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Going off-grid and disappearing into the wilderness are two very different scenarios. Some people envision it as completely isolating yourself from society. But for others, it has a different meaning—one where a melding of the old world and new world work better together.
Many people who choose to go off the grid do so with the mentality that they want the internet for various reasons, whether it be keeping in touch with family, running a business, or using it for research and homesteading purposes.
Luckily, finding an access point off-grid is easier than ever with multiple ways of getting connected to the world wide web. If you’re going off-grid and need some pointers for internet access, keep reading to learn the best ways to stay connected.
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Why Do You Need Internet Access Off-Grid?
In this modern age, it seems likely that everyone needs an internet connection to be able to function in society. While some opt out of having that connection, some need it to supplement their lifestyle. The internet provides a valuable opportunity for endless learning and connectivity with like-minded people.
Many travelers seek mobile internet options because a standard physical connection won’t work. As a tool to manage things like finances, travel logistics, and even running your own business, having the option to get a connection keeps all of those aspects running smoothly.
Off-Grid Can Mean Living Nomadically
Nomads running their businesses need communication tools such as phone capabilities, video chats for meetings, and other digital goodies used to keep in touch with clients and business partners.
Others seek to teach people how to live off-grid, and having the internet available provides that vital connection to your online social media accounts. A secure internet connection means you can interact with your audience, upload content, and continue to grow your channels.
How To Access The Internet Off Grid
If you went back 10 years ago, finding reliable internet off the grid was quite a bit trickier. Technology and coverage have improved immensely, and you’ll find that there are plenty of options both locally and in any areas you may travel to.
Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, and the key is to have a backup source in case your primary connection goes down. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need two internet service providers, just have the ability to get someplace with the internet if need be.
Cell Phone Internet
This is probably the most common way that people access the internet while they’re at home or on the go. Cell phone plans have data access built right into them, and with the ever-expanding networks covering large amounts of the country, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more reliable option.
That being said, there are still a lot of areas in many countries where cell phone reception doesn’t exist or is too poor to be sustainable. Cell phone plans can be expensive and limiting, depending on what you want to do with your connection.
For most, a cell phone is a great backup plan for when your main internet connection goes down. For those that travel, it is a lifeline that is needed and more available than other sources.
Cell phones also provide the ability to turn into a mobile hotspot, enabling several people to piggyback off your internet connection. It’s a great alternative if you are with a small group of people and want to split the cost of the internet.
- Network coverage has improved drastically
- Reliable internet and computer – all in one
- Speeds are as good if not better than some internet providers
- Can provide a hotspot for others to connect to the internet
- Can be expensive
- If your device breaks your internet doesn’t work
- Some areas still don’t have service
Sometimes you’re just out of range and unable to pick up a good signal. You’ll often hear about this problem affecting those who live out in rural areas.
Expanding a current cell network is expensive and requires extensive modifications to the land and current network infrastructure. It is why it takes so long for most mobile service providers to put up towers in certain areas.
A signal booster is a great option for those living in areas with poor signals or travelers who need a little more power with their service. A cell phone booster (also called a repeater) locates the closest signal and then amplifies it and emits it from the device.
The downsides are that they can be quite expensive, require you to be stationary, and are not guaranteed to work when you need them to.
- Can be a reliable backup solution in low signal areas
- Signals can penetrate metal buildings
- Works with most US carriers
- The devices are expensive
- They don’t work all of the time
Most people hear the words satellite internet and immediately think about low speeds and high service bills. Satellite internet is still pretty expensive, but the quality of service has improved greatly, and more devices are now supporting full internet connections.
Satellite internet works by sending radio waves between the device and a satellite dish to another satellite up in space. This distance is what causes latency and slow connections.
The most notable candidate in the satellite internet niche would be Starlink. With satellites providing global coverage and more being added every day, it is a viable option for those that need a stable connection in a stationary environment.
- Provides the best coverage globally
- Can be the only option for some
- New technology has enabled it to be mobile (Starlink)
- Service is expensive
- No strong solutions that work while travelling
Mobile Internet Service
This is one of the best options if you don’t have a cell phone and you’re looking for something that takes advantage of 4G and 5G networks. Independent carriers offer service using mobile hotspots, giving WIFI to enabled devices no matter if you’re stationary or moving.
Mobile internet service providers can ensure you have the best service available since the SIM will bounce off of available networks, even while moving.
- Pricing is affordable
- Excellent coverage as most companies support multiple carriers
- Hotspot modems provide service for up to 5 devices
- Limited availability in some countries
- Internet devices require power to recharge the batteries
Roadtrippers utilize public wifi hotspots at places like fast food restaurants, coffee shops, and local libraries. In a pinch, they can get you service for directions or to check your bank account.
To access these services, you will have to log in to a portal so that the establishment can track your usage. They also provide limited speeds so don’t expect to do more than just check emails and do some light internet browsing.
- Free internet service
- Widely available
- Speeds are slow
- You don’t own the service, it goes down when the shop closes
- You need to go to the internet
HAM Radio Internet
Another service that works well in a pinch but is not made for interacting with large files or complex websites, HAM radios can still get you web browsing and email access.
HAM radio operators used an internet called Packet Radio which allows them to send files, update various systems, send messages and even control remotely operated services. This is all done through special repeater networks that are independent of the grid.
Widely used in emergencies only, the technology is still so young that encryption can be a problem which brings up some questions about legality. In the event of a worldwide internet blackout, you would still be able to send relief communications through this service.
- Works independently from standard internet access points
- Has been in use for several years
- Limited functionality
- Not able to work on the move
Frequently Asked Questions
Navigating the internet world can be tricky when you’re off-grid. Here are some of the most common questions people have about accessing the internet when they’re off-grid.
Is getting the internet off the grid expensive?
Depending on the type of service you go with, it can be upwards of hundreds of dollars to get it installed. If your service requires additional devices to work then that cost is also added in.
How reliable is the internet off-grid?
As technology improves, the reliability of alternative internet sources is becoming better and better. Reliability depends on where you’re located, how effective the service is, and what you’re trying to accomplish with the internet.
Do you need the power to have the internet off-grid?
For most internet services, you will need a way to power the devices used to provide the connection. Some require direct power to keep a consistent supply while others use batteries that can be recharged via USB.
Modern conveniences are a little more difficult to obtain when you’re off-grid but it is doable. Starting with a simple google search on off-grid internet providers will bring up lists of the best places to look.
It’s important to remember that not every solution is cut and dry and sometimes a mix of multiple services is the best approach.
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