If you live or stay in the middle of nowhere or a rural area outside a major city or town – where there are no reliable cable, fiber or wireless networks available – how can you get an Internet connection? There are several possibilities, but they all have trade-offs, which we will discuss in detail.
Normally, rural, more remote areas in the US are usually served by only one ISP, whether that be a dial-up or some other connection type. These providers offer slower speeds than most ISPs in more populated locations. Since they are the only ones in the community, there is no pressure whatsoever to innovate and upgrade their infrastructure to provide users with faster speeds.
Option 1: DSL providers
DSL is the service that took dialing off the card. It’s faster than calling in, always on, and you can use your landline while surfing the web. This is the most common type of internet connection you can get in rural areas, as it uses the phone lines you already have. While it is faster than calling in, it is still super slow by today’s standards.
When I was in the middle of nowhere in Montana, Frontier Communications was the only DSL provider. And typical speeds were around 10 Mbps for uploads and 1 Mbps for downloads. That is insanely slow. You may be able to stream a low-quality video on Netflix, Prime, or YouTube, but you can pretty much forget about Apple TV or Disney Plus. And a one gigabyte file would take about 15 minutes on a stable connection.
You certainly have a slow connection, but that connection will also be fairly reliable – possibly the most reliable on this list. If you need a stable connection to download or upload, this will mean fewer interruptions and downtime.
You can search for DSL providers in your area with a simple web tool to see what’s available. Commonly used providers are AT&T, CenturyLink, EarthLink, Frontier and Verizon. Still, there are many companies with DSL products as it is a fairly inexpensive game to start with with the basic infrastructure already in place.
Option 2: Satellite data providers
If there are no DSL providers in your area, another option to check out is satellite internet, where the existing system uses a geostationary orbit, also known as geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO).
Now I’m not talking about the new Starlink system designed by SpaceX that can give you download speeds anywhere from 50 Mbps to over 150 Mbps. It’s only available in select locations, so you’re probably not in a service area. It is a non-geostationary satellite orbit constellation (NGSO) with very low Earth orbit with lower latency, smaller size and lower losses compared to its geostationary counterpart.
The GEO-type satellite constellations move with the rotation of the Earth, so that satellite antennas on the ground can be permanently fixed in one position without tracking the satellites above. They are placed above a low track, which means high latency due to the distance from your home – and slower than DSL speeds. The average speed across the country is about 1 Mbps for downloads and about a quarter of that for uploads.
In the same area in Montana, with HughesNet as my carrier, I normally saw a little over 1 Mbps for downloads, and hardly ever more than 0.5 Mbps for uploads. The maximum download speed I observed was around 20 Mbps.
Satellite Internet is more for simple tasks, such as needing a way to make a VoIP call because you have no cellular reception nearby. However, the high latency makes even a simple conversation suffer, as you’re constantly talking about each other. We wouldn’t recommend it unless there is absolutely nothing else. Downloading a one gigabyte file would take nearly 2.5 hours at 1 Mbps. A five megabyte file, which is typical of many photos today, would take almost a minute.
Another disadvantage of satellite internet is that you don’t have a reliable connection when there are obstacles, such as trees, sheds, large hills and in some cases even the weather. Companies serving North America include HughesNet and Viasat Internet, so there aren’t many choices, and the monthly pricing tiers are ridiculously expensive – with data caps! If you can wait, wait for Starlink.
Option 3: Mobile data providers
So far, our options aren’t that great, and they make cellular data providers look pretty good. If you have a smartphone that allows you to use it as a personal hotspot, you can have data on your phone and your computer, killing two birds with one stone, with more portability just having to be within range of a cell tower. If you want a fixed personal hotspot, you can take an old smartphone and use your wireless SIM card in it. This way you can multitask better with your smartphone and computer.
If you go this route, unlimited 4G LTE or 5G data plans are the way to go. All the major players – AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – offer them. But you will find that unlimited plans usually limit the connection after a certain period of time. For example, you can have a maximum amount of data that you can use at full speed each month before being limited to slower speeds. Likewise, if you are using a phone as a wireless hotspot, there may also be monthly data limits that are even lower than normal data limits.
Smartphones don’t usually have the best antennas, so your signal can vary widely from time to time. Hence, it is better to invest in a device that is exclusively a mobile hotspot. For example, on T-Mobile, you can get a ZTE 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot for around $ 200 or Alcatel LINKZONE 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot for around $ 50, insert the SIM card and you’re good to go.
While the antennas in these mobile hotspots are better than in phones, you cannot use a directional antenna and you will find yourself jumping from room to room to find the best signal. You may even want to stick it on a window or place it outside! In addition, your cellular provider knows that it is not a phone and phone plans are for phones. So if you’re using a mobile hotspot like this, you need a mobile hotspot plan, which usually has more restrictions.
The download and upload speeds you get will vary widely from provider to provider and will depend on the quality of the signal and the type of tower in the area. 5G towers are relatively new, so don’t expect to find any of the towers within working distance of you. 4G LTE is most likely, but in remote areas you may even be stuck with 3G speeds.
Option 4: counterfeit cellular data provider phone
If you feel that mobile hotspot plans are too restrictive for you, you can get around the limitations of using a mobile hotspot on a regular smartphone plan by using a device that falsifies itself as a smartphone. We recommend the MOFI4500-4GXELTE-SIM4 with Embedded SIM, which should work with regular AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless phone plans.
Mofi’s router makes the network think it is a smartphone. That way, it doesn’t limit you to those throttled personal hotspot data limits (you just have to work with the global data limit), while getting both wireless and Ethernet connections for use on all of your devices. You can also use directional antennas to get the best possible signal while keeping it in a convenient location.
The Mofi router is a bit expensive, starting at $ 299 and sometimes up to $ 400.
While we haven’t tested them, there are cheaper solutions for the Mofi router, such as the MikroTik LHG LTE kit-US. This particular one doesn’t offer a wireless connection and only has one Ethernet port, but it can be powered through that Ethernet port. Make sure whatever you get it works on the same band.
Option 5: signal booster for counterfeit phones
If the Mofi router wasn’t enough to give you a fast, reliable Internet connection on all of your devices, there’s one more thing you can do to improve things: get a signal booster. A signal booster amplifies the signal between the tower and your Mofi router, giving you the best possible performance from this list of options. However, with the cost of the Mofi router and the price tag of a good signal booster, it certainly doesn’t come cheap. Some of the best signal boosters can be priced up to $ 900, but you can get a good one from $ 100 to $ 200.
With signal amplifiers, you need some detailed knowledge of the cell infrastructure in the area. So you need to do some research to make sure it is raising the correct frequency, which can be tricky to figure out. Make sure it is working on the same band and channel as your Mofi router. Some of the cheaper options are:
Option 6: Channel all link together
With channel connection, you can combine all the above options to give you the best of everything. It’s a paid service that combines all your internet resources, chops up your packages, then sends them to a resource that uses all of the available bandwidth, where they are reassembled and sent to the internet. Theoretically, you could get a cumulative amount of download and upload speeds from each option, but it’s more complicated to set up. Most DSL providers offer a channel bonding option, so it’s worth asking if you’re going that route.
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