Off-Grid Internet Access and Anonymity

Off-Grid refers to not being connected to the public commercial electrical power grid, that network of wires that criss-cross the country. But in common usage it means much more. It means not utilizing any service that ties its usage to the physical address of  your off-grid location. That means your location is not on the propane truck's delivery route. It is not on the garbage truck's pickup list. There are no records at the power, water, or sewage company for your address. No mail delivery service at your physical location. And for this topic, your physical address does not appear in the billing or service records for any Internet service.

The first step in going off-grid should be a visit to a UPS Store, or FedEx store (there are others too) and get yourself an address. Make sure you get a real street address, not a 'Box' address. Then have your purchases shipped to this address, and use this address for purchasing your Internet services. You can of course pay online, but services will want an address, so this becomes your address. When signing up for your new address, don't associate it with the physical location of your off-grid property.

Satellite Internet:
This service is the most expensive and worst performing option, but for rural sites may be your only choice. Expect frequent outages and poor speeds. But if this is your only available choice, then you are faced with an installation choice. The FCC does not allow for self installation of 2 way satellite systems, if you make a mistake in alignment, you could interfere with the satellite in orbit and effect all the users of that satellite. So, how do you avoid have an installer set up your system, and thereby ending up with your physical location entered into their records?

RV Systems - An RV system is designed for satellite service that moves to many different locations, therefore the 'installer' is built in. Turn it on once you stop moving, and in a few minutes it has aligned itself and is operational. There are many plans available with different download and upload speeds. MotoSat's DataStorm is the most popular with RVers. Prices are in the range of $5000 - $5500. Monthly charges start at $60. Check with RV stores for details. Look for mail order or online dealers for purchasing the equipment; RV shops may require you to bring in your 'RV' for the initial installation.

Tripod Systems - So, if it takes a certified installer to legally set up a non-automatic RV type system, how about just becoming a certified installer yourself? This is the route taken by many full time RV'ers. There are a few companies setup to certify end users to legally install a 2 way satellite system. One of the best companies to work with is Starband, and training and equipment is available through There is no charge for either the certification training materials or to take the exam. It is an open-book exam. The training and testing is online. Starband systems run from $1035 to just under $1500.

Cellular Internet:
All the major cellular services offer good Internet services. We have experience with Sprint, AT&T and Verizon. The monthly service will run you from $70 for 1 gigabit of data to $120 for 10 gigabits. You can purchase a data only device, often called a portable hotspot or MiFi, or you can use many smartphones to provide this function. The portable hotspot sends and receives the cellular Internet service and provides it to your computers as a normal WiFi signal. These hotspot devices are available for the major services from stores such as Best Buy, and most give you a 30 day return (if returning to a store, make sure they also cancel the service with the cellular company, as many 'forget' to do this step). You will want to check your off-grid location for which service gives the best signal. can help determine who might have the best signal. You should also visit and switch the view to the 'Towers' screen to see who has towers in the area (don't bother with their coverage map, it is not useful in rural areas as it is crowd sourced).

Weak signals - If you can get a signal, but it is spotty and weak, consider a high gain antenna. First, have the sales person show you that the hotspot device or phone you are buying has an external antenna jack (for example, the Verizon Jetpack MiFi 4620le does). Then get what is called a Yagi directional antenna and cable adapter for your device. We strongly recommend working with wpsantennas (, use their online 'HELP' chat to make sure you get the right antenna and adapter cable for your service and device. Get an antenna that covers 700MHz through 2500 or 2700 MHz so that both 3G and the faster 4G services are covered. Once you receive the equipment, you can use the site mentioned above to determine where the closest and best tower is to point the antenna at. If you have an Android phone, there is a good free app called Map My Cell Tower that can pinpoint the tower you are connected to. Use the signal strength display on your device while making tiny adjustments to the antenna to find the best direction to point it. If you are lucky, you will get the faster 4G service, but if not, 3G is very usable, and is typically faster than satellite Internet service.

Amplifiers and repeaters - These devices take the weak cellular signal from your outside antenna, amplify it, and send it to your device. In turn they then take the signal from your device, and make it stronger and send it back to the tower. There are two types; inline amplifiers and wireless boosters. Inline connect directly to your device, and only serve that single device. Wireless repeaters rebroadcast the cellular signal inside your building, and serve every device in that building.

3G vs. 4G -  4G is a data only service, no voice calls are provided on 4G. If you have determined that you can receive 4G at your off-grid location, but the signal is weak, then consider getting a 4G inline amplifier. There is no sense getting a wireless repeater for 4G, as it will only be providing coverage for your Internet device, not your cell phones. The one exception to this is if you happen to have purchased a hotspot device that does not have an external antenna connection. If you can not get 4G at your location, then go ahead and get a 3G wireless repeater because it will not only greatly improve your hotspot device's Internet connection, it will also greatly improve your cellphones' connections at the same time.

4G inline amplifiers such as those from Cellphone-Mate Surecall or Wilson will typically run from $200 to $400, while 3G wireless repeaters from the same companies will run $400 and up. Do not bother with the little desktop consumer systems that have the little built in antennas, they are not worth the box they are shipped in. Again, use the online 'HELP' chat at wpsantennas to make your selection and purchase. They have great technical support and a 30 day return. We originally got a 4G inline system from them, and after much trying, we determined that the 4G signal from the tower was too poor; they quickly took our return and got us a 3G wireless repeater system that works great. Note that some of the systems offered are complete kits that include an antenna; many of these come with a non-directional 'omni' antenna, do not use the omni, go with the directional yagi antenna discussed earlier.

To keep yourself anonymous on the Internet, we suggest two solutions for you to look at. Pick the one you like best. - This is an easy to use service that creates what is called a Virtual Private Network. Everything that goes out of or into your computer gets encrypted, and it all goes to and from one single spot on the Internet. This 'spot' then in turn goes out to the 'real' Internet on your behalf to get or send your data. So all the places you might visit on the Internet 'see' this service's address, not yours, making you anonymous. The service costs as little as $3.33/month, and works on Windows, Mac, Android and Apple iOS. - A free software package for Windows, Mac, and Android. While free, it is more complicated to set up.

Cellular anonymity - On TV you so often see people being located by their cellphones, typically by cell tower triangulation. Triangulation requires the cellular system to be able to 'see' your cell device from at least three towers that are spread out. And for any accuracy, they need to be low power cell sites covering a small area. These requirements are the exact opposite of what is typical of an off-grid location. Cell towers are designed to have three 120 degree antenna patterns, giving them a rough 360 degree coverage (that's why they are triangle shaped). If you are luck enough to have just a single tower, then the best the cellular company can locate you is within 40 or so square miles. A single tower can only determine which 120 degree 'face' you are at, and a very rough distance. The distance is rough because it is based on your signal strength, and if you are using an amplifier or repeater, you will appear to be MUCH closer to the tower than you really are. We tested this with our phone, and it was reported that we were a few blocks from the tower. This is another reason for using a highly directional yagi antenna; if there are other towers around, they probably won't 'see' you when using a yagi antenna. If you happen to have an android phone, there is a free app called Phone Tracker from Life360 that uses the very same cellular data that is used by the police, you can use it to see where it reports your location to be.

Here is a good site to learn more:

IMPORTANT -  Leave your phone and hotspot device's GPS turned off. Your cellular device WILL report your exact location to the cellular company when the tower requests it. You can see the difference for yourself using the Phone Tracker app; run it once with GPS off, and again with it on. Try and only enable GPS when you are away from your off-grid location.

These solutions will get you on the Internet; web browsing, email, file downloads, even Skype type video calls. But don't expect streaming video, like Netflix, YouTube etc., there usually is not enough bandwidth. Additionally, these solutions typically have a monthly limit on how much data you use, and streaming video will quickly eat up your entire limit.

Regarding off-grid power consumption, running on a 12 volt solar PV system, the hotspot device will pull about 0.3 amps and the amplifier will pull about 0.6 amps. We put our amplifier (which is installed in the attic) on a kill switch so we can easily shut it off when we are away.

One frustration with the Verizon 4620le MiFi device is that it occasionally disconnects from the cellular Internet, and does not automatically reconnect. We placed a shortcut to log into the MiFi on our browsers so that we can log in and tell it to reconnect when this happens.

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