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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]
 
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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.
 
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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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