Getting the Internet in your Tiny House

If you are anything like me, having access to the internet is right around as important as having access to water (not really, but you get the idea). So how do you get access to the internet in your tiny house? Or anywhere you need off grid internet? The answer depends on where you are located/parked…

Since a tiny house isn’t on a foundation, it’s hard to request services that are otherwise easy for a conventional homeowner to get. Installing the service wires cost money, but the providers expect to make it up (plus a lot) over the lifetime of you paying for service. On the other hand, they aren’t so keen to running service to an RV or tiny house. Since it’s not a permanent structure, they have less assurances that you will be a long term subscriber, and thus not as sure you will make it worth their while. So you will likely need to get your service from another source.

Get it from your nearby host

If you are parked in someone’s backyard or in their driveway, there’s a good chance that you can just connect to their wireless router just as you would at your local Starbucks or cafe. The big difference is that they will likely have a password set that you will need to get from them in order to connect. At one time most routers came unsecured so that they were easier to set up. But in the last few years there has been more of a shift to security with many routers coming with security features turned on by default and even some routers NOT performing as well or as fast unless they are secured. As a result, you can’t find nearly as many unsecured routers as you used to. So whichever router you want to connect too, you will likely need to ask its owner for their password. Offering to chip in on the monthly bill might make that conversation a little less awkward. If your host is nearby, the only equipment you will need is your computer/tablet/phone. Do be aware that when you connect to someone else’s router, unless you are connecting through a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or are on a secured site (HTTPS), it is possible, although probably unlikely, that someone else on that network can see your traffic (what you are looking at).

off gird internet - Host

Get it from your not so nearby host

If you house is parked on land that is a little more rural, and perhaps your host is not as close, then you may find that your computer isn’t within range to connect to their router. In this case, assuming you don’t want to run a cable all the way from their house, you’re going to need some additional equipment.

One option is to add a longer range antenna to your computer. While this option works well, it’s not very convenient. First, the antenna takes up a lot of room unless you mount it somewhere. Second, since laptops don’t often come with antenna connectors you will also need an adapter to hook it up. This results in more wires which makes your computer a little more difficult to move. Finally, the biggest downside is that this only provides internet to the computer with the antenna, and you still won’t have internet on any of your other devices. While there are ways to share this internet connection, it can be a pain.

off grid internet - antenna

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The image above is an example of an external antenna attached to a network adapter that would then get plugged into a computer with a USB cable.

A better option is a setup that includes a device called a bridge. An example of a device that can act as a bridge is the Engenius Enstation 5. This bridge includes a high gain antenna that allows it to pick up your hosts internet signal from much farther away than your other devices can receive. It can also be mounted outside and pointed at your host to extend its range even farther. You then hook up your router to the bridge to create your own network within your house for all of your devices to connect to. The bridge can also act as a firewall keeping people from your host network from connecting to your computers.

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enstation5

Above is an example of a external bridge/antenna

Finally, if you are so far away that even the bridge can’t connect to your host, you can add another Enstation 5 on their end to extend the internet signal so that you can be as far away as 5 miles!

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Get it from your phone

If you simply don’t have a host you can get internet from, consider using your phone. Many smart phones can be set up so that they can be used as a hotspot. What this means is that your phone shares its internet connection via WiFi, allowing your computer and other devices to connect. Depending on your signal, the speeds can be great or absolutely make you want to poke your eyes out slow. Be aware that your phones service plan likely has a data cap, meaning that they will only let you transfer a limited amount of data per month. So don’t plan on watching too many movies on Netflix or streaming Pandora. Even if your phones service provider says that you don’t have a data cap and are on an ‘unlimited plan’, they will still probably throttle your speed to painful levels once you exceed some threshold.

Really Off Grid Internet – Get it from a Satellite

The final option I would consider is getting off grid internet from a satellite service provider. There are two companies that offer this service that I know of, Dish and Hughesnet. I have a somewhat remote piece of land that I needed internet at and so I am a subscriber to Hughesnet. While it is good in that you can use it to get internet where you have no other options, it’s not great in pretty much every other aspect. It’s a little expensive at around $90/month. The speeds and lag are unimpressive. It has a monthly data cap, although not nearly as restrictive as the phone option. And finally, the dish hardware is pretty large. It’s definitely not something you would mount to your house and it can be a little bit of an eyesore. So all in all, if you have another option I would pursue it.

Do you have a unique or different way of connecting to off grid internet? Share it in the comments below!

Happy connecting!

11 thoughts on “Getting the Internet in your Tiny House

  1. Thanks for the great article! This is something we were wondering about. We will be moving into our tiny home in a few more months and want internet. The bridge idea sounds perfect for us. Thanks for sharing these great tips!

  2. Nice article but you left out a huge area of Internet connections which are now available from most of the cell phone providers. LTE data is available using jetpack (Verizon) and other devices on other carriers and you can purchase as much Internet as you require that will roam all around the country and can be shared with your phone.

    • I feel like I covered that in the phone section. Granted a ‘jetpack’ is not a phone and instead a dedicated hotspot but it still uses the mobile network. And while that can be really fast it can also be really expensive. On my home network I currently use about 350/GB per month (I’m a heavy user or Pandora, Netflix, Backup, and I have a drop cam). On Verizon it cost $90 for just 10GB. So with my current usage that would be about $3150 per month, Ouch!

      • AT&T Mobile family plan. I share with my cousin and his wife. We get 3 lines of unlimited voice, text and 22GB of data with roll-over of unused data (must be used the following month) for about $185/mo.. Samsung Galaxy Note5 works as a great Hotspot. We are getting a 22% discount off the base rate. Seems NO ONE ELSE can or will touch this deal!

  3. Did you seriously spend a big chunk of your article talking about stealing internet?! Wtf?!

    If you don’t have permission to use someone’s router, you shouldn’t use it. Even if they leave it unsecured it doesn’t make it morally okay to connect without permission. Do you also believe its okay to just walk into people’s houses if they leave the door unlocked?!

    • While I do talk about connecting to an unsecured router, you incorrectly assume I’m suggesting stealing internet. There are several scenarios where connecting to an unsecured connection is permitted. For instance, some people leave their connection open to encourage others to connect who might not otherwise have access. In fact, most new routers today come with a guest mode that allows you to leave a connection unsecured while still protecting your internal network. Also, all Comcast Xfinity routers come unsecured by default so that other xfinity customers can connect and share the connection. So as you can see, whether the router is secured with a password or unsecured is completely independent of having permission to connect. BTW though, I do believe it’s okay to just walk into people’s unlocked houses :)

  4. While not exactly internet, there’s always Outernet. It’s an L-Band satellite radio service that transmits files via satellite, to be read offline. There’s a lot of news and off-grid living information transmitted on a daily basis. The service is free, all you pay for is the receiver; which you can either build yourself or buy. Their “Lantern” receiver is self contained, solar powered and you connect to it via WIFI. The idea is to be able to access the broadcast data from anywhere in the world, no matter how far off-grid you are.

    I once worked with Joe Jenkins to transmit a condensed version of the Humanure Handbook over Outernet.

  5. I struggled with this when first setting up my Tiny House in a campground. I was initially told that I couldn’t get internet via the cable provider, so I was looking at every other option known to man. There is literally no option that doesn’t cap your usage, except the cable connection! Long story short, I paid to have the cable guy come wire me up and now I’m thrilled. I stream the heck out of some video and music, so like you Dan, I’d be paying thousands per month if charged outright! Being that I’m in NC, there was no difficulty with me being mobile/on wheels. This is a great article and totally correct!!!

  6. You can get a Hot Spot from NetZero and hook up to 10 items to the internet and you pick the package you want the lowest package starts at $22 for 1mb/mo and goes up from there. It is not connected to your phone, I have the service and it works great.

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