Off Grid Internet: 5 Realistic Options

In today's world, the internet is an important part of modern life.  In fact, some people consider internet access a basic utility. But, what if you wanted to move into the “boonies” and live off the grid.  Is it possible to have off grid internet? Furthermore, what if you do not even have electricity? What then? Such topics are the focus of this article.  Here are several ways to have off grid internet even in the middle of the forest.  

1) Cell phone connection

If you live within range of cell phone reception and have a smart phone, off grid internet access is easy.  Your smart phone can also be used as a personal hot spot. Using your laptop screen is much easier than using the small screen on your phone. This is by far the least expensive option since you are already paying for your cell phone plan.  However, while you may have unlimited data on your cell phone, this may not be the case when using your phone as a personal hotspot. Be sure to check with your service provider.  

The caveat here is signal strength. If you expect reasonable download and upload speeds, you must have a strong signal.  If signal strength is a problem, get an amplifier. If you have no signal at all, you’re out of luck.  An amplifier will do you no good.

One of the best companies I’ve dealt with has been Wilson Amplifiers. You can find their cell phone signal boosting guide Here.

The best thing about this option is that there is no monthly fee. You can expect to pay $300 to $500 USD for decent equipment. All you need is power for your cell phone and laptop.  A basic solar array and charging system can easily provide that. 

2) Satellite internet

This is by far the best option for off grid internet access in remote areas. The only thing that is typically required is an unobstructed view of the Southern sky. Additionally, the satellite dish needs to be at least 6 to 10 feet off the ground.  Satellite internet is considered secure and reliable.  

My experience with this type of internet access is that connection time and speed seems to vary according to the time of day.  At least in my location, mornings and evenings seem to be the best time. I am able to establish a good connection about 90% of the time. Video streaming works about 80% of the time.  However, considering I had nothing for years, this is perfectly acceptable to me.  

Satellite internet requires electricity by one means or another.   The modem is the power supply for the dish. It typically consumes about 80 to 100 watts per hour. Due to this rate of power consumption, my system is plugged in only while using the internet. 

3) Wireless internet Access

There are companies that provide wireless internet capability. Even some cell phone companies provide this service. If available, this service provides a personal hotspot.  The potential limiting factor is that this technology requires a direct line of sight to the tower. Consequently, if you live in an area with potential obstructions such as mountains, this may not be a good option. (This was the first thing I tried at my cabin and it did not work because I had no direct line of sight.) 

There are several 3G and 4G hot spot devices on the market:

Clear Spot Voyager Wireless HotspotpastedGraphic.png

 T-Mobile Sonic 2.0 4G Mobile HotspotpastedGraphic.png

Combine these with a WiFi Antenna and a signal amplifier and you can increase your range.

4) Ham Radio

Ham radio is often the only reliable source of communication during an emergency. Volunteer amateur radio operators have a long history of helping during times of natural disasters when all other forms of communication were non-functional.

Additionally, and what most people do not realize, ham radio can be used to connect to the internet. Amateur radio was being used to access the internet before it was even accessible to the public. Especially useful in emergency situations, ham radio can be used to send documents, data, and email when all other forms of communication have been interrupted. 

The true beauty of this is that during a natural disaster ham radio is not dependent on the local network. It depends on radio towers. Even if local towers are damaged, the radio waves naturally re-route to other towers and reform the network. This makes ham radio ideal for remote, off grid internet application. 

The ham radio internet is called Packet Radio. Although not practical for large downloads and streaming, it can be used to send files, images, text messages, and even has some remote control applications. 

Worldwide radio messaging systems such as DStar (DStar info )and Winlink (Go here)is what makes this possible.  Through these systems, ham radio operators can send email, text messages, emergency communications, and even access the internet. Of course the caveat here is that with this type of communication, you should not transmit personal data, passwords, or any other form of privileged or secure information.   

Check out the Amateur Packet Radio Network (AMPRNet) here.  Amateur Radio Digital Communications is a California based non-profit organization formed to conduct scientific research and experiment with digital communications over the radio.  The goal is to advance the state of the art of Amateur Radio Operators. You have to be a licensed Ham Radio operator to join the group. Once you are a member, you can obtain an IP address.  

5) Dial up internet

Yes, dial up internet is still available.  More than 2 million Americans still use it.  It still works if the electricity is out which makes it possible to have off grid internet.  However, I consider this the least desirable option. 

During a natural disaster, a great deal of the time all local services are interrupted, including phone service.  “Land lines” are available in most rural areas but if you truly want to live remotely, these lines are usually not available or they are prohibitively expensive.  Furthermore, if you truly want to have reliable communications, you need to be able to reach beyond your local grid. 

What Do I Do?

When I first started living off the grid in 1996, none of this technology was available. And if it was, it was prohibitive expensive. I was truly isolated a great deal of the time.  However, with advances in modern technology, living off the grid does not equate with cutting all ties to civilization. It is now possible to live remotely and still be connected to family, friends, and the rest of the world.  With such internet access, it is also possible to be gainfully employed. 

My personal choice was satellite internet. The power supply/modem runs off of my solar array. If my array is off line for some reason, I have two different back up generators that can be used to charge the battery bank or run the modem.  This combination gives me reliable internet access and keeps me working from home in the middle of the forest. 

Additional Posts of Interest

Off Grid Communication: 5 Realistic Options

Introduction to Renewable Energy Systems

Go off grid and live well,


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