Off-Grid Internet [3 Solutions for Staying Connected]

by Oliver Guess | LAST UPDATED May 6, 2021

Mother and daughter using a laptop in nature.
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Most people would probably include internet access on the list of basic utilities that are necessary for any home.

While it might not be as important as having access to clean water, there are quite a few reasons why people need the internet even when living off the grid.

This may be business-related, or simply because you'd like to stay in touch with family that you have out of state, but regardless of the reason, most people need to be able to get online.

The problem is that if you live in a more remote region, you won't be able to set up a standard router from the sort of service that you'd usually use.

Luckily, there is such a thing as off-grid internet services, and they can help you out.

Off-Grid Internet

Cables - off-grid internet

Off-grid internet might sound like a bit of an oxymoron, but in reality, it’s just a phrase that refers to the internet options that are available to you in remote areas.

Most people’s definition of off-grid is going away to a cabin in the woods for a weekend and trying to detox from social media for a few days.

As such, there really is no need to go out of their way to find any internet provider that can actually hook up an internet connection to their location.

However, this causes a bit of a problem if your definition of off-grid living is something a bit more permanent and you need to be able to establish a stable internet connection.

Predictably, you won’t be able to rely on your standard providers like Sprint or Verizon, since most rural areas don’t have access or a clear line of sight to any service towers.

The sort of connection that you’ll get in an obstructed area won’t be an issue if you only need to use your wireless internet to log onto Facebook or use your weather app for a second or two.

However, the broadband from most major carriers in remote locations won’t even be enough to watch Netflix without significant lag.

In reality, a lot of the mountainous or out-of-the-way areas in the US would be lucky to receive a signal from a ham radio station, so this isn’t much of a shock.

Luckily, you actually have quite a few alternative internet options that you can go for.

Your Off-Grid Internet Options

Lightbulb - off-grid internet

We’ll go into a lot more detail about all of these choices in their own dedicated sections, but for now, all you need to know is that your options are the following:

  1. Cell Phone Data Plan
  2. Wireless Broadband
  3. Satellite Internet

There are a few very big differences between all three of these, and we’ll go over them in detail, but the important thing is that all of them can provide you with some pretty high Mbps thresholds and bandwidth reliability.

This is naturally going to also come down to the plan that you purchase, the exact location where you live, and the type of download speeds that you’re looking to receive from your internet provider.

We should also mention that there are certain services that might not be available in certain areas, but you should be able to gain access to one of these off-grid internet options at the very least.

Cell Phone Data Plan

A guy looking at his smartphone

This is by far the easiest type of off-grid internet that you can set up. In fact, even calling this whole procedure a setup is a bit of a stretch.

All you need to do is enable the mobile hotspot on your phone and connect to it via your laptop or PC.

As long as you’re in an area with any sort of cell phone signal, you should have no problem whatsoever with using your phone data to get online.

However, this assumes that you have an agreement that can provide you with these sorts of resources.

If you’re on a more basic mobile phone plan, then all you have to do is change over to a more internet-oriented one.

We recommend going for the unlimited data plans that a lot of cell phone carriers like Verizon offer.

Unlimited Plans

Laptop globe

There are a few things that you’re going to need to be careful of, especially when it comes to cell service contracts.

First of all, even though the plan might have the word “unlimited” in a size 20 glowing neon font in the contract itself, they all have a data limit.

Yes, this is fake advertising, but unless you spend an exorbitant amount of money, every phone service is only going to allow you to use a set amount of GB’s per month before they start to throttle you.

If you’re not familiar with the term, bandwidth throttling or deprioritizing is when your provider intentionally cuts the speed of your internet and re-directs it to other users.

For example, if your plan offers 50 GB per month, while they won’t cut your connection entirely if you go over the limit, they will limit your internet speed and prioritize other users that haven’t reached their monthly allowance yet.

In all honesty, anything between 40 and 60 GB per month is pretty respectable and this is about as good as most averagely priced cell plans can get.

However, if this isn’t enough and you feel cheated, then you can simply switch over to a provider like AT&T or T-mobile that might offer better resources.

Our point is that you shouldn’t put too much faith in the names of the cell phone data plans and should carefully read the fine print.

Not Always a Viable Option

Unfortunately, using your phone data isn’t always going to be an option.

Sometimes, you might just be located a bit too far away from any cell tower and aren’t able to get a stable enough connection.

In these sorts of situations, you essentially have two options - try another off-grid internet method, or get a signal booster.

As the name suggests, products like the SureCall cell phone signal booster can extend the range of your cell phone and allow you to receive a much more stable connection overall.

These items are essentially set up like modems in your home, and they have an effective range of 2-3 rooms (depending on the exact product and specs).

This limits your cell phone usage to those specific rooms, but it’s still more than you would have otherwise have had without the booster.

Now you can get a stable internet connection, and as an added bonus, your calls are also going to be much more clear and be less prone to disconnect out of nowhere.

Wireless Broadband

Wireless Broadband

A wireless broadband internet service works by installing main service towers in rural communities and feeding the signal for the internet to the towers.

That signal then bounces around from one tower to the other through radio waves, which creates an interwoven signal web throughout the reach of the tower network. 

The provider then installs an antenna on your property, or at least near it, and the antenna picks up the signal from the main service towers and feeds it to a modem in your home.

This makes them different from the cell phone wireless hotspot solution which uses already existing towers for its services.

However, much like the cell towers, your antenna must be in the line of sight with the main service tower for the signal to come through clearly, otherwise, the lag will be insufferable.

Unfortunately, even if the signal is crystal clear, this sort of internet is often classified as slow and largely unreliable.

Generally speaking, it’s usually a better option than a phone data service simply because of the option to get a wireless broadband plan without a monthly limitation.

But other than that, this option should be reserved for areas where other internet packages are unavailable and for users that don’t require high-speed internet or downloading options for their jobs.

Satellite Internet

Satellite Internet

Satellite internet is the best solution for any areas that aren’t able to use the standard DSL-type of internet connection or aren’t even able to use the LTE phone data plans.

This sort of internet works by streaming data from a satellite (shocking we know) directly to a satellite dish that’ll be affixed to your house.

In essence, this works almost identically to satellite TV, with the difference being in the type of streaming service that you’re receiving.

This sort of satellite service is as easy to set up as most direct internet services, and a whole lot easier than wireless broadband internet.

All you really need to do is contact a provider and get them to come and connect your home to the satellite network through a dish that they install on your house.

In the US, your options for satellite service providers are going to be HughesNet or Starlink, but in actuality, only the former is a viable option.

Starlink is the SpaceX effort for an affordable internet service for everyone in the world, but it’s sadly limited to very few locations and users at the moment.

This, unfortunately, means that you don’t have much of a choice when it comes to which provider you can go with.

Luckily, HughesNet genuinely has a good selection of decent plans at reasonable prices, and they can provide you with some pretty good internet speeds.

DIY Solution

Laptop - internet

If none of these options are to your liking, then there is a do-it-yourself solution that you can try if you’re a bit more technologically inclined.

Well, we say that, but in truth, all you really need in order to attempt this is to hop on to Amazon and buy something like a high-powered wireless USB wifi adapter.

Generally speaking, any sort of high-powered USB will work, so the brand isn’t important.

These sorts of USB sticks are capable of picking up a better signal from much farther away than most other standard adapters.

This will allow you to hop on to a wifi hotspot that would otherwise go unnoticed and have access to a much better signal in general.

Keep in mind that you still need to have a wifi hotspot somewhere in the vicinity for this to work.

The adapter will also naturally be limited to the download speeds and bandwidth quality of the network that you’re connected to.

However, despite the drawbacks, this is still a simple and cost-effective solution to not being able to easily gain access to a network in secluded areas.

Final Assessments

off grid internet final assesment

The USB adapter is more of a short-term fix rather than a long-term solution, so we’ll skip it in the rundown of viable off-grid network solutions.

With that out of the way, all of the other options are good in their own way, but they also have their own flaws that you need to pay attention to

A mobile hotspot is a very easy to set up network connection and you have a wide selection of service providers with cross-state coverage.

The flaw is in the limited data usage that you need to get used to the fact that you’re at the mercy of the strength of your cell signal and your proximity to a cell tower.

Wireless broadband provides unlimited data for you to use and there are a lot of providers that you can choose from.

Unfortunately, the internet quality itself isn’t all that amazing and it can often be outclassed by both mobile and satellite in both download speeds and reliable connections.

The satellite internet option is a safe bet for just about anyone and it can meet pretty much all of your most demanding needs.

The only flaw is that there is really only one satellite provider in the US, so you really don’t have a choice but to pay whatever price they decide their service is worth.

Oliver Guess
Oliver is an off-grid living enthusiast currently residing in the mountains of New Mexico. His interests in sustainability originally lead him down the path of an off the grid lifestyle. When he's not tinkering with his broken solar panels, Oliver enjoys searching out hot springs, whittling and cooking.

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