One of the biggest things people are concerned about when going off-grid is how they will connect to the Internet. The Internet has become a part of our daily lives, and even if you’re “trying to get away from it all,” you’re still probably going to need to get online from time to time, whether it’s to pay a bill, order some supplies, or simply send your loved ones an email letting them know you haven’t been eaten by a pack of wolves.
As soon as you make the plunge and move out to “the middle of nowhere,” you can kiss broadband goodbye. When you’re 30 miles from the nearest city, don’t expect fiber optic cables to get laid down in your neck of the woods anytime soon.
So, how does one connect to the Internet off-grid? Fortunately, there are a handful of options you can choose from. While none of these are truly comparable to cable or fiber, some of them are arguably better than DSL, and definitely better than dial-up, which means the idea of going off-grid and taking the Internet with you is not as hopeless as you might think.
4 Ways to Get Online When You’re Off the Grid
1. Smart Phone (Cellular Data)
The easiest way to use the Internet off-grid is by using your smart phone to connect and distribute the signal to your other devices. Whether you prefer Android or iOS, your smart phone has the ability to connect to the Internet and be used as a mobile hotspot, essentially turning it into a portable wifi router. This method works surprisingly well, but there is one major drawback: cellular data is expensive.
The average cell phone plan only comes with a few gigabytes of data per month; once you go over that limit, expect to pay a huge fee for every extra megabyte you download/upload, be it from streaming videos on Youtube or posting a new status on your Facebook. If you’re serious about using your phone as your main way of getting online, it’s best to get a plan that offers unlimited data.
However, even with an unlimited plan, expect your carrier to throttle your speed once you’ve transferred a certain amount of data. For example, if you have the current version of Verizon’s premium unlimited plan, your speed is going to slow down once you’ve used 22GB per line, per month. If you’re someone who doesn’t go online very often, this won’t be a problem for you; but if you’re the type of person who enjoys watching a few hours of Netflix every night after a long day of surfing the web and sharing pictures on Instagram, you might start to get sick of all the buffering.
2. Mobile Hotspot
Still using a flip phone? No worries. A mobile hotspot device can get you connected to the internet the same way a smart phone can. Again, just think of it as a portable wifi router. Mobile hotspots have been popular amongst truckers and RV travelers for years due to their reliability and convenience. However, since they also operate on cellular data, you can expect the same drawbacks as using a smart phone.
If you plan on staying put and you’d like to get speeds and data limits more comparable to broadband, satellite internet might be the best option for you. A basic satellite internet plan costs about $50 per month for 12 mbps download speed, and goes up from there. For about $100 to $150 per month, you can get up to 30 mbps download speed. Many of these plans also offer unlimited data; though, just like cellular carriers, they might start to throttle your up/down speeds after a certain amount of data has been used each month.
You should also know satellite internet may come with hidden costs, like the cost of the dish and installation. Satellite internet also has latency issues and is known for going down from time to time.
4. Ham Radio
Yes, believe it or not, a ham radio can connect to the Internet like a modem. However, don’t get too excited just yet… With a ham radio, you can expect speeds of about 64 to 128kbps. To put that in perspective, people have been complaining about Verizon throttling their Unlimited Mobile Hotspot at 600 kbps for basic users of their unlimited plan, because it’s frustratingly slow compared to 4G data and broadband. In other words, a ham radio is fine for searching Google and sending emails, but don’t expect to do any Netflix binging with it.
A 5th Option for Some…
Fixed Wireless Internet
Depending on your area, you may be able to get a fixed wireless broadband connection. The internet provider installs an antenna on your house that receives data from the nearest cell phone towers and transmits a wifi signal throughout your home. Fixed wireless offers high speeds and a good connection without the latency issues you would get with satellite internet. It’s a good option if it’s available to you, but unfortunately it requires “line of sight” access, which means your house has to be a straight and clear shot from the ground station. In other words, living in an area with lots of hills, mountains, trees, rain, or even fog could prevent you from being able to use fixed wireless.