Most people who move off grid do it for the freedom. They no longer want to be tethered down by the 9-5 grind and the monthly bills. This means that off grid homesteaders do their best to provide their own means of income, produce their own power and harvest their own water.
But where does the internet come in? Can you truly be off grid if you are connected to the world wide web? A purist would say no, but for most of us, the internet has become an integral part of our daily lives. We need it as an educational resource, for entertainment, or to provide an income.
But how does someone living off grid access the internet? You have 6 ways to do this. You can either use a landline, access data from your cellphone plan, get satellite internet or a private hotspot, send emails and files through Ham Radio or a service called Unlimitedville.
I have tried almost all of these ways of getting online, so let me break it all down for you so you don’t have to go through the trial and error that I had to undergo.
Related: My Favorite Way to get on the internet before I got High Speed Internet through the phone company was through a mobile Hotspot like the one I recommend here from Amazon.
HUAWEI MOBILE WiFi HOTSPOT
1. Landline/Dial Up
I know what you’re thinking, having a landline goes against the principles of going off grid. But hear me out. If you are already thinking of hooking up to the internet, you are going to be tying yourself to a monthly bill no matter what, unless you are stealing wifi access from a neighbor. So why not try and get the best internet access out there.
Internet from the phone company has several advantages.
- It is proven
- Fastest Speeds out of all the other options
- Can still operate when the power grid goes down (unlike cable internet which relies on the grid).
When I first landed on my piece of property in Hawai’i, cell phones were not an option. If you wanted a phone line or internet for that matter, installing a phone line was the only way. However, this option is not available to everyone depending on how remote your off grid property is.
Lucky for me, we had easy access to the telephone lines and the phone company installed the service for a low hookup fee. Yes, there is a wire running from the utilities to my home, but it is SO worth it.
It took a few years to get high speed internet. Apparently in Hawai’i you have to win the lottery or something to get in on the phone company’s internet plan. For a long time, our only option was dial up internet with Netzero.
Netzero offers up to 10 hours of dial up for free. And trust me, 10 hours of dial up is all you should want because dial up internet will find you looking for other things to do than spend your time online. If you need more time and are interested in higher speeds, Netzero does offer a premium Dial up plan for as low as $30/month.
This worked great for the basics, looking up recipes or simple research, but forget about social media or watching videos online.
It took 2 long years of calling the phone company every week to inquire if they had an open port in our location. In the meantime, we tried a few other methods to see if we could get something better than dial up while we waited for high speed internet through the phone company.
Cellphones are a very common way and probably the quickest way to get the internet off grid, as long as you have cell reception of course. Most of America is blanketed with cell towers. In the near future, wifi will blanket the earth through satellites. Almost everyone has access to the internet built in to where they live, you just need a smartphone to access it.
You can accomplish most of your needs straight from your cell phone. You can pay bills, order online, watch movies and even read books. Plus you can take it anywhere and even use it as a phone! Cell phones have replaced so much in our society.
I’ve always liked the Samsung Galaxy Series (Amazon Affiliate Link). They seems to be just as good as iPhones without paying for it.
For most people, a smart phone with a good signal will be all someone needs for their off grid needs.
There may be times that you would want to access the internet through a laptop or home computer. A cell phone is able to act as a mobile hotspot through a process called tethering. When you do this, your mobile phone is able to transmit WiFi signals to your laptop or computer.
Depending on your carrier, speeds tend to be slower than when you are just using your cell phone. Your carrier also limits the amount of data that can be used in this way. For light tasks though, you should be ok.
The first thing that you should look into is the coverage on your property. Not all phone companies have equal coverage, so you will want to check with them to determine how well they cover your area. You can check out their coverage maps here:
All you have to do is go to one of these maps and enter the address of your homestead. The map should zoom in on the area and you can get a good idea on how good the reception is.
This is just an approximation though. The best way to know how good the cell service is on your property is to walk the land with your phone in hand to see how well it comes in. If you have friends with different carriers that may lend you their phones to test out, even better. The location of the best cell service may determine the location of your home.
WHAT TO DO IF CELL SERVICE IS WEAK ON YOUR OFF GRID HOMESTEAD?
When I was younger I was living in a trailer in Malibu while I was developing a food forest for some clients. The trailer was just down the hill from decent cell service, about 100 yards away, but all I got was one bar that would go down to zero quite often.
I did some research and learned about cell phone boosters that could amplify your connectivity. I was sceptical at first but the moment I plugged it in, I was sold. It worked like a charm. Full Bars!!
It wasn’t cheap, some models run up as much as $1000. Those models tend to have wider coverage area, but if you can settle for something that has more modest coverage, maybe enough for a small home, then the mid range WeBoost Cell Phone Booster (Amazon Affiliate Link) would be the one for you.
It’s the one I chose and I still use it to this day. It even works great with off grid solar systems.
THE LIMITS OF DATA
How much you get to use WiFi and how fast it will go all depends on data. Some cell phone companies offer unlimited data, but beware the fine print.
Depending on your carrier, “Unlimited” Data may have a limit between 20 GB to 50GB of data. Once you go beyond that amount, you may be deprioritized. You can still access data, but it will be slower depending on how many others in your area that haven’t used up all of their data yet. They get to be first in line for available bandwidth, while you get dropped to the bottom.
However, if you are out far enough in the country where you don’t have too many other neighbors on the same network, you may never get dropped at all! That’s what we call the perfect situation. It doesn’t come around often.
AFFORDABLE CELL PHONE OPTIONS FOR OFF GRID LIVING
Saving money allows you to not have to earn as much of it. So why pay for an over priced cell phone plan where you can get the same thing for over half off! Straight Talk Wireless offers Unlimited Talk, Text and Data in many areas for less than $50. Straight talk can work on the verizon and sprint networks.
My cell phone carrier is through Freedompop and I pay a whopping $0. It operates on the AT&T network. It’s pretty limited, 500 talk, text and data, but we get our internet over the phone line now. All we really use it for is to make calls and send texts. If we want to access data with the cell phone, we’ll just find free wifi somewhere. Can’t beat a free cell phone plan.
3. Private Hotspot
A step up from connecting to the internet through your cell phone, the private hotspot is a great option for anyone out there with access to cell service. It allows for up to 150 Mbps download speeds on 4g networks. That is much faster than cell phone tethering. Plus several devices can access the WiFi at the same time.
It works much like a cell phone plan. You have to get the hotspot device which can either be dedicated to a specific cell phone provider such as AT&T or Verizon or it can be unlocked. The one I used for a little while was the Huawei 4g Mobile WiFi Hotspot.
Next contact the cell phone company with the best service in your area and see if they have plans for mobile hotspot devices. Most are pretty reasonable.
I found this option for connecting to the internet to be pretty fast. I was even able to watch a movie during the off hours without any buffering.
There is even a way that you can extend the range of the mobile hotspot coverage area through the use of a WiFi Antenna, which can be purchase or made pretty easily on your own. Check out the video below.
This option is an alternative to getting a hotspot through a major carrier. Think of Unlimitedville as a secondary broker like Straight Talk or Freedompop. Only difference here is that Unlimitedville offers unlimited data through their hotspots that can be used with any of the major cellular carriers.
All carriers have unlimited data available that they don’t release to the public. Unlimitedville is a membership that gets you into the “Unlimited Data” club. Cost for a membership isn’t cheap, going for about $250, one time fee.
Then there is the monthly prepaid amount that you need to pay to access the data. They don’t check your credit, you just have to pay upfront, as low as $150 going up to $250, depending on the carrier that covers your area. It is not cheap, but when you are stuck with no other options at least you can still get connected.
You can connect every major wifi enabled device throughout your home with the Unlimitedville hotspot. And it’s fast. Goodbye buffering Netflix movies.
If all that didn’t sound good enough already, you get a 14 day money back guarantee. You can test out how the system works at your off grid homestead and if it doesn’t, simply return it no questions asked. That put my mind at ease when I was looking to give this option a try.
So far all of our ideas have relied on having access to cell phone reception, but what if that’s not a possibility? Here are a few other solutions for you.
5. Satellite Carrier
At the current moment in time, Satellite Internet should be reserved for those who simply have no other option. I have yet to hear anything good about them. When I tried out Satellite Internet through Hughesnet, I was let down by the speeds. They were barely faster than dial up. Forget about watching movies this way.
The system was also a large draw on my solar power and way overpriced. It simply wasn’t worth it for me. This was also ten years ago.
Since then Hughesnet has moved towards a new Gen5 System that claims to offer broadband speed. Coming in at 25 Mbps of download, it’s not as fast as 100 Mbps, which is considered fast, but it’s better than the 5 Mbps that Netzero is able to offer through dial up.
The new Gen5 System through Hughesnet will allow you to purchase different data plans up to 50gb. But here’s the cool thing. They off an extra 50gb from the hours 2am-8am. If you set things up wisely, you can do the bulk of your downloading during those early hours.
6. Ham Radio
This is total grid meltdown stuff right here. Ham radios will be THE form of communication when the grid goes down. Did you know that you can send emails and data files through Ham Radios? Neither did I.
I have not tried out this method nor do I know much about Ham Radios, but it’s pretty cool to me that Ham radios are able to do those things. We won’t be able to watch netflix or research how to make spaghetti on Youtube, but thanks to Ham Radio, we will always be able to communicate through email and send large files through this technology.
7. The Macgyver Way
This option requires a bit of ingenuity and someone who has WiFi that will allow you to piggyback on their signal. Here’s a little story on how the internet was set up in a place I once lived.
For a few years I lived on a rural property of over 200 acres. There were a few homes on the property and few “villages” scattered in the highland forests. The homes were the typical home, able to connect to WiFi, but up in the forest, nothing worked.
Too far from cell reception and definitely unable to receive internet through more conventional methods, a plan was hatched to provide WiFi for those that lived in the hills.
A series of WiFi antennas were placed throughout the property. As long as each one was able to be within sight of the other, WiFi connectivity was possible. Because of the layout of the land, this meant some WiFi Antennas had to be mounted over 80ft up in the tops of trees. This was not to be done by the faint of heart.
Hopefully you’ll have a much easier time setting your system up than we did. But I want you to know that it is possible and it doesn’t have to cost too much. You can even make your own as shown in the video above.
Connection to the WiFi deep in the forest was only slightly slower than if you were nearest the source, but we were still able to stream the occasional movie for our daughter.
Why Does My Family Have Internet Access?
Why have internet access in the first place? You can certainly live without it. People have lived without the internet since the dawn of time. But never have people had such an amazing tool at their fingertips.
The internet allows you to access a wealth of information. Do you need to build an aquaponics system? Look it up on the internet. Wondering how to make breadfruit into a delicious meal? Look it up! It is amazing all that you can learn on the internet.
If used wisely, the internet can be one of your greatest teachers when you are living too far off the grid to find mentors in your area. Your children can have access to all sorts of learning tools, enabling them to access an education previously afforded to the most privileged among us.
The internet also has the ability to earn you an income. I use it as a way to earn an income through blogging and Youtube. It has become a valuable asset in providing my family an alternative income that is not dependent on location.
If you are interested in starting a blog of your own, may I suggest the folks at Income School. I tried many different ways to make money online, but it wasn’t until I found Jim & Ricky did I finally find success. If you are serious about doing the work, give these guys a try. You won’t regret it.
We also use the internet to watch the occasional movie with the family or listen to music and podcasts. One doesn’t NEED the internet, but it sure is NICE to have.
Questions to Ask About Internet Access BEFORE You Move Off Grid
If you have yet to find that perfect land to begin your homestead dreams, add internet access to your list of requirements for that perfect property. In order to evaluate whether or not the internet is readily available, you’ll have to do a few things.
- Speak with the neighbors, see what they use for the internet, don’t trust the realtor, they’re just trying to sell you a house and will embellish any truth. Go on Facebook and ask questions in local Facebook Groups.
- Locate the nearest cell towers and test out your current cell phone to see how well it works.
- Determine your data needs.
- Do you need your internet to travel with you or is it ok to remain in a fixed position?
Just know that when you are moving to a rural location from the city, the internet is going to cost more and go slower than it used to in town. That’s country life for you. Even the internet gets you to slow down.
Our Internet Journey in Hawai’i
It started in 2003 when I first moved to Hawai’i. When I first got to the islands I signed up for a library card and accessed the internet there. This was a great option, but would only happen once or twice a week, so I had to be real methodical with what I hoped to accomplish.
Eventually I got a cell phone plan with Verizon that didn’t work too well at my property at first. (There are WAY more cell towers now). I installed a WiFi Antenna and greatly boosted my accessibility.
I tried out some hotspots through Verizon and was so stoked to find Unlimitedville, but I wasn’t a fan of the pricing.
At some point, I also got a landline and used Netzero as a dialup internet for 2 years before the phone company finally gave us High Speed Internet.
Now we have a phone line coming into the property, but I get high speed internet for $60 a month. Way cheaper than most other off grid options. My mom, who lives next door accesses our internet through a WiFi booster.
I have a smartphone with FreedomPop which is free. It works on WiFi when we are at home and has limited talk, text and data when I am away from home.
This is why you may want to reconsider being fully off grid. Connecting to your phone company’s internet can save you tons of money and give you better speeds.
Hope all this helps. Good luck connecting to the World Wide Web.
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