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4 Ways To Get Internet Access Off-Grid (Even Without Electricity)

Image source: Onstar

Image source: Onstar

The Internet is an integral part of modern life. We use it for countless things – emailing Mom, buying a new pair of boots, reading the latest news. And it’s probably hard to imagine life without it.

But what if you move into the “middle of nowhere”? Or what if an emergency or disaster situation knocks out our electrical grid, chances are that most people would lose – or think they have lost – their Internet access. However, even without power, there might be a way you can still get online thanks to massive power banks and generators specifically designed to back up the data that appears online.

The trick is to know how.

What You Need at Home

Most of us receive Internet access through our phone lines or our cable TV subscriptions. In either case, the transmission of the signal to your home is the responsibility of the provider, not you. As I mentioned, phone companies generally have massive stores of back-up power. So, if you are getting broadband through the phone company, you should still have Internet access from your home.

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Cable TV subscribers aren’t quite so fortunate. Even if the cable TV company has power generators at their office, that won’t be enough to provide Internet service throughout their network. These companies count on signal amplifiers along the way, which are mounted on power poles and powered by tapping into the electric power lines. With the grid down, they won’t be able to provide any Internet access.

Your Electric Power

Since we’re talking about an outage or off-grid situation, you can’t count on electricity from the power company to power your computers and devices. That means you’ll need devices that are battery powered, with a means to recharge them. Or you’ll need some sort of power generator at your home.

internet biz 22611The other thing you need to provide power for is your modem or router. These allow you to connect to the Internet. Let’s examine four ways to connect to the Internet off-grid.

1. Connect Via Your Cell phone

Your cell phone is probably the easiest way to connect to the Internet while you are off-the-grid. Not only does your service provider have a connection that you can access through your cellphone, but your smartphone can be used as a wireless hub, allowing other computer devices to connect to the Internet. This means you’re not limited to the screen of your smartphone.

Of course, the ability to use a smartphone to access the Internet will be largely dependent upon having a good cell phone signal. If you’re standing on the top of a mountain or hiding out in a deep canyon somewhere out in the wild, there’s a good chance that you won’t have any coverage.

2. Connect Via Satellite Internet

Satellite Internet is one service that will likely not be affected by any problems here on Earth. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the grid going down or having to bug out, satellite Internet should still be in operation.

Another nice thing about satellite Internet is that it doesn’t matter if you’re on the top or bottom of that mountain. You’ll still have Internet access. About the only thing that could affect service is to be somewhere that the signal is blocked, so don’t try to use it from underground.

3. Connect Via Ham Radio

Ham radio — which was around long before the Internet — can be used to surf the web. Sailors often use it at sea. All that is needed is to find a way to deal with some technical problems. (Recommended: The Best Way To Communicate When The Power’s Out.)

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ham-radio-closeupTraditionally, ham radio has been the most reliable means of communication during any disaster. That makes it an ideal venue for attempting to provide Internet access to people in an emergency.

4. Connect Via Dial-Up Internet

Remember dial-up? Yep, it’s still available, even though it has its limits (such as not being able easily to watch videos).  More than 2 million Americans are still using dial-up, saving lots of money along the way. Dial-up would work for a while when the electricity is out because landlines would still be working. Landlines are “powered” by the phone company, allowing them to operate when, for instance, a storm knocks out electricity to your town.

Internet Connections of the Future

One of the many projects of our wireless companies and Internet service providers is to develop a true nationwide Wi-Fi network. There have been reports that they intend to use every wireless device in every home as a Wi-Fi hotspot, providing true coast-to-coast mobile coverage. Of course, there be will many privacy concerns with such a system.

Another experimental program is being developed by Space X, the private space flight company. They have just received government approval to install a constellation of low altitude satellites, specifically for providing worldwide Internet access.

This isn’t the first time that something like this has been proposed. Other companies have either looked at the possibility or even made some strides towards launching a satellite. But in all cases, the program has failed. Developers say the big difference this time is that the plan is being fostered by a company that sends rockets up into space regularly.

Don’t give up on the Internet, even if off grid or even in a crisis situation. There are ways of connecting and there will probably be service available to use. The key is to have the right sort of equipment and connections available for what you will need.

Do you know of other ways to get Internet service, off-grid? Share your tips in the section below:

Are You Ready For Blackouts When A Solar Storm Hits Earth? Read More Here.

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18 comments

  1. There are still some hurdles here. For instance, using your smart phone as a hub for a secondary device like a computer requires activation of the hub and paying a monthly fee with your cell phone provider for its use, something that would need to already be in place at the time the electricity goes out. Thus, you would just be better off in an emergency situation using the smart phone directly. All other modems (whether for satellite or for dial-up) that would allow you to connect to the web require electricity. Thus, without some sort of reliable power generator, those modems will not work.

  2. Cynthia L. Worrell-White

    I access the internet now thru a Verizon acct which includes my hotspot for $10/month. I keep my hotspot charged with a USB/AC connection on a solar generator or a USB port on my charging laptop or to a 12V plug with USB port. I can also use the hotpot wireless with my tablet. I can get internet access pretty reliably all over the country even in fairly remote Natl forest campsites. My question is can I expect this system to work if the electric grid is down? I assume telephone companies providing internet access are working with satellites & towers transmitting those signals. Of course their offices etc. may not be functioning.

    • Think of all your devises like a light bulb, if there is no energy to turn on the light bulb, then the bulb won’t work, you must be able to have an energy source to power your devises (cell phone, tablet, etc) so they can work, I currently use solar, or the USB ports in my vehicle.

  3. This is a real thing. The internet is hardened infrastructure. It has backup generators at nearly all network exchanges. There are plethoras of servers that will be online and accessible for weeks or even months after the grid goes offline.

    I recommend the short story “When the SysAdmins Ruled the Earth” by Cory Doctorow: http://craphound.com/overclocked/download/

    It gives a hypothetical story of a group of people locked in such a datacenter during a global catastrophe which included a lethal bioagent; they’re scared to go outside. They can communicate with anyone else also locked in a datacenter, but the rest of the world pretty much has no power to get online…

    The rest of the stories on this page are good too! Check out printcrime since it’s only 2 pages.

  4. Copper or POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) are mandated to be shut down. They are currently active however a bill has been passed that allows the Telco to shut down Copper runs for communications and force people over to fiber infrastructures. What does this mean to you? It simply means that the communication service most reliable in disaster situations will be going offline. All Telco services are planned to be VOIP (Voice Over IP) even in the rural areas.

  5. I don’t understand the “no electricity” part of the article. What device have you described that doesn’t use some type of power?

    Though the poster Sean is right that POTS lines are do to be twilight-ed in the future. There still are MANY services that use those analog lines. Especially any rural locations will be using POTS for years. The cost to run digital services “to the door” in rural area is to enormous. This would entail the running of fiber optic cable to all parts of the country. Remember DSL? DSL is alive and well in smaller cities and rural areas running on copper lines.

    One thing your article should have included is the mass of FREE internet hot spots throughout the country, even in very small towns. These can be accessed from 1-5 miles away via high power USB WiFi modems available on eBay. These using a directional yagi antenna (cheap) allow almost any user internet access. I use mine all the time.

    • Good points, John! By electricity, we are referencing the power grid. The author argued that cable Internet won’t work without electricity (at least, after a few hours of it being down). So, what would? Everything in the article would work on a battery backup.

    • John,
      Great reply. Could you work up a simple bill of materials for a directional antenna / wireless set up?

  6. As a two time hurricane survivor, know that the cellphone towers use backup generators when the electricity goes out. When the fuel for these towers runs out, so does the signal.
    Also, the wireless systems become overloaded and crash. Again, no internet / phone.
    Sorry

  7. Some of those future options are not good. 3% and rising of the population is electrosensitive. RF radiation has been declared by the World Health Organization as a class 2B carcnogen. Wifi causes me heat trouble and mini storkes.

    I am going to hook my DSL modem to DC outlet and into the line from my phone companies DSL.

    Wifi from space or hot spots everywhere is not only going to kill people, but has already decreased the bee popultaion. Try growing food w/ out pollinators.

    • If you consider that 3% of the population is “electro-sensitive” – you also should consider that all of earth is one great mix of naturally induced electromagnetic fields, that as much as 5% of the population have hypochondria and that the majority of researchers will research any subject with a grant attached to it.

  8. If the grid is down, it’s likely down for your ISP and/or phone company as well. Even AT&T has limited off-grid power options. Dial-up seems like the most likely way to go. Your cell phone is dependent on the cell tower being up to send/receive wireless signal, not to mention the limited capacity, especially with now everyone trying to tether their devices to the cell phone. Don’t know about ham specifically, but I imagine there’s power needed for those ham towers to work and if the grid is down then …

  9. Hi just wondering I have a security camera set up at our shack running of solour power with only phone single if I am on the roof how can I view my camera footage to my smart phone and how much I need a external antenna on the roof has any one got any ideas

  10. Hi I have a security camera set up at our shack running of solar power how can I view my footage on my smart phone with the only phone signal I have if I stand on the roof what do I need and how much will it cost

  11. So I’m out of city limits and towers all around me but not a one is good and close enough to do me of any good I can have land line so I have to do cell phone,but I have Co workers tell me if I can get land line internet I should solve the problem with wifi for my cell phone,but the cost for both isn’t an option..more when the economy and line of work I as one single income can’t affored.what are my options and how much will I come out of pocket.”need best cheapest options to obtain such services” please help me!!

  12. Internet access and cost is probably the most irritating thing I have to deal with . I live in a southwestern mississippi county. For the past couple of years I’ve gotten access through a hotspot with AT&T. I’ve also had satellite in the past. I pay $130/ month for what they call unlimited access, meaning no charges for overages (oxymoron?) that’s doesn’t include device access or other charges. Although coverage is better than before it is still difficult to keep a good signal even though I’m supposedly a mile from a tower. Speed is slowed down after 20 gigs of data usage. It’s hard to believe I have to pay so much for so little and other users pay less for more. Aaarggghhh! I heard recently that AT&T is coming out with mini satellites that will be atop power poles and will provide fiber optic type speed. Have you heard anything about this?

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