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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. The Big Three telecoms are starting to expand their service offerings finally. If you have access to these, I recommend getting service from them instead of seeking out “resellers”.
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 used for several years for our internet (and still do for our phones). But for internet, it’s currently like a big game of Whack-a-Mole. Many resellers exist for a time and are eventually shut down by the carrier they piggyback off, leaving customers in a bind.
If you can get on a legitimate plan offered by one of the Big Three, I recommend it. They aren’t available everywhere, but you can put in your address to find coverage with each provider. Check them out below:
Legit Home LTE Plans
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.
2021 UPDATE: SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet operation is getting up and running finally! They are now offering services to a limited number of customers in different service areas. See if you’re eligible 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 – LTE Data Hotspot
We have used four 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.
Finding LTE Data for Home Use
LTE data provides a solidly fast option when you can get it. Finding truly unlimited data for home usage can be tricky, but not impossible. I found these posts from Mobile Internet Resource Center (RV Mobile Internet) to be truly helpful for making sense of my options. They do a ton of research and keep it updated:
Services We’ve Used
We’ve used both a T-Mobile reseller and an AT&T reseller. Our first service was from Unlimited LTE Advanced which is based on the T-Mobile network. At the time, it was the least expensive plan we could get. It worked pretty well until our nearest T-Mobile tower was removed and our speeds dropped to unusable levels. So we looked for other plans.
Around that time is when OTR Mobile came on the scene, so we switched. I originally found them in one of the off-grid groups I’m in on Facebook. They operated on the AT&T network and delivered completely unlimited service for $60 a month with all taxes and fees included in that price. UNTIL RECENTLY.
MARCH 2020: OTR Mobile suddenly switched from AT&T to T-Mobile service. They gave very little warning to their customers; most of us never received the email they told us they sent; I had to find out about it on Facebook. They raised their prices at the same time, and the customer service has been a truly horrible experience. The entire transition has been rough and for many of us it remains unresolved. Hundreds of users have left comments on their Facebook page and in groups saying they are left without ANY service in the middle of a global crisis despite them claiming to be “working on it”. Many of us rely on the internet for homeschooling and working at home and we have been left stranded.
APRIL 2020: I have ordered service from Never Throttled after much research and will let you know it goes.
Never Throttled update: We had this service until December 2020, at which point we qualified for T-Mobile’s home LTE service. We did have our service drop once, and it took about three days to get service restored (and that was with having an extra unused SIM card on hand; it would have taken much longer without that). The guy in charge of NT is nice enough, and even interacted in several LTE internet Facebook groups I was in. However, because it’s a small operation it was always really hard to get help when I needed it. It’s also getting harder to get service from resellers in general because of how they operate off of the large networks. Many resellers end up shut down, but that’s a rant for another post.
FEBRUARY 2021: We finally qualified for T-Mobile LTE Home Internet service!
T-Mobile service is improving in our area (new tower only about a mile away now), and it is fantastic to finally have internet service from an actual telecom company and not an unstable reseller. For $50 a month we get completely unlimited service with no throttling (that we’ve noticed at least). All three of us work or study from home and regularly stream movies and music.
Our typical usage is around 500 GB per month. With the T-Mobile service, we regularly get 80-90 Mbps down and around 5-10 Mbps up.
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
- Staying connected to friends, family, and news from around the world
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, both LTE services we’ve used have 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.
Related: How I Learned to Love Homeschooling After 10 Years In The Classroom
I’ve made peace with the fact that we stream a lot of shows now. While we aren’t sitting around all day watching random things on Netflix, we do like to unwind after a day of work and home education by watching Netflix or Disney+ together.
Beyond watching shows, we usually stream podcasts or internet radio while we work and play.
What To Consider for Your Off-Grid, Rural, or Mobile Internet
How YOU and your family use the internet will impact your choices. There seem to be many different choices in the more limited data use category, such as plans that offer 0-25 GB/month or 25-50 GB/month. We use about 500 GB/month on average. If your usage is lighter, your options open up. Look at:
- What services/providers are available in your area?
- Which providers get the best signals and speeds in your area?
- What towers are near you?
- How much data do you need?
- Do you want your internet to travel with you, or are you okay with a stationary system?
Accessibility seems to be key here. 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 with fiber optic internet.
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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Thanks for the info. We were looking at HughesNet, hadn’t considered a data plan after looking at what AT&T (our phone provider) has to offer for their “unlimited” data plan. After 22GB per device, they throttle speed to 128K, and it is EXPENSIVE. I tried the OTR link you provided and got a message that the site may be temporarily down or moved. I’ll check back later, because it has definite possibilities for us.
I just went to it and it’s still there, so perhaps they were just experiencing a bunch of traffic or their host had an issue or something. I mean, I’m replying to this from home using our hotspot so it’s definitely still there!
Yeah, I can get to it from my laptop at home, but not my work computer. Must be a network security issue. They keep things locked down pretty tight.
Bill Turner says
Your information was INVALUABLE!!! We’ve been struggling with a Verizon solution for years. The ‘unlimited’ plan throttles after 22 Gb and we would quickly use that up AND it was so slow too. Now that we have the OTR plan we can stream data so much faster, reliably, at a reasonable cost and truly unlimited. We can actually stream movies out in the woods. Now I’ve got my country neighbor hooked, who used to use satellite. Thank you SO much, Emily!!
You’re so welcome! I’m glad they’ve helped you out.
Another down side to all satellite services I am aware of is they will not work with a VPN. So if you need one for your work at home job it is not an option.
The mobile phone hotspot is the way to go. We have the issue of going over the data limit also so just got a second and even a third Sim card for the hotspot and switch them as we reached the limit on one. Works great and does not break the bank.
Ooh that’s a good point on the VPN issue. I agree that LTE is the most viable option for us rural folks at this point. We’re working with OTR Mobile on the switchover to T-Mobile and just got the SIM so I can’t speak to how good it is for us yet. Some have reported that it’s okay and others have no coverage whatsoever. We shall see!
We are in the same boat as you, even though we are only like 5 miles outside town. Very few options for internet. We were extremely happy with OTR Mobile but in the switchover realized T-Mobile coverage here is basically 0. I had hoped that since T-Mobile and Sprint merged that maybe they would be using Sprint towers too which may have worked. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. So now we are trying to figure out what we are going to do. Glad you mentioned Never Throttled. Looks promising! I said that right now with people being out of work and stuff, they need to start up a modern WPA program and get that fiber buried everywhere! :o) Actually, though, what we are crossing our fingers for is Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet.
I have hopes for increasing coverage as we move forward. I did before but especially since everyone has been working from home, it’s brought into sharp relief just how many folks are working from home in rural areas and making their voices heard. ATT has a rural LTE program, though it isn’t everywhere (it isn’t at our house yet). I hope they will expand it sooner rather than later. T-Mobile is rolling out its own in-house LTE internet service for rural folks too. Doesn’t help if your area is near zero coverage, of course, but they are expanding. The coverage in our area is improving enough that perhaps we could get good service from them with an antenna. I’d rather get services directly and not through resellers if I can, but that’s just not the world we live in yet. My service this month through Never Throttled has been great! I’m getting download speeds between 50-70 Mbps and upload of 10-15 Mbps, so about the same as when OTR was on ATT, if not slightly better. I’m going to continue researching my options and will keep folks here posted of anything new that I find.
Candice Meadows says
This was INCREDIBLY helpful and well thought out. We are moving off grid in two weeks and I am scrambling to find something that will work. This helped me so much and took a lot of stress off.