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 that 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 of us that rely on the internet for our jobs.
OFFGRID INTERNET OPTIONS
Simple Cell Phone Connections
There are plenty of rural off the grid locations that still 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 usually pretty slow, they are one of the cheapest options on the market, and can be a good option for those that are not going to require a lot of bandwidth.
- 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.
- Some of the slowest connection speeds out there.
- Not practical for watching videos or downloading large files.
- Small screen size.
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 3G and 4G hotspot devices on the market, including devices like the Clear Spot Voyager Wireless Hotspot and the T-Mobile Sonic 2.0 4G Mobile Hotspot. 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, 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.
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 WildBlue now 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.
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 emergency situations 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. 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 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.