As mass amounts of people moved to work-from-home or virtual-learning environments, the strain on the Internet grid became quite pronounced. Personally, in the first few months of working-from-home, my internet connection would drop at random times, remaining unavailable for hours or even days.
And for people who live in remote locations or areas with poor service, these outages were even more troubling.
Unreliable internet connections are tricky for people who have deadlines to meet or use it to stay connected with family and friends. That’s why more and more people are looking at other options for Internet connections, plus the alternatives are often cheaper than shelling out hundreds of dollars a year for sub-optimal connection speeds from big Internet service providers (ISPs).
In this article, we’ll discuss the easiest ways to get Internet where there is no service. This can be at your off-grid tiny house, your prepper hideout, or your hunting cabin.
What Does It Mean To Have No Service?
This seems like a dumb question, but it’s worth explaining because it might help you decided which Internet method is best for you.
Essentially, having no service means that you’re in a reception dead zone. This happens when there’s too much space between cell towers, or you’re too far away from the nearest cell tower. If you’ve ever looked at a coverage map from one of the big cell phone carriers, you’ll notice that a lot of the Midwest isn’t covered.
That’s because the Midwest is an agricultural hub, with thousands of acres of farmland that might only house a few residents. It’s not economical for cell phone companies to install towers in these areas, because they wouldn’t recoup the cost from such a small pool of potential users.
There could be a few reasons that you don’t have service:
- You’re in a dead zone, like high in the mountains or in the wilderness
- Your cell phone carrier doesn’t offer coverage in the area you’re in (this one is important!)
- The SIM card in your phone is damaged
All of these instances have simple solutions.
If you’re in a dead zone, you can always try an off-grid internet access solution like satellite Internet to connect with family and friends and use the Web.
If your SIM card is broken, it’s simply a matter of contacting your cell phone provider to get a replacement.
But, here’s the kicker, if your carrier doesn’t offer reception in the area you’re currently in, consider switching to a new carrier. My friend just moved to New Jersey from Pennsylvania. In PA, he had perfect service, but in NJ, it’s terrible. His girlfriend, however, gets great service in New Jersey, and had poor service in PA! It all depends on the provider.
Off-Grid Internet Solutions
Before we hop right into our list, we want to take a minute to acknowledge that there are a lot of people out there that claim the only service you’ll ever need is your cell phone. Afterall, with the right carrier, you can create a WiFi hotspot or tether it to your other devices.
But what these people don’t know is that without cell service, this isn’t an option. And on top of that, cell phone carriers often impose data restrictions for hotspots and tethering, even if you’re paying for an “unlimited plan.”
Unlimited data plans just indicate that you’re entitled to fast speeds up to a certain limit, say 50 GB of data. The unlimited part is still true in the fact that you’ll still be able to use data to access the internet after you cross the 50 GB threshold. However, your speeds may be reduced as the network prioritizes customers that are still under the 50 GB limit.
This practice changes from carrier to carrier, and even region to region. In rural areas, you might be able to consume hundreds of GB of data without experiencing slower speeds because there aren’t many people trying to use the network. You’ll mainly run into slow connection issues when you’re living in urban areas or city centers. But, since you’re here for off-grid internet solutions, that probably won’t be a problem!
We made sure to include a few options for off-grid internet access that aren’t reliant on your cell phones, and the full list of solutions is as follows:
- Portable Cellular Router
- Satellite Internet
- Signal Boosting
- Using Free Internet Connections
- Creating a Wireless Internet Service Provider
If you just moved to your off-grid cabin and don’t happen to have service with your current carrier, you have two options:
- Switch to a carrier that offers reception in your area
- Purchase a portable cellular router
A portable cellular router provides a data-driven WiFi connection, so you can get internet whenever you need it, wherever you need it.
These routers have a slot for a data-only SIM card, which will connect you to the 3G and 4G networks. You’re usually able to buy prepaid data-only SIM cards from service providers to install in third-party portable cellular routers.
Alternatively, you can sign up with a carrier like Verizon, who offers a prepaid Airspeed 4G Mobile Hotspot.
If the portable cellular router sounds right up your alley, all you have to do is check the cell phone coverage map to see what carriers cover your area. You can use this resource from Compare Cellular.
After you’ve found the best carrier, search to see if they offer their own portable cellular routers. Or, you can purchase a portable cellular router from a company like Mighty Cloud that connects to different cellular networks to provide Internet service in over 150 countries.
Satellite Internet is one of the best methods to get Internet where there is no service. Unlike wired connection methods like DSL or cable, satellite internet is available across the world as a reliable internet source.
The whole idea is that wireless internet can be connected to any home with a satellite via radio waves from another set of satellites orbiting Earth. Satellite internet uses a five-part relay system, consisting of:
- Your device (smartphone, laptop, gaming console, etc.)
- Your Satellite Dish
- The Satellites in Space
- Network Operations Center
Of course, you’re only responsible for the modem/router and the satellite dish, but most providers will show you how to set up these components or come right to your home to do it for you!
The allure of satellite internet is that it’s available pretty much anywhere on the planet. Just like satellite phones, satellite internet can reach hard-to-connect areas like the fields of the Midwest or deep in the Rocky Mountains.
However, satellite internet doesn’t offer the same standard of connection as wired ISPs. Because you’re connected via radio waves, it’s much more difficult to provide fast connection speeds. For example, HughesNet, one of the largest satellite internet providers, only offers 25 Mbps download /3 Mbps upload connections with a variety of data options. Their lowest plan, 10 GB of data, starts at $60.
Similarly-priced plans from wired ISPs like Comcast or Verizon will get you at least 200 Mbps download / 5 Mbps upload speeds.
But satellite is a solid off-grid internet choice for someone living in a remote area with no cell service, as long as you’re only using it to check emails and do small tasks. Streaming or gaming on satellite internet will burn through your data allowance very quickly.
Another option for getting internet where you have no service is to signal boost your cell phone. A lot of people use this method if they get poor cell reception inside their house, either because it’s old stone, concrete, or brick, or because they’re too far from cell towers.
But you can certainly use this method to give yourself better service at your remote cabin or off-grid house.
There are many third-party products out there that allow you to boost your signal, and most of them have the same components. These include:
External antenna – this antenna is used to hone in on the cell signal from the nearest tower, and is best placed on the roof of your structure. The higher, the better. The antenna must point directly at the nearest cell tower for the best results.
Signal booster – This booster box is mounted inside your house and connects to the external antenna via a coaxial cable. As the name suggests, the signal booster improves your cell signal, but it’s useless without the next component.
Indoor antenna – This antenna is mounted inside your house as well, and connects to the signal booster. The antenna works as a mini cell tower, for all intents and purposes, and your cell phone will ping off the antenna. Some products include a signal booster that has a built-in antenna, and this makes it easier to install and consolidate your hardware if you’re living in a confined space, like a tiny house.
A cell signal booster is one of the cheapest options out there for off-grid internet access. While it won’t provide you with Internet, it will give you better access to your data and cell service, which you can use to create a hotspot or tether to your computer.
If you don’t need a stable internet connection to work-from-home, then you might be able to get away with using free internet connections from local businesses. Even if you’re living completely off-grid, you might still want to connect with friends, do some online shopping, or keep up on the news.
Many businesses offer free internet connections that you can use for a small purchase. Coffee shops, bookstores, and restaurants have no problem letting you use their public WiFi if you buy a coffee, muffin, or something.
If you’re living as frugally as possible, there are still places where you can scrounge up some free Internet. Public libraries often have computers, printers, and free WiFi, and at minimum, you’ll have to sign up for a library card.
Other public establishments, like hospitals and hotels, offer free WiFi in their lobbies. If you’re going to be surfing the web for hours, it’s probably better to visit a coffee shop, but for checking your email really quick, these public places are easily accessible.
You can use Wiman to find free public internet hotspots in your area. Simply enter your zip code or address, and they’ll find the nearest public internet connections!
It’s worth noting that using a VPN is a necessity when you’re connecting to public internet connections. A virtual private network will protect your sensitive data by masking your IP address and encrypting the connection.
If you’ve got the money to spend and the technical know-how, it’s perfectly safe to say you could become your own internet service provider.
Many people in rural areas who are tired of slow connection speeds and limited service from the ISP monopolies invest in developing their own wireless internet service provider.
A WISP, simply put, is a wireless internet service provider that uses multiple towers to provide internet and WiFi to a small localized area. WISP internet speeds are usually around 50 Mbps, which is usually better than the speeds larger ISPs can offer for remote locations.
Building your own WISP takes some time (actually, a lot of time) and has a high cost of entry.
After scouring some forums, I found that an average cost for starting up a WISP can be anywhere from $2,000 to $12,000, sometimes much higher. There are many different ways to set up a wireless internet connection, but generally, you’ll need:
- A physical location to install towers, usually with a high elevation
- Access to fiber optic cable connections and 115V AC power
- The tower, or towers, you plan on installing (Rohn25 towers, etc.)
- Hardware (this includes routers and repeaters)
Creating your own WISP is certainly possible, but unless you plan on recouping your overhead by offering your internet service to locals in your area, it’s a costly investment.
But, if you’re just looking for a way to get Internet in a remote area, like at an off-grid cabin or hunting camp in the woods, then a WISP probably isn’t a practical choice.
However, if building your own WISP sounds like something you want to check out, this site has a lot of great resources to help you get started.
Take the Guesswork Out of Off-Grid Internet
Because so much of our day-to-day existence relies on Internet, it can be daunting to break out of the system and venture out where there is no service.
If you’re looking for a remote, laid-back environment free from modern distractions, but still want to stay connected with friends and family, these internet solutions are meant for you. Most of them are fairly inexpensive and easy to set up. Just remember to turn the WiFi off once in a while and get out there and explore the wilderness.