In today’s world, sometimes being able to connect to the internet isn’t just a convenience, it’s a necessity. Even when you want to be off-grid. But still, it’s not easy to get access to the internet when you’re away from civilization.
Maybe you need to check in at work while camping with the family. Maybe you’re enjoying a peaceful weekend at the cabin need to check in at work. Or maybe you just need to be able to keep in touch with the outside world. Either way, being able to communicate is important to a lot of us. If that’s the case, then lack of accessible internet could be keeping you from enjoying the great outdoors.
Believe it or not, there is a solution to this problem. If you need a permanent solution for you cabin in the woods I highly recommend a wireless 3g/4g signal amplifier. This is usually the least expensive, simplest, and most reliable option. But, it only works if you can get at least some signal on your phone. If you can’t, don’t sweat it. There’s an option that should work for you. But whatever you do, don’t let lack of internet or even a phone signal keep you from the peace and tranquility of nature.
Here are 4 ways that you can get internet even when you’re disconnected physically. I’ve put them in order from my favorite solution to my least.
First of all, you need to figure out how strong of a cell signal you can actually get at your off-grid property. Believe it or not, you can do this with your phone without relying on how many bars you have. The process is actually pretty simple. Here’s what you do.
For Android Users
Go to your phone’s settings and scroll down until you find “About Phone”. From there click on “Status” or “Network”. You may have both options. If so, try “Network” first. From that menu you should see an option for either “Network Type and Strength” or “Signal Strength”. Click on that.
If you tried to follow that and it totally didn’t work for you, try going to your phone settings and clicking on “More Settings” or “More Options”. Scroll down to “About Phone” and click on it. Then click on “Mobile Networks” and then on “Signal Strength”. One of these routes should get you there.
For iPhone Users
Go to your phone app and dial the following.
Now press the call button. If you’re using an iPhone 4S or older, then this should be it. The signal strength will appear on the top left corner of the screen. but if you’re using an iPhone 5 or newer, there are a few more steps to follow.
Next, hold the power button long enough that you see the “Slide to Power Off” screen, but don’t power off the phone! Hold the home button down for 5-7 seconds and it will take you back to the home screen in field test mode. The signal strength reading will appear at the top left corner of your screen.
What does this reading mean?
Okay, so now you have a reading. And it might be a negative number…
Don’t worry, it’s supposed to be.
In fact, some phones show it as a positive number. It’s actually not.
This is a reading of decibels (abbreviated dBm) and it should fall between -30 and -120. The more negative the number, the worse the signal. So for example, a reading of -80 is worse than a reading of -70. If your phone shows the numbers as positive, then the same holds true. 80 is worse than 70. The closer the 0 the better.
You may also be seeing two signal numbers. One for 3g/4g and another for 1x. The 3g or 4g number is the one we care about right now. The 1x number will come into play later.
Here’s the crux of it all. If your signal is less than about -100, you’re probably not going to get much if any service. Less than -110 and even a cell booster probably won’t be able to help you. The fact is, if there’s no signal to boost, the cell booster is completely worthless. It doesn’t create any signal at all, it just boosts what’s there. The good news is that if you already have a signal that’s stronger than about -100, you should be able to get service even without a booster. All you need is your phone.
But if your signal is too weak to get service, there are options. I recommend you use a signal booster.
The idea here is to find the best spot on your off-grid property by using the tool built right into your phone. If you can find a spot with a little bit of a signal and then stick your antenna there, pointed toward the nearest cell tower, you’ll be able to get a nice strong signal once it’s amplified. To find your nearest tower, I like to use CellReception.com. They let you pick which cell carrier you use and enter your city and state. They’ll show you a Google map with the location of each cell tower labeled.
So why use 3g/4g/5g and a signal booster?
This is my top pick for a few reasons.
First is the cost. A cell booster is going to cost you between $100 and $900 up front. But the only added cost is the data usage on your cellular plan. There’s no monthly fee to use a booster. Just set it up and you’re good to go.
Second is the reliability. The top cellular companies have really reliable cell and data signals. If you can get much of a signal at all, you’ll be able to amplify it and have basically constant access to both phone and data. It works well even if it’s overcast, unlike some of the other options.
Third is the simplicity. Let’s face it, these days most of us have a smartphone. If you have a smartphone, then just having a 3g or 4g signal is enough to get you connected to everything. With a decent signal, you can even whip out your laptop and using your phone as a wifi hotspot, you can catch up on work or do whatever it is you need to do. It really is an awesome option.
The downside to this is the cost of data on many cell carriers. Some plans offer unlimited data in which case you really should consider this option. But if you’re going to get charged a fortune for each additional GB of data you use you may be better off setting up satellite internet with data caps up to 50 GB.
Cost: One-time cost of $400 to $1000
Reliability: As reliable as your cell provider. In most cases, it’s the most reliable option on this list.Simplicity: The easiest of the bunch. Just setup your antenna and amplifier and you’re good to go with your 3g or 4g enabled smartphone or tablet.
Here are our favorites
The WeBoost 4G-X Cell Booster for Home and Office will boost your cell signal in a space up to 7500 square feet. This will cover a very large cabin and a bit of the outdoors nearby. Don’t have a cabin on your off-grid property yet? No problem. You will need some power, but this solar panel kit will give you plenty to run this booster, charge your devices, and run some lights. If your signal is really weak (-100 dBm) or if you want your signal amplified to a relatively large area, this is the one I recommend. Right now this booster goes for about $900.
The WeBoost Connect 4g Signal Booster for Home and Office is a really close second. It does a similar job of boosting (up to 32x the signal) but just gives you a smaller signal area. With this one you get about 5000 square feet, but at a fairly considerable savings. The cost for this unit right now is about $550.
WeBoost also has a 4g/3g option that gives you 1500 square feet of signal. All three of these options boast a signal boost of up to 32x and this one will run $400.
There are some smaller, less expensive options that are designed for RVs that might work for you, but these ones listed are going to be your best bet for a permanent setup for a nice, strong signal.
If you can’t get a cell signal out there, then you still have options for getting the internet off-grid. The next best choice is satellite internet. All you need is a power source and a clear view of the sky and you can have internet.
Satellite internet is generally slower than 4g, although HughesNet is now offering up to 25 Mbps. Not bad at all considering that the signal has to go all the way up to a satellite and then back to you.
Prior to 2017, there were a lot of complaints about all of the major players in the satellite internet space. The signal has been generally slow and unreliable. Yet the cost has been frustratingly high. But in recent years all of the major players have been consolidated into two major companies—HughesNet and Exede. And in 2017 HughesNet really stepped it up a notch.
For some time Exede has set the bar for satellite internet speed offering 12 Mbps. But now HughesNet has left them in the dust with their 25 Mbps offering even on their basic plan.
Both companies offer a basic plan for $49.99 per month. But for premium plan offerings, Exede’s model is pretty complicated. What you can get depends on where you live. HughesNet now offers a nationwide plan in the U.S. so you get the same pricing no matter where you live. The top plan on HughesNet gives you up to 50 GB of data per month and costs $99.99. Exede offers up to 50 GB and up to 25 Mbps for between $100 and $150 depending where you live.
Click on this link to check out current HughesNet pricing and get their best deal available.
Either option isn’t bad and satellite internet really is a good choice if you can’t get a cell signal. But again, at $100 per month it only takes 10 months before we WeBoost 4G-X Cell Booster for Home and Office would have been a better choice. Plus, cell boosters don’t charge early termination fees like satellite internet companies do. Just something to keep in mind.
Cost: Monthly cost of $50 to $150
Reliability: Reliable as long as you have a nice clear view of the skySimplicity: Not much more complicated than a cell booster as long as the dish is installed correctly
Although not practical for most people, you can actually access the internet via Ham Radio. That’s right, ham radio.
Radio frequencies are capable of carrying data which makes it possible to send and receive email and even browse the internet using a ham radio. While this is possible and there are those who do it, it’s really not a great option if you’re hoping to use most features of the internet. Here’s why.
First, you still don’t have access everywhere. Just like you need a cellular signal to use the 4g on your phone, you need be able to reach a repeater station or another ham radio in order to communicate that way.
Don’t get me wrong, Ham Radio is an awesome way to communicate when you’re off-grid. Lots of people have radios and there are repeater networks all over the place, making Ham Radio one of the best ways to communicate when phone service isn’t available. What’s more is that Ham Radio doesn’t rely on a proprietary network of cell towers or cables to work. The radio signals literally just fly through the air. But for internet access, it’s not as simple as talking through the radio and your ability to get internet access off the grid is probably less likely then if you set up a satellite dish.
Second, the signal is really slow. It makes sense. The data is traveling through the air. Not the quickest medium for data transfer. So if you’re hoping to stream a video or send a large file you can forget it.
Third, the data transfer is absolutely not secure. Again, the signal is traveling through the air. Anyone on the same frequency can receive that data as well. So if you go this route, be careful. Don’t transmit passwords or any sensitive data this way.
All that said, there are some really cool things about this option. First, the cost is reasonably low. If you have a Ham Radio that you can connect to a computer and you have a Ham Radio operator’s license then you’re pretty well set. There’s no ongoing service fee. Second, let’s say everything shuts down and the internet stops working. Ham Radios will still work. You’ll still be able to transmit data. It won’t be incredibly secure, but it will work. And if you can hit a repeater network from your off-grid location and transmit to your computer that’s connected to the internet then you’ll be able to have the internet off-grid.
How to set this up is a little beyond the scope of this article, but here are a few resources if you’re interested in learning more.
Cost: One-time cost of $100 to $1000
Reliability: Slow but reliable as long as you can reach a repeater networkSimplicity: Fairly simple if you’re familiar with ham radios, complex if you’re new to them
This works just like the 3g/4g option I described above, but the idea is to use the your 1x cell signal for data.
Remember before 4g and even before 3g some cell phones had internet, but it was really slow? This is still available. There are only two reasons I can see to use this option.
- You can get a 1x cell signal but not 3g or 4g then this will at least get you access to the internet
- You don’t want to pay for 4g data, cellular data plans are less expensive
If your off-grid property is close enough to a cell tower to get service, then you’re all set. But if not, you’ll still need a booster and the cost will be the same as outlined above.
Enjoy the Outdoors with the Internet Off-Grid
Connectivity to the internet might be necessary to be able to enjoy the outdoors. If you’re like a lot of people, getting away for very long can be difficult when you have work responsibilities. Not only that, but from a safety standpoint it’s important to be able to call for help should anything unfortunate happen.
But don’t forget the reason that you’re heading to an off-grid location. Spending time outdoors can help alleviate stress and is a great way to refocus on what matters most to you. Don’t let connectivity ruin that. Make sure you use it as a tool to enable more quality time off-grid. Use it to check in when needed, but then shut it off and enjoy your manly escape.