companies and even some newer specialized companies offer wireless Internet services designed specifically for laptops and tablets.
If you have line of sight to a mobile broadband repeater, there are a number of 4G, LTE and 5G hotspot devices on the market, including the MIMO 4×4 Panel External Antenna Kit for 4G LTE/5G Hotspots. Combined with an external WiFi Antenna and signal amplifier to increase your range, this may be a great option for those who are close enough to pull in the WiFi signal.
As time goes on this may be one of the most reliable options for those that need to stay connected.
For all the DIY folks out there, this option is nothing new. In fact, here is a cool old video that shows you how to build your own homemade WiFi Signal Amplifying antenna (sometimes called a Cantenna)
- Quickly and easily connect multiple devices.
- Faster connection speed than most cell phone plans.
- Usually cheaper than satellite and lower hardware costs.
- More expensive than cellular and extra hardware costs.
- Above ground installation may be required if you need external antennas to pull in a signal.
Satellite Internet from anywhere in the world
For travelers and people who have decided to live in remote areas of the world, satellite internet is now a real possibility. Companies like HughesNet and StarLink provide fast, affordable service to almost anywhere in the country.
One thing to keep in mind for those who are closely watching their power consumption is these satellite modems need to be completely shut off or they will continue to pull 20 – 30 watts at all times.
RV Satellite Systems – Since some people like to go mobile, moving from place to place in an RV or trailer, I wanted to briefly touch on RV Satellite systems. There are a number of companies that offer satellite service for Full-time RVers, but the setup on these units is usually pretty expensive. For a good Roof-Mounted system, something that will automatically lock onto the satellite signal no matter where you park, expect to pay at least a couple thousand dollars in hardware and setup costs. On the plus side, you will have internet access in even the most remote boondocking areas of the country.
- The biggest advantage to using satellite internet is that you can get internet access in areas that even cell towers can’t touch.
- Fast download speeds.
- A number of companies will bundle satellite television services into your monthly bill.
- Depending on the company, you may see a decrease in download speed during peak hours.
- Depending on the service, there may be higher hardware costs.
- Weather can impact your signal. You need a clear view of the sky to hit the satellite.
- Latency issues when streaming or using services like Skype.
OTHERNET – Free Data Anywhere?
One interesting piece of gear/technology that we recently stumbled on is the Dreamweaver, which is part of the Othernet Project. Othernet can be used to capture data from a satellites for free.
The Othernet project is attempting to bring live data such as news, weather, video, books, Wikipedia articles and audio broadcasts to the world via cheap receivers and a free satellite service. It is aimed at the most remote areas of the world, and is built to continue working during disasters.
Serious OFFGRID Emergency Data Network Options for Long-term disasters.
Internet via Ham Radio
Although not really practical for large downloads or streaming large files, it is possible to build a repeater network that allows you to access the internet through a ham radio. In fact, during emergencies, ham radios can be used quite successfully to send email, data, and documents when all other forms of communication have gone down.
Even before the internet, Ham radio operators were using an internet of their own called Packet Radio. Packet Radio allows Hams to send files, update bulletin board systems, send text messages and even control remote systems and networks via their radios. Moreover, should some catastrophic event ever occur that takes out the internet, Packet Radio technology can still be used to link remote stations and form an ad hoc network — or emergency internet of sorts.
Today, through worldwide radio messaging systems like DStar and Winlink, Ham radio operators can send an email with attachments, send emergency relief communications and message relays, and even access the internet. Although the legality of using it to access certain parts of the internet is still in question, and one would not want to transmit personal data or passwords via these technologies, it is a viable option for accessing the internet during emergency situations.
Here is a good video from Amateur Radio Operator Chris Matthieu showing that it is possible to access the internet with a Ham Radio.
If you really want to dig deeper into the ham radio/internet options, or find out what would or could be available during a long-term grid down situation, check out some of the stuff the non-profit HamWAN is doing with their the Puget Sound Data Ring. HamWAN networks have been used for things like low-latency repeater linking, real-time video feeds from distant locations, serving APRS I-gates, providing redundant internet access to emergency operations centers, and more.
You can also check out the Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network (AREDN).
For more information on Ham Radio and Emergency Communications check out: