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Going off the grid is a dream for many folks, but “off-grid” doesn’t have to mean “primitive”. The internet is more than a luxury. For us, it is a means of making money for our family as much as it is a source of education and entertainment.
Our property is pretty far removed from grid utilities like water, electricity, sewage, and cable/internet. We knew that if we wanted to build a home here, finding solutions for these things would be critical. Any solutions had to work and also be affordable.
If you’re looking to go off the grid, live in a rural area with limited internet options, or are looking for a mobile internet service for traveling, check out how we’ve solved this problem and learn what to consider for yourself.
Internet Service Options for Off-Grid Living
Sure, you can’t connect to a cable or fiber internet provider in an off-grid situation, but the good news is there are several options available to you.
LTE Data Plans
This is probably one of the most accessible ways to get internet and is what we use. If you’re in an area with decent LTE data coverage, there are a number of service providers available. Don’t just consider the big telecom companies here. There are a number of “mobile virtual network operators”, or MVNO’s, that resell service plans for the major carriers. This is actually what we use for our internet AND our phones, so keep reading to find out how that works.
This is a good solution for people who live in areas with poor LTE service. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there are only two providers left in the US that actually offer internet service: Viasat and HughesNet. In our case, services like these didn’t make sense because of the high price for the amount and speeds of data you actually get. The system itself also eats up a small but noticeable chunk of power, which you should keep in mind for smaller off-grid power systems.
You’ll also find no shortage of bitter user reviews about these services, especially in terms of customer service. But if you don’t have many options, this is worth considering. You can read more about it here.
Fixed Wireless Broadband
Fixed wireless broadband internet relies on radio signals to transmit service. Like satellite, service plans can be fairly expensive for the speeds you get and are not always available in all areas. We did not have this service available to us, but if it is in your area you should definitely include it in your research. You can learn more here.
Yes, really. If you’re really gung-ho about it and like to tinker, this is an option you can explore. There’s some information about it here, as well as info on other services (as well as a very colorful comments section).
How We Get Inexpensive Off-Grid Internet
We have used two different LTE data services at our home since we moved here in December 2017. While our property is off the grid, we are not out of civilization by a long shot. It’s just that the placement of our property makes running any utility resource/cost prohibitive. However, we can see two different cell towers right out our windows, so finding an LTE plan that works and is affordable has been our best option.
Note: This is NOT a paid review. I wanted to put this review out because I know this is an area where lots of my rural/off-grid friends struggle and it could be a good option for you. These are all my own opinions (but I’d give you those regardless).
OTR Mobile is the company we are currently with. I originally found them in one of the off-grid groups I’m in on Facebook and decided to give them a shot. They operate on the AT&T network and deliver completely unlimited service for $60 a month with all taxes and fees included in that price.
I have seen our download speeds hit well over 30 Mbps and our upload speeds as high as 48 Mbps. Running a speed test with speedtest.net yielded the following results on my laptop.
For reference, these are mostly typical speeds for us (though upload is usually a bit higher, averaging around 16-20…no idea why it was so slow here). That’s with the hotspot device positioned almost in the center of our cordwood house. Our walls are a massive 16 inches thick and we have a metal roof. We get the same speeds when we take the hotspot outside, so it’s important to note that our speeds aren’t reduced because of the house.
Also important to note is that our speeds have NEVER been throttled. Other services we’ve used will throttle your speeds after you reach a certain data usage. Other services also cap your download speed for ALL service at around 8 Mbps, but as you can see from the speeds and picture above, that hasn’t been an issue for us.
How We Use Internet Off the Grid
We use the internet primarily for:
- Blogging and other home-based business ventures
- Streaming shows, music, and podcasts
My husband and I both run blogs (I with this blog and my husband with his music business). With that, we’re not only writing, but uploading lots of pictures, doing online photo editing, creating and scheduling posts on social media, and even creating and uploading videos to YouTube. My husband does that for music more than I have for this blog, though who knows! I may get over my fear of YouTube yet. In all cases, our current internet service has more than handled the load.
Running this blog enabled me to quit my job to stay home with my kiddo, homeschool, and build this homestead. If starting a blog is something you’ve been interested in or want to know more about it, learn more here.
Most of our activities are hands-on and activity-based, but there are times where we use the computer for homeschooling. Many times, my son gets to use programs like ABCMouse or Teach Your Monster to Read to work and learn while I’m working on the blog. We also sometimes watch documentaries together on Netflix. Currently, he LOVES anything having to do with space science and we love finding documentaries that feed his interests in our downtime. He also watches his fair share of LEGO cartoons, but hey…we can’t all be perfect.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve watched series for grown-ups in a long while since I tend to fill my downtime with blogging, gardening, or home projects. Our son is probably the primary Netflix user at this point, not that we let him just binge watch shows all day. We implemented a ticket system like the one in this post to help him watch more mindfully and really enjoy his watching time.
Beyond watching shows, we usually stream podcasts or internet radio while we work and play.
Pros and Cons of Our Current Service
Overall, we really like our service with OTR Mobile. We joined pretty early in their service history, so there are still a few remaining hiccups from that time that other people I know haven’t experienced. For example, our service is always interrupted whenever I pay the bill and a new cycle starts. They always fix it promptly, but no one else I know has this happen.
They’ve been continually upgrading their service, including the addition of an auto-pay option that makes me very happy.
- The advertised price is exactly what you pay.
- Service is truly unlimited.
- No contracts.
- Fast upload and download speeds.
- Service is reliable and doesn’t drop.
- You can use your hotspot anywhere there’s AT&T LTE service.
- Can use any unlocked GSM device, though you should check with customer service to make sure it’ll be compatible first.
- Small company means customer service isn’t always immediate (though it is improving).
- No coverage in Canada or other countries at this time.
What We Used Before
Before we signed up with OTR Mobile, we had a T-Mobile based service from Unlimited LTE Advanced. At the time, it was the least expensive plan we could get. It worked pretty well until our nearest T-Mobile tower was taken down and our speeds dropped to unusable levels. Around that time is when OTR Mobile came on the scene, hence the switch.
That being said, OTR Mobile has been a better overall option. While the customer service with Unlimited LTE Advanced was great and billing was always consistent, our service was limited to 8 Mbps and was often deprioritized after reaching a certain GB usage. I was always told this was done by T-Mobile itself and not our provider, and the actual usage level was always a bit of a mystery. Their site currently says “no throttling” so I have to wonder if something in their service changed or if those stipulations are still embedded in there somewhere.
What To Consider for Your Off-Grid, Rural, or Mobile Internet
- What services are available in your area?
- Which providers get the best signals and speeds?
- Do you want your internet to travel with you, or are you okay with a stationary system?
Accessibility seems to be key here. After looking at dozens of service providers and types of service over the years, it’s obvious that your options are pretty location dependent. Unlike living in a city or suburb, you don’t really have lots of low-cost high-speed options. I simply can’t get the 100 Mbps service that my mom gets in her condo.
Regardless of your options, you’re generally going to be paying higher prices for slower services than you would in the city. The good news is that offerings for rural and off-grid customers seem to be changing and improving all the time. My guess is that the prevalence of LTE-based services is only going to increase, but we’ll see.
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