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Off-grid internet

 
pollinator
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I am looking for suggestions on the best way to set up internet access on an off-grid homestead (BC, Canada).

There is cell phone signal to part of the property but the cell towers are on the far side of a hill so we don't get a powerful signal. The cell provider coverage map shows the edge of our property as being the limit of the signal range.

We plan to build housing in the middle of the 38 acre square-shaped property and that is further away and downhill on the side of the hill away from the cell towers.

The plan is to be on solar and possibly wind power, not tied to the grid. There are no power or phone lines in to the property. It would be possible to have these put in but probably pricey.

At the moment I am working from home due to covid and need to be able to participate in online meetings and download large files. That will probably continue to be a requirement even post-covid. We will be eventually operating an online business from home and also want to have enough capacity to stream things like netflix or amazon prime.

Any ideas on best way to set this up?

 
pollinator
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Elon musk's new satellite system supposedly will have low enough latency to do zoom and enough bandwidth for streaming. Not sure how far north it will work.

Wranglestar just did a review on YouTube.
 
Andrea Locke
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R Scott wrote:Elon musk's new satellite system supposedly will have low enough latency to do zoom and enough bandwidth for streaming. Not sure how far north it will work.

Wranglestar just did a review on YouTube.



Thanks, I will look into those. We are not far north of the border.
 
R Scott
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https://odysee.com/@Wranglerstar:4/elon-musk-sent-me-a-box:0

 
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Northern Ontario here, off-grid, similar connection situation (or lack there-of) as you.

-Xplornet Satellite has horrible reviews online, but I've actually found it to be fairly reliable and it works well enough for Zoom etc. We stream netflix, video etc content mostly without issues (sometimes slowdown in the evenings, presumably when the network is at peak usage).

-Look into cell boosters. Without ours we have little to no service, with it we are able to achieve fairly high download speeds. Add data to your cellphone plan, possibly you can squeeze another 50GB or so for low cost, or get a plan from one of the carriers for data only (expensive...). The cell network, if you can access it, can theoretically have high enough download and upload speeds with better latency than satellite. Proper aiming of cell booster receiver antenna is important.


Like most everything, internet connection speeds and prices are all relative... you may need to shift what you consider to be fast internet, and what you consider to be cheap internet. But it's amazing what we are able to get used to.
 
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Hi Andrea;  Some very good suggestions already.
I'll just toss this out as another choice.
Phone lines can be above ground. (yes sometimes animals bite it)  This saves bunches of grief and money trying to dig a line in by machine.
You might see what the cost is to have a box placed where there is service and then run a line over hill and dale to your house.
This is assuming that your phone company offers good online services.
 
Andrea Locke
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J. Rosseau wrote:Northern Ontario here, off-grid, similar connection situation (or lack there-of) as you.

-Xplornet Satellite has horrible reviews online, but I've actually found it to be fairly reliable and it works well enough for Zoom etc. We stream netflix, video etc content mostly without issues (sometimes slowdown in the evenings, presumably when the network is at peak usage).

-Look into cell boosters. Without ours we have little to no service, with it we are able to achieve fairly high download speeds. Add data to your cellphone plan, possibly you can squeeze another 50GB or so for low cost, or get a plan from one of the carriers for data only (expensive...). The cell network, if you can access it, can theoretically have high enough download and upload speeds with better latency than satellite. Proper aiming of cell booster receiver antenna is important.


Like most everything, internet connection speeds and prices are all relative... you may need to shift what you consider to be fast internet, and what you consider to be cheap internet. But it's amazing what we are able to get used to.



We were on Xplornet for many years in rural New Brunswick and it was certainly slow. That was 8 years ago though, and I imagine it has improved.

Have you tried your cell phone as a wifi hotspot with the signal booster, and if so how does that compare with Xplornet?
 
John Rosseau
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Andrea Locke wrote:

We were on Xplornet for many years in rural New Brunswick and it was certainly slow. That was 8 years ago though, and I imagine it has improved.

Have you tried your cell phone as a wifi hotspot with the signal booster, and if so how does that compare with Xplornet?




I just did a test with our satellite internet (snowing currently, cloud cover, not that I have noticed weather affecting it): 8 mbps download, 1.5 mbps upload. Connection tests aren't perfect and there's many variables affecting them, but that is fast enough for streaming video. We haven't had it slow down to the point where it is unusable, even for steaming. We just have to maybe wait a couple of minutes for the player to buffer and we're good to go... that has been our experience. I know that since COVID they have had to reduce the packages that they offer, presumably because demand increased meanwhile they only have so much bandwidth available on the satellites that they can sell. It can be a bit frustrating on Zoom if you're in a busy chat as sometimes the delay can cause people to start speaking over each other... but that's usually only an issue during fast conversations...

Their speed has improved over the years. Somewhere I once found a chart that aggregated speed tests from many users over time. It showed a steady increase in speeds across Xplornet services, so perhaps you NB experience won't be repeated. I feel like I am selling this service now.. I am not... but, like you, internet access is critical for us here.


Cell phone with hotspot, or using a dedicated cell phone router (it accepts a SIM card, connects directly to the network, and broadcasts wifi in your house), is generally faster. I've had speeds up to 20mbps download. Remember that without the booster I'm lucky to be able to make a phone call.... in town the cell network gives download speeds of 150mbps+.
 
John Rosseau
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Oh, and I might add that I ended up hauling the booster about 65 feet up into the crown of a big Aspen tree.


Using this mapping tool I can see that my house is 12.5km to the nearest tower (Bell/Telus) and that it is mostly a clear line of sight (thankfully...):

https://www.scadacore.com/tools/rf-path/cell-tower-map-canada/

Screen-Shot-2021-01-16-at-12.58.36-PM.png
[Thumbnail for Screen-Shot-2021-01-16-at-12.58.36-PM.png]
 
master pollinator
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I have been on Xplornet fixed wireless for many years. It's not perfect, but it's mostly okay. I have the fastest plan they offer here, and a clear line of sight to the tower. It's shared bandwidth, so always keep upgrading, because as more people subscribe the speed goes down. I discovered that the local installers know more than the help line -- for example, they added a new ring on the tower at a different frequency. Help line had no idea. Local guy switched frequencies for me and it made a huge difference.

Cell phone boosters are not cheap (several hundred bucks), but they make a huge difference. We're in a bit of a black hole for cell service. I have neighbours who swear by their boosters, since now they can use their work phones for everything.
 
Andrea Locke
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R Scott wrote:Elon musk's new satellite system supposedly will have low enough latency to do zoom and enough bandwidth for streaming. Not sure how far north it will work.

Wranglestar just did a review on YouTube.



So it turns out that yes, this will be available in Canada. Apparently they are bets testing here as I type this. It may actually be a viable option by the time we move fully to the new property. This article tslks about costs and such, too.

https://www.iphoneincanada.ca/tesla/spacex-starlink-beta-invites-launch-in-canada-revealing-pricing/

I have a feeling we will need a cell phone booster as well, regardless of whether we get a satellite connection. Unless somehow the cell phone signal can be boosted via the satellite internet?
 
Andrea Locke
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Sorry, beta testing. Typing with thumbs.
 
John Rosseau
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:
Cell phone boosters are not cheap (several hundred bucks), but they make a huge difference.



I'm over $1K into mine I believe
 
John Rosseau
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Andrea Locke wrote:

I have a feeling we will need a cell phone booster as well, regardless of whether we get a satellite connection. Unless somehow the cell phone signal can be boosted via the satellite internet?



I don't think it can be.
 
R Scott
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J. Rosseau wrote:

Andrea Locke wrote:

I have a feeling we will need a cell phone booster as well, regardless of whether we get a satellite connection. Unless somehow the cell phone signal can be boosted via the satellite internet?



I don't think it can be.



That is a solid shmaybe.  

Some phones and providers will switch over to Wi-Fi, which should work. The latency on other satellite systems was too high to be usable unless you are used to saying "over"
 
Andrea Locke
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R Scott wrote:

J. Rosseau wrote:

Andrea Locke wrote:

I have a feeling we will need a cell phone booster as well, regardless of whether we get a satellite connection. Unless somehow the cell phone signal can be boosted via the satellite internet?



I don't think it can be.



That is a solid shmaybe.  

Some phones and providers will switch over to Wi-Fi, which should work. The latency on other satellite systems was too high to be usable unless you are used to saying "over"



I will have to look into that. It will be the same phone and provider that I have now. I use the home network for wifi to save on data, but have not looked into whether I could take calls and texts via the network.  It occurred to me that this would actually be really useful where we live now on a different BC island. I have good internet here with fiber optic cable connection but the bars on my phone are too often reading 1 or 0 and dropping calls.
 
Andrea Locke
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Andrea Locke wrote:

R Scott wrote:

J. Rosseau wrote:

Andrea Locke wrote:

I have a feeling we will need a cell phone booster as well, regardless of whether we get a satellite connection. Unless somehow the cell phone signal can be boosted via the satellite internet?



I don't think it can be.



That is a solid shmaybe.  

Some phones and providers will switch over to Wi-Fi, which should work. The latency on other satellite systems was too high to be usable unless you are used to saying "over"



I will have to look into that. It will be the same phone and provider that I have now. I use the home network for wifi to save on data, but have not looked into whether I could take calls and texts via the network.  It occurred to me that this would actually be really useful where we live now on a different BC island. I have good internet here with fiber optic cable connection but the bars on my phone are too often reading 1 or 0 and dropping calls.



Wow, and here it is. Telus does it, but not with my phone. I have an iPhone 5 and it looks like they brought it in for the next model. Anyway good to know this is an option.
https://www.telus.com/en/bc/support/article/wifi-calling-explained#what_you_need
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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It's hard to do this long distance, but make an effort to get in contact with your soon-to-be neighbours and community organizations. They will know what works, and are almost always happy to share that knowledge. They probably have a public community page online somewhere.
 
Andrea Locke
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:It's hard to do this long distance, but make an effort to get in contact with your soon-to-be neighbours and community organizations. They will know what works, and are almost always happy to share that knowledge. They probably have a public community page online somewhere.



Actually, yes, there is decent community info but almost everyone else is on grid so our situation will be different - no existing power poles or infrastructure to the property. And we are just over a ridge from the neighbours who are in the strong cell signal zone as well as being on a road with landline wires.

We are not operating as 'long distance' from the property as it might appear from my location, either. Younger daughter (who co-owns the property with me) and her boyfriend are up there most of the time working on the land. It was a real mess when we bought it in August, full of five year old piles of logging slash. So they have been working on cleanup so we can get our nut tree polycultures planted this spring. As of yesterday, she texted me that they have enough land cleared so next week will be swale layout and digging. What with working all the daylight hours, plus covid, they don't do a lot of socializing but at least have met all the neighbours.
 
pollinator
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Thanks for this thread.....did not know about wifi calling.  Unfortunately, I just checked with our carrier and our cell phone models and they are not eligible.  But as I don't foresee the cell tower density getting any better soon, I'm keeping the wifi idea in mind for a future phone purchase.
 
Andrea Locke
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John Weiland wrote:Thanks for this thread.....did not know about wifi calling.  Unfortunately, I just checked with our carrier and our cell phone models and they are not eligible.  But as I don't foresee the cell tower density getting any better soon, I'm keeping the wifi idea in mind for a future phone purchase.



Yeah, me too. My old iPhone seems to be at the planned obsolescence stage. Works just fine but I can no longer update the operating system so I think its days are numbered, sadly.
 
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Hello. So, I think it's best for you to just call a representative of some providers and discuss this issue with them because all cases are individual and need to be dealt with personally. When I searched the internet at high speed, I did so. I was not deceived, I really found such an option. But I needed it because I have a smart home and a lot of devices starting from a kettle ending with a whole Ajax security system require a good Internet. I was lucky that I managed to find such an option! And good luck to you!
 
pollinator
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Michi, did you design a Smart house and then look for the internet?

Also I am intrigued as to why?
I love gadgets, but I am not sure I need gadgets that are always consuming power.
 
pollinator
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If you have an area with cell signal, you could try a setup like we use at our cabin by using a cellular hotspot. We have a WeBoost 4G home booster/antenna with a "replacement" power cord that lets it be powered off our charge controller off a small solar panel that puts out 12 vdc. We voided all warranties by powering with said cable, but it works. I just don't know that you'd get an entire workday out of the thing without substantial batteries to supply it.
 
pollinator
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I run a wide skill business, aka handyman. But i was a 1099 contractor for hughsnet and for 2 local internet providers. Then i started installing starlink and cellboosters. I live near the Canadian border in the us, very rural and i have been all over doing internet installs of all kinds.

In my experience starlink has been the best with cellboosters coming in second. Everything else is only if there is no other choice, regular satellite internet sucks with all kinds of problems. Getting any one out for repairs is difficult. Starlink and cellboosters installed by you or a local contractor are the vest then you can fix it. Most companies wont let you touch the other installs. Have a buddy lives offgrid and on a mountain top, 2 months to get a repair then the guy didnt even come out just sat at a computer and closed the ticket out. They charged him 250$ with nothing fixed. He moved to starlink and we have no problems with internet now. His wife was doing daily zoom for college with no issues. She was coming to town, 1h45m round trip before.

Check into the boosters but there are different bands and types use a lte discovery app with the signal strength. I only install directional antennas pointed at the closest tower. You can run alot of rg6 for those antennas. Just look up the specs i have done some that were 290 ft of wire up a hill and a tree. You can get all the tools at most hardware stores, and rg6 is easy to run. I have seen some wireless internet dishes around here installed with cat6 700 ft from a house. Most of the providers only want to do thier system and a easy install. Talk to them after you research each type of system. And dont believe most of what they say, as i have worked for many and installed others. I stopped doing anything but starlink just because of the customer issues and representative conflict. Cellboosters just dont work in a lot of places here so not much call for them when they find out the price up front for equipment. Then the estimated install cost on top.

Starlink is nice because its easy, but dont think you can get service any where. It still has line of sight and you can have problems with obstructions. I have had several people where starlink would not work but hughsnet is running. Even if it sucks it still works and something is better than nothing.

Be careful of running telephone or antenna wires off the property you need access rites to run anything on other properties. But if you have them, wire and small poles set  by you could save some serious money. But only for telephone or data, even that may require permits and a licensed contractor.

Thanks
3HR
 
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