Watch / Listen Here:
What We Covered
We’ve tried almost every rural internet option so you don’t have to. This episode distills almost 20 years of remote off-grid internet experience, so you can pick the best option for your needs.
In this episode:
- Old-school high-altitude satellite internet (i.e. HughesNet)
- Wireless broadband internet (via cell phone towers)
- Options for improving signal with the above
- Local wireless towers (on strategic mountains)
- Low-altitude satellite internet (Starlink)
- What our current favorite remote internet source is
00:00 – Intro
03:24 – Old-school high-altitude satellite internet
05:39 – Wireless broadband (via cell phone towers)
06:31 – Don’t use smartphones as a wireless hot spot continuously
07:41 – Choose your wireless carrier carefully
09:05 – Overloaded towers
09:52 – Specialty routers for wireless broadband
10:35 – Wireless broadband boosters
12:42 – Local wireless internet providers
16:51 – Starlink pros and cons
25:59 – Sharing
- Example of one possible source for high-end wireless broadband routers
- WeBoost wireless broadband booster*
- HiBoost wireless broadband booster*
- Yagi antenna*(make sure your device has a compatible port and that your carrier’s band will work with this)
- For Inland NW – Air-Pipe (Wired or Wireless)
- For Inland NW – Intermax Networks
*Note that some of the above may be affiliate links that help enable us to produce this content but don’t cost you a penny extra.
Hi and welcome back to The Ready Life podcast. I’m Lisa, and I’m Nick Meisner. And today we’re going to be talking about internet options for remote areas. If you’re in town, then you’ve got lots of options for internet. But when you move out into the country, internet can become a little bit more challenging. We’re gonna share a little bit from our experience and discuss the options we’ve found.
Just in case you’re wondering if it seems a little funny that we’re off the grid and yet we have internet, yes, it’s very possible off the grid, and we still need internet for things like work and day-to-day stuff, communicating, emailing. We also use it for phone calls because we don’t have phone lines out here. Our cell phone coverage is very poor, and we tell people that they have to put on a tinfoil hat, stand in the right corner, and point their nose in the right direction to get a signal with their cell phone here. So we actually use our internet for our phone as well. There are lots of reasons why a person who is off the grid and lives in a remote area might still want to have internet, and we certainly do. Contrary to popular opinion, off-grid does not mean without modern conveniences like internet.
And that’s how we get this podcast to you. Exactly. Just a quick reminder before we jump into this, we are using multiple platforms for this podcast. It’s posted on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast platforms, as well as on YouTube. If you’re home and you’d like to see the video version, you can go to YouTube or find the video version on Spotify. If you’re currently watching on YouTube and want to listen while you’re on the road driving, you can find us on any popular podcasting platform. Visit the show notes for links to the various platforms and be sure to subscribe to receive notifications.
Now let’s dive into internet options for remote areas. We’ll start with the least favorite, the ones that I don’t like, and work our way to what we’re actually using right now. How does that sound? Sounds great. Okay, so what’s our first option?
Old-school high-altitude satellite internet
Our first option is satellite internet. When you say satellite, we should probably break this up into two categories. There are old school satellite internet systems that operate in geosynchronous orbit or high altitude satellites. The most popular name that I’m aware of is HughesNet. There’s another brand called Viasat. They used to be the only option for someone in a remote location where cell phone signal or hardwired internet wasn’t available. It was the only game in town, so we used HughesNet years ago. It was better than having no internet and worked for things like email and basic browsing, but for data-intensive tasks, it struggled. Data restrictions also made it challenging to use HughesNet. The latency, or delay, of conventional satellite internet was significant, causing long delays in activities like Zoom calls or Wi-Fi calling. As I recall, it was four to six seconds for us. Maybe they’ve improved it since then, but personally, this would be at the bottom of my list, other than dial-up.
Wireless broadband (via cell phone towers)
Next on our list is the internet we used when we first got married, wireless broadband MiFi cards. We did not have cell signal very much at our first home, but in one corner of the house, if you held your nose just right and twisted the tin foil just right, you’d get a little bit of a signal. So we got a MiFi card, ordered a Yagi antenna, rigged it all up, and got ourselves some internet. These MiFi cards operate off of cell phone towers, just like your cell phone. Nowadays, you can turn your smartphone into a wireless hotspot. I have friends who used their phone as their primary source of internet for their home, but it would periodically overheat because it’s not built for continuous use that way. If intermittent use works for you, it can be a solution. Otherwise, getting a dedicated MiFi card is better.
Now, regarding carriers, not all carriers are the same, are they?
No, no, that’s true. I mean, in our area here, AT&T, we don’t get anything, but with Verizon, if we go into the kitchen and… lean over top the stove and hold your nose right, you can get a signal. So yeah, it just depends on your area and what cell coverage you have for your area.
Right, based upon my travels, if I had to pick one that seems to consistently perform the best in rural areas, it seems like it’s Verizon, but you know, each area is different. So you really have to check because there are some places where some of the other carriers like AT&T might do better. And the one that I would say is the, at least based upon my observations, is the, has the hardest time in rural areas would be T-Mobile. It seems to focus more on the areas where there’s… Populated areas. Yeah, more population, that sort of thing. But, you know, once again, check it out for yourself. Find, you know, if you have to, have a friend come out to your property that’s on a different carrier and see what kind of signal they get, that sort of thing. You can check the maps, the coverage maps, but they aren’t always accurate.
And the other thing is, just because you might be getting a decent signal from a tower, that doesn’t mean everything, does it? Because you could be tapping into a tower that is overloaded.
Oh, that’s true, yes. We’ve certainly seen that happen in our area, you would be getting a good strong signal, but the internet would be slow as molasses. It was just awful. So that’s something else to be aware of. It’s just a lot of variables here, but that is a possible option. A lot of RVers use this type of internet option. Wireless, Wi-Fi card, mm-hmm.
In fact, some of them, if you’re interested in going this route, I would recommend that you do some searching. You’ll find some reviews by RVers who rely on cell phone internet for their primary source of internet. And some of them are working remotely and that sort of thing. So they’ve got to have good internet. And they’ve come up with some high-end routers where they can… plug in multiple carriers into the same router to make sure that they’ve got coverage. Because once again, in some areas, one carrier does better than another. And so if you want to go that route, there’s a lot of information out there on ways to do that.
You mentioned the Yagi antenna. That’s basically a directional antenna. That option that we used, it was actually a little card that had an antenna port on it. I haven’t seen those much lately, so I don’t know if they really make those anymore. But if you can find something like that, that’s great. But it was just an antenna plugged in, no booster or anything. And it really, in our particular situation, it boosted it from one or two bars of a slow tower to two or three bars of a fast tower. And it made a huge difference for us. But there are also boosters out there. I know a couple of brands that I’ve heard of are, one is WeBoost, W-E-Boost, and another one is HiBoost, H-I-Boost. And those are active boosters where it not only has an external antenna, but it also somehow electronically boosts it and then creates a signal inside your house that your phones can tap into. There’s an indoor antenna and all of that sort of thing. Those are an option. I’ve, you know, we had that good experience with the external antenna, but then in another location that had a poor signal, we tried the full system with WeBoost, and I was very underwhelmed. I couldn’t say that it improved anything. Yeah. So, hit and miss is my experience with this sort of thing. Sometimes you have to just try out different things until you find something that works really well for your particular location. And like you said, have a friend come over with different carriers’ service and see if that works better. We’ve got a friend that lives just not far up the road and we don’t get any AT&T here, but they get it there and they don’t get really much of any Verizon. So they’re on an AT&T carrier and we’re on a Verizon carrier just simply because of where we live. Right. That’s right.
Local wireless internet providers
Okay. Moving on. So that’s next on our totem pole and then we’re working our way up. What’s next? So then our next one is the local internet towers. So here in this area, well, really in most areas, you’re going to find where there are internet towers and different companies that provide internet that you can tap into with a dish on your house. And then you have a wire that comes into the house. Then you can plug it into your computer or plug it into a router and have internet at your home.
It looks like a dish, but it’s not actually, it’s not a satellite dish. It’s actually an antenna, but it does look. It looks a little bit like a dish. We’ve had one for many years and…
I don’t I honestly don’t know how widespread these are. If if it’s something that is, I don’t think it’s unique to our area, but it may be unique to areas where there’s mountains. I don’t know. But they’ll put these. They’ll put a tower up on strategic mountains that will hit a larger group of people and you have to have line of sight to that tower.
Yeah, yes. That’s the main drawback I can think of to those systems is you have to actually be able to see that tower with the naked eye.
Yes, and when we moved here to our current location, we looked up internet options because our cell phone little MiFi card, it was working out okay but… We were hoping to get something a little bit faster and better. And so we looked up local internet towers and found one that was just across the valley here. But when we looked at the map, interestingly enough, we were in the no-internet zone. Like, we weren’t supposed to be able to get internet. But when we walked out to our front porch, we could see the tower with the naked eye. So we called them and we said, hey, you know, we’d really like to get internet at our property. And they said, where are you? And we said, we’re here. And they said, well, we don’t provide internet service to that area. Our towers don’t reach that area. And we said, well, with one exception, we have line of sight to the tower. So they said, well, okay, we’ll send somebody out to check it out. And sure enough, we got a really good signal here from that tower. I had to do some tall talking to send an installer out though, because they were pretty sure it was not going to work. But, you know, we were a little bit further than they recommend from the tower, but because we could see it, they sent him out. It was a cloudy day, and I remember he set up that dish. He couldn’t see the mountain or anything, so he was totally taking our word, and lo and behold, there it was.
This internet source has been such a good one. It’s pretty high speed and it’s like the next best thing to a hardwire connection. There are no data limits. They may say that it could potentially be impacted by weather, but in numerous years of use, I can’t remember a single time that it was impacted by heavy snow, heavy rain, storms, or anything of that sort. We’ve had really good results with it, and I really, really like that. In fact, it was the top of my list and it still is a close second on my list of options.
But once again, the major downside is that it is limited, and you’ve gotta be able to have a line of sight. There are some times, some things that can be worked out where you could do a relay if you get a creative installer and you’re willing to spend a little bit more on equipment. Then you could potentially set up a relay where if you had a hill nearby that has a line of sight to the mountain, then you could put a receiver up there that’s basically a relay, catches the signal, and then sends it down to your house, and that sort of thing. So you can sometimes work out creative solutions.
Starlink pros and cons
So you said that this is no longer your number one favorite, although a close second. What is your very favorite now? Well, right now, and I’m a little bit tentative about this because it seems like it’s a rapidly changing company and space, but for right now at least, we have switched to Starlink. And I’m sure you’ve heard about Starlink, probably heard a lot about it. And it’s a very interesting technology. Honestly, I’ve been waiting for this. I’ve been hearing about this type of technology for years now and waiting for it to come out to be a great blessing to folks that are in remote areas. And it is satellite, but it’s different from the old school satellite internet because these are low altitude satellites that are a lot closer to the earth. And so there is not nearly as much delay or latency there. And so with Starlink, not only is the speed great, the speed is fantastic, at least that’s been our experience, but also the delay is basically right on par with what we would be getting with a hardwire connection, or at least close enough, where we are constantly using it for Wi-Fi calling, for Zoom calls, for anything, and I can’t really tell a difference with the delay. It’s the same as our previous internet source. And like I said, the speeds are much faster.
So that was one reason. Well, I say much faster. Upload speeds were about the same as what we had with the tower on the mountain, the local internet source. But the download speeds with Starlink were really good. And so that was helpful because sometimes with our business, we need to do large downloads, and it didn’t take as long. So that was one thing. And then the other thing that I really liked about Starlink was the potential to take it with us if we needed to go somewhere for a period of time, if we were going to temporarily move somewhere or go on an extended vacation to an area where there wasn’t internet or something like that. You could switch to a more expensive plan where you pay a little more per month and you can roam anywhere. And because it’s satellite, it can pick up pretty much almost anywhere as long as you don’t have too many obstructions that are close by. But those were the two reasons why we decided to switch.
We tried it out for a while. I was nervous about it. Starlink seems to be a bit of a volatile company in that there’s a lot changing very rapidly, and they’re changing pricing, changing structures, and changing plans. All of this and it’s like I don’t know what to expect next. So I’m hoping that we made the right move, but for right now, we’re happy with it, and it’s been a good move.
But what were some of the drawbacks to Starlink? Well, for one, the power usage. It uses more power than our other internet system with the local internet tower. So that was one thing. And so like we’re talking in the neighborhood of 40 to 60 watts. I think I measured right around 40 watts when it’s in standby, but there’s also a heater built into it to melt off snow if there’s snow falling, but I don’t think it’s actually detecting snowfall. I think it might just be whenever the temperature gets down below a certain point that it kicks on. You could turn that heater off if you wanted to save on power and just be a manual snow remover yourself. We never had to do that with our dish antenna thingy that connects to the mountain. We never had to worry about snow with that. So that would be a downside to Starlink, as you do have to keep the snow removed from it, and it takes power to do that. And even when that’s not running, it’s still burning 40 watts, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you were to leave it on 24/7, that adds up to a lot or a decent amount. We don’t actually leave it on 24/7. Call us crazy if you want, but we don’t like microwaving ourselves unless it’s absolutely necessary. So we turn our Wi-Fi off, we even take our cell phones outside of our bedroom, put them in another room at night just to give our bodies a break from all this stuff because we don’t know the impact that it has on you. So that saves us some power too.
Yes, and you can actually tell Starlink to power off during the night, and you can set certain hours that it automatically powers off, but it still leaves on the Wi-Fi portion. And so I didn’t really care for that. So that was one drawback. What’s another one? Obstructions. If you have nearby trees or other obstructions, that could be problematic as Starlink does need to have a clear view of the north sky in the northern hemisphere. But you’re likely to find what you need as long as you have a decent-sized clearing around your home. So you can download the app and check for obstructions before you actually commit and jump into using Starlink in your home, at your home, or property. We haven’t had any issues with that because we were able to find a spot that it did pick up, and we did have to hunt around with the app and find the right spot. We don’t have a huge clearing, but we do have a decent clearing, but we’re on the north end of our clearing, and so that means that our view of the north sky was not great. And so we had to move around and find the spot, but the app was really easy to use, and we were able to find one. But I have heard of RVers that have complained about that because they’re moving a lot and in campgrounds, there are a lot of times trees around and things like that. Mountains and all. Yeah. And if you have more obstructions, then your service is going to be more spotty. You could potentially run into situations where for a few seconds or for a minute or two, you lose service right when a satellite is right in the wrong spot, things like that. Another potential drawback is if you didn’t have a good clear view.
And then the other last drawback that we can think of would be weather-related, mostly snow probably. And that’s something that we haven’t had a lot of experience with because we just started using Starlink not that long ago. So we’ll see how the snow impacts the Starlink performance. We have used it in snow. We just didn’t use it extensively during times of heavy, heavy snow. I’ve heard mixed reviews of how well it works in heavy snow, and in any of the snow that we’ve used it in, we haven’t had any issues. No. But we’ll see. We’ve used it in heavy rain, and that hasn’t been a problem. But we’ll let you know if it turns out to not be a good fit for us. But so far, that’s what we have switched to.
However, I will say, if there gets to be any issues where we’re no longer liking Starlink, I would have no qualms at all going back to our previous provider, and they would… it was a great option with the towers on the mountains. And by the way, you know, I’ll just throw out a couple of companies if you happen to find yourself in the inland Northwest. And just so you don’t have to go hunting, I can’t speak for other areas, but here a couple of companies, one is Airpipe, and its other brand name is Wired or Wireless. So if you do a search for Airpipe, you’ll probably find Wired or Wireless. Anyway, that’s one option. And another one is Intermax Networks. Both of those have the same kind of general idea of towers on mountains and that sort. So, for what it’s worth, save you a little time if you’re in this area. If you’re somewhere else, just do some searching online and ask around, and hopefully, you’ll be able to find a good option. But that’s the extent of the options that we have used and that we’re aware of, and I hope it’s helpful to you. As we’ve had to, yeah, learn in the school of hard knocks with that one, but we’ve come up with some good options over the years, and I’m thankful for that. For sure.
Well, thank you for joining us today. If you’ve been appreciating this podcast, would you please say thank you by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify and liking our YouTube video? And, of course, I’d encourage you to subscribe on your platforms of choice so you’re notified when we release the next episode. Doing this can also help spread the word about this podcast to others. And, of course, the very best way to do that is to just simply tell your friends and your family. You can send them straight to thereadylife.com or text them a link. That’s right. And we’ll have some relevant links for you on the show notes page, as well as the transcript and all that sort of thing, and links to the various platforms. So you can pick the platform of choice that works best for you.
Thanks for listening, y’all. Take care. We’ll see you next time.