One of the main problems with off grid living is that having internet and staying connected is fairly hard, especially in remote areas. There are a lot of people living off the grid and have some kind of internet access, the problem is that usually the internet is extremely slow and in most cases, it has a data cap. Most people rely on their phones to have access to the internet, this is by far one of the easiest ways to stay connected.
Believe it or not but you can have internet off the grid even if you live in the middle of the wilderness. As for how stable and how much bandwidth your internet connection will have will depend on several factors, but for the most part, you will still be able to at least answer emails. As technology progresses it will be possible to have broadband internet even in the middle of the wilderness with Starlink or similar services.
If you want to have off the grid then one of your best options is to use a hotspot device, my personal recommendation is to use a mobile WiFi hotspot to which up to 15 devices can be connected Click here to check it out on Amazon.com
Having off grid internet mostly depends on the location, in some areas where there is no cell phone reception, you will not be able to rely on your phone for the internet. I do personally know people who have made their own DIY internet in remote areas, these are fairly easy to make if you know what you are doing, although you will need to connect yourself to a router that has a broadband connection.
The good news is that having access to off grid internet is a possibility, just do not expect to have a stable internet connection or a fast one. I live in Alaska where the population density is fairly low, and there are not a lot of options for internet access, but a lot of people manage to get at least partial internet access. The bad news is that you most likely will not be able to browse the internet as you do if you would have a stable internet connection.
You have probably seen a lot of people living off the grid and posting on YouTube, although they do have internet access most of them only use it to check their emails and occasionally social media. What most of them do is they make the videos and once a week or once a month they go to a public space where they can upload, as in most cases the off grid internet is way too slow to upload something as large as a video.
In addition to this most people have data caps, and social media, video streaming sites use a lot of data, you will easily use a couple of GB of your data cap just by watching a movie and browsing social media. If you want to have a broadband internet connection with a cable then you will need to live partially off the grid, for more information check out my recent article How to live partially off the grid? ( In 9 Steps ).
Using your cell phone to have off grid internet
For a lot of people, this is by far the easiest and the best option to get internet while living off the grid. Basically, wherever you have cell phone coverage you will have access to the internet, although this is not true for all cases. If you live in a state with a low population density then odds are that the cell phone coverage is not the best, and on top of it, you will most likely have a fairly low data cap. If you have the possibility to make a contract that doesn’t have a data cap that would be your best option.
You will also have to check the cell phone coverage, and by this, I do not mean that you go on the carrier’s page and check out where they have coverage as these are most likely not true and only something to get you signed up with them. You will have to go to the location and check how the signal is, in some areas where there should be cell phone coverage you will most likely find that there is none. This is especially important if you plan on living in a remote area which is surrounded by hills, even large forests can limit the cell phone reception.
If your area has cell phone reception but the signal is not the best then you can boost the signal with several devices, these devices do not use a lot of power so if you are generating power with solar panels then you should probably be fine. The most common types of signal boosters are external antennas or indoor antennas. Most boosters work fine but there are few things which you should in mind.
- Keep the booster close to your phone, there should be no walls between your phone and the antenna.
- If you have other devices like a HAM radio than make sure to switch it off when you are using the internet.
- Get a booster with a higher GHz output if possible, these tend to be the fastest.
Using fixed wireless broadband to have off grid internet
If you live in an area with a low population density then odds are that the local internet or cell phone company has this option. The fixed wireless broadband is using large antennas, just like cell phone towers, these wireless towers or antennas work with radio frequency, basically, it is an outdoor wireless network. The problem with them is that they are fairly slow, although they are better than nothing.
If you are lucky enough to live near one of the fixed wireless broadband antennas and the intent is fairly slow then you still have the possibility to boost the signal, just get an external antenna and you should be fine. Nebraska has several of these towers and antennas, as most of the land is fairly flat, if you want to know how off grid living is in this state then check out my recent article Off grid living in Nebraska ( Cheap land and cost of living ).
Satellite internet can be used off the grid
There are a couple of companies offering internet via satellite, but the problem with them is that they are fairly slow and extremely expensive. You might think that with all this modern technology they could make accessing the internet via satellites extremely easy. The truth is that this is the same problem as with the data caps, they keep the internet slow and extremely expensive because they can and every company is doing it.
The competition in the satellite internet field is fairly low, although there are two companies that are somewhat reliable.
- Viasat: Offers 10-100 Mbps, the data cap is between 40-150 Gb and it costs between $50-$100, although you should take the internet speed claims with a grain of salt no matter which company you choose. The problem is that the internet speed fluctuates a lot, you would be better off with a 10 Mbps connection which is stable than a 100 Mbps one which often drops to less than 1 Mbps.
- HughesNet: Offers 25 Mbps, with a data cap of anything between 10-40 Gb and a cost between $60-$150. In my opinion, the data caps are way too low, you should manage with a 40 GB data cap but as you can see it is fairly expensive.
Internet with HAM Radio while living off the grid
Yes, you heard it right, you can get internet access with a HAM radio, although this will probably not be an option for most people. The main problem with HAM radio is that you need to have a license, more specifically you will need a Technicians License in order to operate a HAM radio. Most people who own a HAM radio either use them as a hobby device or because they live in a remote area where there is no cell phone coverage.
The good news is that getting the license for operating a HAM radio is fairly easy, although you will need to pass an exam, and yes you will have to actually study. The internet with a HAM Radio is rather slow, you will be able to send emails, and even browse some websites. The problem is that everything you do on the internet with a HAM radio is visible to everybody who lives in the vicinity and has a HAM radio, so no online purchases for you. Most people in Alaska who live in remote areas do use a HAM radio for emergencies, for more information check out my recent article Off grid living in Alaska ( The Last Frontier ).
Using LTE data plans to have internet off the grid
LTE is short for Long Term Evolution, most big and small carrier companies have them. Usually, these are 4G networks, and this is why they are sometimes referred to as 4G LTE. Do not just go to the first major mobile carrier in your area, there are several smaller companies that actually resell LTE, and oftentimes these contracts can be less expensive than if you would have done them with a major carrier.
Most LTE data plans do have caps, try to go with one which has the best reception in the area, the data cap doesn’t really matter if you can not access the internet.
Using Microwave Internet Towers for internet off the grid
This is fairly similar to the fixed wireless broadband, although it has its fair share of cons and pros. One of the biggest pros is that this is by far the best kind of internet you can get, the speed is fairly good and the connection is stable. The main problem with these microwave internet towers is that they need to be in a direct line of sight of your receiving antenna, so if you live in the middle of the woods or in a valley then you won’t have access to the internet.
The good news is that even with some DIY skills you can get to use the internet. If your homestead is not in direct line of sight of the microwave internet tower then find a hill, place your receiving antenna there, make sure it has a direct line of sight. Now all you need is to connect your wireless router to the antenna with an internet cable, do note that the longer the cable the slower the internet will be.
For short distances like under a mile you should be fine with a normal 100 Mbps internet cable if you want even faster internet or the distance is several miles longer than you will have to use optical fiber, these are a lot faster, but extremely sensitive, so try to avoid bending the cable. You should probably put the cable inside a plastic tube, to avoid rodents chewing the cable. Some companies will offer uncapped internet, with a speed of around 10 Mbps, which should be fine for video streaming, online shopping, and so on.
Using hotspot devices to have internet off the grid
Most people when they think of a Hotspot they think of a one made by their cell phone. The truth is that there are several companies that do offer Hotspot with a small device, which works fairly similarly to a wireless router. A hotspot made with a cellphone is fine but a hotspot made with a hotspot device is a lot better, faster, and more stable. Most companies offering hotspot devices do require a cell phone reception in the area, although this is not always the case, so make sure to ask around.
Internet USB sticks will work off the grid
A couple of years ago the USB internet sticks were the only options for getting internet, this was before the age of smartphones. In some areas, you will still be able to find them, although they are not the best. Most companies selling these devices will advertise an “up to 10 Mbps” speed if you have a full signal. The problem is as I have found out several times in the past that even if you have a full signal you will never be even near to the max speed.
I have bought a stick in the past, had full signal and the internet speed was around 50 kbps, which is painfully slow, it took around 3-4 minutes till I could view a webpage, and if I wanted to open my email than I had to set aside a considerable amount of time. When I called their support they just kept on saying “up to 10 Mbps” if I have full signal, which I did, but they simply couldn’t answer me what was the minimum speed which I should get if I have full signal, at that point they can say “up to 1000 Mbps” as it is irrelevant.
The data caps on these USB sticks are also fairly low, it can be as low as 1GB, the good news is that you will never be able to reach that if the internet speed is slow. In addition to this, you will have to buy the USB stick and you will also have to pay the monthly fee for using it.
Joining Unlimitedville for off grid internet
If you are lucky then you can access the internet with Unlimitedville, this is an organization that offers unlimited access to the internet for its members, the problem is that they are not in all states. Basically what they have done is they set up their own antennas and repeaters, anybody who is a member can access the internet and use it with as many devices as they want. As always the speed of the internet will depend on how close you actually are to the tower or antenna, but this is by far your best option for having stable internet.
Community internet does work off the grid
In a lot of remote areas where smaller towns and communities are, there are not a lot of options when it comes to internet access. Some communities band together and make a small network in their community which then is connected to the internet. The quality of the internet will depend on who the actual supplier is, and oftentimes the main supplier can be several miles away. For short distances, one fiber optic cable is drawn, connected to a router, and individual homes are connected to the router with a normal internet cable.
In other situations where the distance is fairly large, then some communities will set up antennas and repeaters, although this is not the best option it is still better than nothing. Just do note that you need special permits to set up these antennas and repeaters.
Off grid internet with Broadband over power lines
BPL is a service that you can find in many rural communities, no need for internet cables, as you can access the internet directly from the electric grid. This is mostly for people who live in a partially off grid manner where they are still connected to the power grid. But with some luck, you can access it even without being connected to the grid. In some areas companies which offer BPL will set up an antenna and a repeater, this was even if you are not in close proximity to the power grid you can still access the internet.
The bad news is that it will cost you an arm and a leg if you have to pay for the antennas, repeaters, and the entire setup. This is a good option for people who do not have cell phone access in certain areas, although the cost of such a setup can get costly if you are not directly connected to the grid.
Using Long Range Wi-Fi Antenna for off grid internet
Most people think that these are normal wireless antennas, the truth is that these are completely different devices. In the past couple of years, the technology used for long-range Wi-Fi antennas is extremely good, you could be several miles away from the antenna which is providing the internet. These long-range antennas are usually set up in small communities, although some individuals also have them.
The bad news is that these antennas can be fairly costly, and some companies which offer these antennas for sale often try to make a package deal with a certain internet service provider. The good news is that with some luck the internet can be extremely good.
WiMAX works even off the grid
This is also known as Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, and it is fairly similar to Microwave towers as they mostly rely on these types of towers to provide the internet. The main difference is that WiMAX covers a far larger area than conventional microwave towers. The bad news is that WiMAX is not available in all states, but if you are lucky and have access to WiMAX then this will be one of the best options for accessing the internet while living off the grid.
Google Internet Balloons work off the grid
This is a very ambitious project by google, they basically make very powerful antennas and connect them to balloons and let them rise up in the atmosphere, these are connected to the ground and do not float away. Although this program is not available to the public but I have seen a couple of people trying to do basically the same, although most of them do it as a hobby or due tor research, but still who knows it might be a possibility in the near future.
Using the long cable method to have off grid internet
Trought the years I have seen people do some really impressive things to get internet while living off the grid. One of my close friends is getting internet from another friend which lives several miles away and has a broadband connection. He basically took several fiber optic cables, stitched them together, and at several intervals, he placed down booster which are powered by small solar panels.
He is getting very decent internet, around 15Mbps although his ping is fairly high at around 30 ms, this is mostly due to the long optical fiber cable. The cable is simply placed down on the ground in such a way that animals do not trip over it. The boosters are set up on trees so when it snows they do not get covered. During the summertime, he has decent internet access, but during the wintertime, there are some problems, and if there is a break in one of the cables during the wintertime he has to wait until summer to fix it.
The fiber optic cable is not that thin one which is running through a city, but a fairly chunky one which is meant for long distances. In his homestead, he has something called a Master which I think is controlling everything. When there is a break in the cable he can identify which section needs to be replaced depending on the location of the booster. Once he identified which cable is broken he shines a light through one end and if he can see the light through the other end of the cable then it is fine, if not he has to replace the entire section.
The entire setup cost him around $7000, do note that having a cable run through someone else’s land is illegal in most cases.
As you can see you have several options when it comes to off grid internet, some of these options are only viable if you live in a small off grid community due to their increased cost. If you live alone or with your family then your best option is to use your cell phone for internet access, if you do have this option available.