One of the primary issues with off the grid living is that getting and keeping connected to the internet is difficult, especially in isolated regions. Many people live off the grid and have internet access; however, the internet is usually incredibly slow and has a data cap in most situations. Most people rely on their phones to connect to the internet; it is the most convenient way to stay connected.
You can have internet off the grid even if you live in the middle of the forest, believe it or not. Various factors will determine the stability and bandwidth of your internet connection, but you will be able to answer emails in most cases. With Starlink or similar services, it will be possible to have broadband internet even in the middle of the wilderness as technology advances.
The good news is that having access to off the grid internet is feasible; nevertheless, don’t expect a consistent or fast internet connection. I live in Alaska, which has a low population density and few internet access alternatives, although many people gain at least partial internet access. The bad news is that you will most likely be unable to browse the internet as you would if you had a solid internet connection.
You’ve certainly seen several folks living off the grid and uploading on YouTube; while they have internet connectivity, they mostly utilize it to check their emails and social media. Most of them make the videos and then go to a public location once a week or once a month to submit them because off the grid internet is usually far too sluggish to upload something as huge as a video.
Furthermore, most individuals have data restrictions, and social networking and video streaming sites consume a lot of data; watching a movie and surfing social media will quickly consume a couple of GB of your data quota. If you want a cable broadband internet connection, you must live partially off the grid; for more details, see my recent article How to Live Partially Off the Grid.
Use Your Cell Phone for Off the Grid Internet
This is by far the simplest and best way to get internet while living off the grid for many individuals. In general, you will have access to the internet wherever you have cell phone coverage. However, this is not always the case. If you live in a state with a low population density, your cell phone coverage is poor, and you will most likely have a relatively low data allotment. If you have the option of creating a contract without a data cap, that would be your best alternative.
You will also need to check the cell phone coverage, and by this, I do not mean going to the carrier’s website and seeing where they have coverage, as this is most likely not genuine and is only to get you signed up with them. You must go to the place and check the signal strength; in some situations where cell phone coverage should exist, you will most likely find none. This is especially significant if you intend to live in a remote place surrounded by hills; huge forests can also impede cell phone reception.
If your area has mobile phone reception, but the signal is poor, you can improve the signal using a variety of gadgets. These devices do not consume much power, so if you generate power with solar panels, you should be OK. External antennas and inside antennas are the two most prevalent signal enhancers. Most boosters work nicely, but there are a few things to consider.
- Keep the booster close to your phone, with no walls between it and the antenna.
- If you have other devices, such as a HAM radio, please turn them off while browsing the internet.
- If feasible, get a booster with a higher GHz output; they are the fastest.
Use Broadband Wireless Internet
If you live in a low-density location, your local internet or cell phone provider offers this service. Fixed wireless broadband employs enormous antennas, similar to mobile phone towers; these wireless towers or antennas operate on radio frequency; in essence, it is an outdoor wireless network. They have the disadvantage of being quite slow, but they are better than nothing.
If you reside near one of the fixed wireless broadband antennae and the signal is quite slow, you can still improve the signal; simply acquire an extra antenna, and you should be good.
Check Satellite Internet
A few companies provide internet through satellite, but they are quite slow and extremely expensive. You may assume that they could make satellite internet connection relatively simple with all of this advanced technology. The truth is that this is the same problem as data caps; they keep the internet slow and expensive because they can, and every company does it.
Although two businesses are generally reputable, competition in the satellite internet field is rather low.
- Viasat: Provides 10-100 Mbps, has a data cap of 40-150 Gb and costs $50-$100, yet internet speed claims should be taken with a grain of salt regardless of which carrier you choose. The issue is that internet speed varies greatly; you would be better off with a 10 Mbps connection that is stable rather than a 100 Mbps connection that frequently drops to less than 1 Mbps.
- HughesNet: Provides 25 Mbps with a 10-40 Gb data cap and a price range of $60-$150. The data caps are far too low; you should be able to get by with a 40 GB data cap, but as you can see, it is quite costly.
Use a HAM Radio
Yes, you read that correctly: you can receive internet access using a HAM radio. However, this is unlikely to be an option for most people. The biggest issue with HAM radio is having a license, namely a Technicians License, to use a HAM radio. Most people who own a HAM radio do so as a hobby or reside in a remote place with no cell phone coverage.
The good news is that obtaining a license to operate a HAM radio is rather simple, albeit you will need to pass an exam and, yes, you will need to study. Although internet access via a HAM Radio is slow, you will be able to send emails and even surf some websites. The issue is that anything you do on the internet while using a HAM radio is visible to everyone in the area who also owns a HAM radio. Thus no online shopping for you.
Use a Data Plan
LTE is an abbreviation for Long Term Evolution, and it is available from most large and minor carrier firms. These are often 4G networks, so they are sometimes referred to as 4G LTE. Do not only go to the first major mobile carrier in your area; other smaller companies resell LTE, and these contracts are sometimes less expensive than if you went with a major carrier.
Most LTE data plans include data caps; choose one with the best reception in your location; the data cap is nothing if you can’t connect to the internet.
Use a Microwave Internet Connection
This is comparable to fixed wireless broadband, but it has advantages and disadvantages. One of the most significant advantages is that this is the greatest type of internet available; the speed is adequate, and the connection is stable. The biggest issue with microwave internet towers is that they must be in direct sight of your receiving antenna. Thus if you live in the middle of the woods or a valley, you will not have internet access.
The good news is that you can use the internet even if you don’t have any DIY abilities. If your house is not in direct line of sight of the microwave internet tower, locate a hill and position your receiving antenna there, ensuring that it has a direct line of sight. All that remains is to connect your wireless router to the antenna using an internet cable; keep in mind that the longer the cable, the slower the internet.
If the distance is less than a mile, you should be good with a standard 100 Mbps internet cable. If you want faster internet or the distance is several miles long, you will need to utilize optical fiber, which is much quicker but extremely sensitive, so avoid bending the cable. To prevent rodents from gnawing on the cable, you should probably place it inside a plastic tube. Some providers will provide uncapped internet with roughly 10 Mbps, which should be sufficient for video streaming, online shopping, and other activities.
Get a Hotspot for Internet
When most people think of a Hotspot, they envision one created by their cell phone. The truth is that numerous firms do provide Hotspot with a little device that functions similarly to a wireless router. A hotspot created using a cellphone is adequate, but a hotspot created with a hotspot device is far superior, faster, and more stable. Most companies that sell hotspot devices require mobile phone connectivity in the vicinity, but this is not always the case, so check around.
Internet USB Sticks
Before the age of smartphones, USB internet sticks were the only alternatives for connecting to the internet. They are still available in some regions. However, they are not the greatest. If you have a full signal, most businesses offering these devices will advertise a speed of “up to 10 Mbps.” As I’ve discovered multiple times before, the problem is that even with a full signal, you’ll never get close to the maximum speed.
I previously purchased a stick with a full signal and internet speed of roughly 50 kbps, which is incredibly slow; it took around 3-4 minutes to see a webpage, and opening my email took a significant amount of time. When I called their support, they just kept saying “up to 10 Mbps” if I had a full signal, which I did, but they couldn’t tell me what the minimum speed should be if I had the full signal; at that point, “up to 1000 Mbps” is irrelevant.
The data caps on these USB sticks are also relatively low, as low as 1GB; the good news is that you will never be able to achieve that if your internet connection is poor. In addition, you will have to purchase the USB stick and pay a monthly subscription to use it.
Community Internet Works
There are few possibilities for internet access in many distant places where smaller towns and settlements are located. Some towns get together to create a tiny network that is subsequently linked to the internet. The quality of the internet is determined by who the real source is, which can be many miles distant. A single fiber optic cable is pulled and connected to a router for short distances, with individual homes connected to the router through a standard internet cable.
In other cases, if the distance is relatively great, some towns will build up antennas and repeaters; while this is not the best choice, it is better than nothing. Keep in mind that special permits are required to set up these antennas and repeaters.
Broadband Power Lines
BPL is a service available in many rural towns; there is no need for internet connections because you may access the internet directly from the power grid. This is largely for folks who live partially off the grid but are still linked to the electrical grid. However, with luck, you will be able to access it even if you are not linked to the grid. In some locations, firms that provide BPL will install an antenna and a repeater so that even if you are not close to the power grid, you can still access the internet.
If you have to pay for antennae, repeaters, and the full setup, it will cost you an arm and a leg. This is an excellent option for folks who do not have cell phone service in certain places, yet such a setup can be prohibitively expensive if you are not directly connected to the grid.
Long-Range Wi-Fi Antenna
Most people mistake these for standard wireless antennas; they are entirely separate devices. In the last few years, the technology used for long-range Wi-Fi antennae has advanced to the point where you may be several miles away from the antenna that is supplying the internet. These long-range antennas are typically installed in small settlements. However, some individuals have them as well.
The bad news is that these antennas can be quite expensive, and some organizations that sell these antennas frequently try to make a package deal with a specific internet service provider. The good news is that, with luck, the internet can be excellent.
Final Thoughts on Internet When Off the Grid Living
As you can see, there are various possibilities for off the grid internet; however, some of these options are only possible if you reside in a tiny off the grid community due to their higher cost. If you live alone or with your family, your best option for an internet connection is to utilize your cell phone if you have one.