You lucky fish! You have an off-grid life, free of corporate and public cables and pipes. But are you able to communicate beyond earshot without cell or internet connectivity? How vital are voice and data communication to your off-grid lifestyle?
Off-grid communication options are essential for work, study, leisure, and emergency preparedness. An off-grid communications infrastructure is as vital to a self-sustaining homestead as solar power and free-range chickens!
We’ve researched 17 great off-grid communications options that will help you create off-grid telecommunications and an emergency signals infrastructure to keep you connected to family, friends, and the world, in good times and bad.
Then let’s continue.
- 17 Great Off-Grid Communications Options
- 1. Off-Grid Voice and Data With Cell Signal Boosters and Antennas
- 2. Off-Grid Internet via Satellite
- 3. Off-Grid Voice Communications With Ham Radio
- 4. Off-Grid Voice Communications Using GMRS Two-Way Radio
- 5. Off-Grid Voice Communications With FRS Walkie-Talkie
- 6. Off-Grid Mobile Communications Using CB Radio
- 7. Off-Grid Messaging and Location Data via LoRa Mesh Networks
- 8. Off-Grid Mobile Text and Location Data via Satellite
- 9. Off-Grid Voice Communications Using Vintage Field Telephones
- 10. Off-Grid Data Transfer via a Drop Drone
- 11. Off-Grid Pony Express Using an Electric Dirt Bike or ATV
- 12. Off-Grid Emergency Communications Using a Mirror
- 13. Off-Grid Emergency Communications Using a Flashlight
- 14. Off-Grid Emergency Signaling Using a Siren
- 15. Off-Grid Emergency Signaling Using a Bullhorn
- 16. Off-Grid Emergency Signaling Using a Whistle
- 17. Off-Grid Alerts Using Smoke Signals
- Signal Loud and Clear
17 Great Off-Grid Communications Options
You have many off-grid communications options. Our favorites are wireless internet, cellular signal boosters, satellite connectivity, two-way radios, radio repeater masts, and electric vehicles. And don’t forget legacy analog communications and signaling devices that operate independently of modern communications networks.
You’ve no doubt met the odd off-grid purist who insists that having a cell or WiFi subscription is not true off-grid!
- The fact is, a family homestead, especially one with children, would be sorely lacking if it didn’t have access to the internet.
The snag? Rural areas generally lack the cellular WiFi signal strength available in urban areas due to a lack of cell towers in sparsely populated regions.
But fret not!
Technology changes faster than ever, and we have endless connectivity solutions to consider.
- Dropped calls and buffering problems can be overcome if you have a weak cell signal in your patch of paradise!
- If there is zero cell signal in your area, there are off-grid wireless solutions that can bring voice and data communications to your homestead.
And, in SHTF (disaster) situations, when the cell towers die and the fuel pumps run dry, there are several ingenious, classic, and curious analog ways to keep in touch with the people you need most.
Let’s dial right in!
1. Off-Grid Voice and Data With Cell Signal Boosters and Antennas
Cell towers transmit and receive RF (radio frequency) signals within the UHF (ultra-high frequency) electromagnetic spectrum band. Frequencies range from around 300 MHz to 3 GHz.
The UHF radio waves have a relatively short wavelength. Cell towers (aka base stations) require near-line-of-sight with transceivers (mobile phones and WiFi routers) to deliver optimum signal strength.
Consider the following obstacles to cellular signal strength for GSM, 4G LTE, and 5G.
- Mountains between the tower and the end user.
- Humid, cloudy, and rainy weather.
- Snowstorms, blizzards, and Nor’easters.
- Tall trees and dense foliage.
- Tall buildings.
- Network congestion (peak user traffic).
- Extensive distance between the cell tower and the end user.
All the factors above obstruct, disrupt, and limit signal strength and flow, effectively dispersing and weakening the RF signal.
Here’s the rub!
If you can get as little as one bar of signal on your cell phone, you can amplify the signal from your designated cell tower to a point where your calls don’t drop. And so your data transfer speeds don’t drive you nuts!
Achieving this homesteader’s state of digital bliss is simple. You could get unlimited data for around $39.99 per month. Signal amplification on this scale also requires the installation of a signal booster or router and antenna for voice and data signal optimization.
Remember the following. Line-of-sight in cellular communications makes all the difference to signal strength.
- The higher you place your antenna above the ground, the more efficient it will be in amplifying the signal from the cell tower.
- Private RF antenna masts can reach heights of 30 feet, delivering exponential improvements in reception and voice and data communication transmission.
- Boost your cell reception with a cell signal booster and a directional antenna.
- Improve your WiFi speeds with a high-power router and an external directional antenna.
Both booster solutions require precise installation where they point directly at the cell tower to achieve optimum connectivity.
- Find the location of the cell tower nearest your home at cellmapper.net.
Watch these videos:
- DIY a super-fast internet hookup with a 4G LTE panel antenna and a 4×4 router.
- Check out this cell phone booster tutorial – easy and DIY.
Tip: You’ll most likely need only one of these solutions. Cell boosters, routers, and WiFi directional antennas service the RF frequencies used for voice and data communications.
2. Off-Grid Internet via Satellite
For off-grid situations where no cell signal is available, satellite internet is the best way to connect with the urban world. Satellites in near-earth orbit provide broadband internet data transfer, capable of carrying stable video calls and streaming video.
- The options in the US for satellite internet services are limited compared with mobile carrier options. But the key players do offer connectivity relief to internet-starved rural residents.
- Satellite upload speeds average at 3Mbps.
- Satellite download speeds average at around 20Mbps.
The new kid on the block, Starlink, offers faster speeds and no contracts.
- Starlink upload speeds average at 30Mbps.
- Starlink download speeds average at 350Mbps.
The hardware costs for satellite internet range from around $500 to $1,000, depending on the package and what accessories are needed.
- Satellite internet monthly subscription fees range from $65 to $500.
While Starlink is experiencing a few teething problems like long waiting lists, dropped signal problems, and tech support issues, it offers the best satellite internet package.
- Starlink initially offered uncapped data but has now introduced data transfer throttling.
Note: Satellite internet needs direct line-of-sight with most of the sky to operate optimally. Ideally, the satellite dish should stay in a flat field, free of trees and tall buildings. Or, as with this Starlink antenna, mounted on a mast.
3. Off-Grid Voice Communications With Ham Radio
Amateur radio, or ham radio, is the premier mode of radio communications for private two-way radio. Operators function via a broad spectrum of allocated radio frequency bands and communicate independently of grid networks with other ham operators locally and over great distances.
As an off-grid communications option, ham radios are (nearly) perfect. They have a lot to offer homesteaders who have a lot of free time to tinker with electronics and talk to relative strangers, many of whom may live on other continents (doesn’t sound like you, does it?).
- Ham radios are lifesavers in emergencies when regular cellular and grid-tied communications platforms have failed.
- To transmit voice, text, or data on ham radio, the operator must pass a ham operator’s exam to obtain a license from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).
- Listening to ham channels doesn’t require a ham radio license.
While ham radio is primarily the domain of radio hobbyists, off-grid enthusiasts can augment their preparedness infrastructure by purchasing an entry-level ham radio to monitor emergency, law enforcement, and weather channels transmitting on the allocated ham radio spectrum.
Once you’ve cut your teeth listening to ham radio transmissions, you can decide whether a license is necessary and whether you think it’s worthwhile spending time and money on learning the codes and protocols of the ham radio world and getting a radio license.
If you decide the ham radio is the off-grid communication silver bullet, you can upgrade from hand-held to heavy-duty ham radios. The better ham radios have a larger antenna. The better antennas will allow you to communicate with ham operators further afield.
- A licensed ham radio operator can establish invaluable contacts with emergency services and law enforcement personnel.
In the same way, cell phone towers propagate UHF radio signals, and ham radio repeaters attached to radio masts worldwide allow ham operators to connect over great distances.
- High-frequency (HF) signals (transmissions) in the shortwave radio spectrum (3MHz – 30MHz) can be bounced off the ionosphere to reach ham radio receivers on the other side of the world without the aid of repeaters – A 100% point-to-point off-grid comms option!
Key ham radio considerations for off-grid homesteaders:
- A licensed ham radio operator can only communicate on-air with other licensed ham radio operators, which limits a ham radio’s usefulness as a primary communications tool. However,
- Having a licensed operator and a powerful mobile ham radio transceiver in your off-grid arsenal in times of crisis will provide true independence from grid-tied communications networks and enable direct contact with essential services.
4. Off-Grid Voice Communications Using GMRS Two-Way Radio
GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) is a user-friendly two-way radio service that uses UHF frequencies in the 462MHz to 467 MHz range. With 22 simplex and eight duplexes (repeater) channels, GMRS is ideal for off-grid point-to-point (static and mobile) short and long-distance voice communications.
- If you’re looking for an off-grid voice communications solution that doesn’t require special technical knowledge or the need to pass an exam to acquire an operator’s license, GMRS is the answer!
- A GMRS license can be obtained directly from the FCC website by registering and filling out an online membership form.
- A GMRS license costs $35 and lasts for ten years.
- The licensee and their immediate family can use a single GMRS license.
Recently, the FCC allowed text and GPS data to get transmitted over GMRS channels, making GMRS radios extremely versatile off-grid communications tools. GMRS radios can access repeaters, giving the service an extensible range.
- Short-distance person-to-person (simplex) GMRS transmissions with clear line-of-sight can range between two to five miles.
- GMRS radio range can extend over 100 miles when repeaters (duplex transmission) get accessed via the eight allocated GMRS repeater channels.
GMRS radios have preset functionality for simplex (short-distance one-to-one) transmission making them easy to use right out of the box.
- GMRS radios must get configured by the user to transmit via repeater channels.
- Find repeaters near you at www.mygmrs.com.
- Connectivity within a community GMRS network can improve by erecting repeater towers in high-elevation areas.
- The beauty of GMRS is the ability to create an off-grid community communications infrastructure accessible to anyone with a GMRS radio (kids included!).
- GMRS radios can be fitted with a high-performance antenna, effectively improving their range.
GMRS radios are allowed 50 watts of maximum power. Maximum power of 50 watts is sufficient to create a two-way radio network with a base station that connects with hand-held GMRS radios, mobile GMRS radios, and GMRS repeaters over a wide area.
In short – GMRS is a user-friendly, low-cost off-grid two-way radio communications platform enabling direct contact between family and community members, 100% free of corporate infrastructures and fees!
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5. Off-Grid Voice Communications With FRS Walkie-Talkie
FRS or Family Radio Service is a set of UHF radio bands for short-distance two-way radio communications. FRS radios are low-cost, low-power walkie-talkies suitable for all ages and can get operated without a license.
A walkie-talkie is a cost-effective short-distance off-grid communications tool. Walkie-talkies are easy to use, even by children and the technically challenged.
If you need to keep in touch with your team on your property or near your homestead, a set of FRS radios will do the trick.
- FRS radios share the same channels as GMRS radios, making them ideal accessories for a homestead GMRS network.
6. Off-Grid Mobile Communications Using CB Radio
Citizen Band radio (CB) is a two-way radio service using the UHF-radio frequency spectrum for off-grid and mobile communications. CB radio transmission distances rely on line-of-sight and can vary between two to ten miles, depending on topographic conditions and aerial strength.
GMRS radios have replaced CB radios in many outdoor communities like off-roading and RVing due to their ease of use, low cost, and extensible range.
- Commercial truckers remain the primary users of CB radios and have established on-air networks that can be useful to non-truckers in emergencies.
Off-grid homesteaders wanting an extra line of communication for emergencies (on the road and at home) should consider buying a CB radio to connect with the famously helpful trucking community.
- No license is required to operate a CB radio.
Yes – you can have a handle too!
7. Off-Grid Messaging and Location Data via LoRa Mesh Networks
LoRa (long-range) technology uses the UHF radio wave spectrum to link mobile devices over the internet of things (IoT). A small digital radio transceiver connects with similar wireless devices to form a mesh network that can transmit text messages and GPS data over long distances.
LoRa mesh devices are at the forefront of new wireless digital communications technology, connecting smartphones with off-grid radio transceivers via Bluetooth.
- A mesh is a far-reaching private digital communications network that can operate independently of cellular companies and cellular towers!
- A network of LoRa mesh devices will allow members (each cell phone user with a mesh device) of the private mesh network to transmit encrypted text messages and GPS location data over several miles (around 10 miles in rural areas with line-of-sight).
8. Off-Grid Mobile Text and Location Data via Satellite
Hand-held GPS satellite communicators transmit location data and text messaging from remote off-grid locations to personal contacts via SMS and email. They get used primarily as an emergency location tracker. And additional communications functionality enables enhanced communication between mobile and static users.
If someone in your family wants to head out into the wild blue yonder where no cell reception is available, consider a Garmin inReach Mini 2 – not cheap. But how much does peace of mind cost?
9. Off-Grid Voice Communications Using Vintage Field Telephones
Vintage military field telephones connect with insulated electrical wire, creating a secure off-grid voice communications channel. Two or more field telephones may pair over several miles to enable multi-party voice communications that require minimal to zero battery power.
For lovers of old-school technology, a set of vintage analog military field telephones can provide a rugged, private, and low-cost off-grid means to communicate with fellow homesteaders.
Old military field telephones can get purchased via eBay and at military surplus stores:
- A sound-powered (no batteries required) TA-1/PT field telephone (buy at least two).
- Outdoor telephone wire – 100 feet.
Hook up homes and cabins hundreds of feet apart and chat away at zero cost, the old-school way!
10. Off-Grid Data Transfer via a Drop Drone
Remote control drones can deliver lightweight packages to remote locations using an airdrop device. Drones are capable of flight with full functionality without cellular reception. The WiFi connection between the drone and the controller enables video streaming and airdrop activation.
The issue? Imagine your cell reception and internet go down due to flooding. You must submit a set of photographs and an insurance claim to your broker, and you can’t drive anywhere!
The solution? Use a long-range drone equipped with an airdrop system to fly within a six-mile radius and deliver a flash drive or micro SSD card to your broker or nearest friend with an internet connection (who can forward the digital data to your broker).
The drone and its photographic benefits act as your robot-carrier pigeon. It makes a solid contribution to your off-grid communications infrastructure!
11. Off-Grid Pony Express Using an Electric Dirt Bike or ATV
Electric motorcycles provide a last-resort off-grid alternative when all electronic communications get rendered dysfunctional due to fire, natural disasters, or any other crisis. Entry-level electric dirt bikes are solar-charged and range from +50 miles at speeds over 50mph.
Think of a high-performance electric dirt bike as a 21st-century pony express or the horse that carried Paul Revere into town to deliver his important message!
- An electric dirt bike will get the rider and payload to its destination over rough terrain. Quickly! They can also go where most vehicles won’t.
- A budget dirt eBike sells for around $4,000.
Watch a video review of the best dirt eBikes here.
12. Off-Grid Emergency Communications Using a Mirror
A signaling mirror is an invaluable off-grid communication device, enabling reflected sunlight or artificial light signals to get generated and transmitted over several miles. They’re also low-cost, compact, lightweight, and durable. Signaling mirrors are integral to a survival and emergency preparedness bag.
Here’s a feature-rich signaling mirror including a distress whistle and a compass.
- Signaling mirrors can get used as Morse code transmitters!
13. Off-Grid Emergency Communications Using a Flashlight
High-powered flashlights can illuminate objects up to 500 yards away, making them excellent off-grid communication devices. Flashlights can generate distress signals and communicate via Morse code with another signaler.
Every homestead should have at least one high-powered flashlight, preferably one equipped with a tripod and a flashing function, like this 10,000-lumen LED rechargeable flashlight.
- Now’s a good time to learn Morse code.
14. Off-Grid Emergency Signaling Using a Siren
A hand-operated siren or air horn makes an excellent audio signaling device. When line-of-sight is limited, audio signals from a powerful air horn will travel over 1,000 yards.
This pump-action air horn generates 120dB and uses no gas canisters or chemicals.
- A hand-powered air horn can generate audio Morse code.
- SOS with an air horn is 3 x short blasts, 3 x long blasts, and 3 x short blasts.
15. Off-Grid Emergency Signaling Using a Bullhorn
A bullhorn is an effective communication device for delivering voice messages across less than 1,000 yards. The operator can direct personnel from a distance with the instructions audible to all parties within range of the bullhorn amplifier.
- Imagine communicating with a friend clinging to a cliff face after a hiking accident and desperately needing instructions on where to climb.
With a 30Watt bullhorn, you can help from 800 yards away, delivering cogent sentences. With words of encouragement too!
16. Off-Grid Emergency Signaling Using a Whistle
A powerful whistle is an essential off-grid and outdoor signaling device. A whistle can transmit SOS signals and Morse code. Lightweight, compact and inexpensive, a survival whistle is vital for preparedness and in a tactical arsenal.
- Get the world’s most intense whistle – 142dB and a range of 2+ miles. (No worries. It comes with ear protectors and a lanyard).
17. Off-Grid Alerts Using Smoke Signals
Arguably the world’s original long-distance off-grid signaling technology, smoke remains a reliable means to alert rescue groups in times of emergency. Smoke signals can also get used for communicating off-grid messages of a light-hearted nature. For example, let them know the party has started!
Make colored smoke signals using wax crayons, potassium nitrate, sugar, and baking soda.
- Smoke signals can be color-coded – red for danger/SOS, green for come a.s.a.p., et cetera.
- Let your off-grid community know your smoke signal color code. Purple flame means free beer. (Throw a party to launch your smoke signal project!)
Signal Loud and Clear
A comprehensive off-grid communications infrastructure is primarily a DIY mission, where the research, training, and hardware buying and installation of respective technologies are your responsibility.
- However, successful off-grid communications depend on community networks, particularly with your homesteading neighbors.
- They work with neighbors to create line-of-sight repeater towers and local mesh networks.
Share these 17 savvy off-grid communications options with your family, friends, and neighbors.
Work together to build a multi-tiered off-grid comms infrastructure to serve your area and keep you connected to the outside world.
And if you have questions about off-grid communication efforts? Let us know!
We have plenty of nerdy tech geeks in our den of outdoor enthusiasts. Feel free to ask.
Good Luck! Over and Out.
References and Inspiration:
- FTC Wireless Bureau Divisions
- General Mobile Radio Service
- Antenna Height and Comm Effectiveness
- General Mobile Radio Service
- Multi-Use Radio Service
- Multi-Use Amateur Radio Service
- Mesh Networking
- Radio Frequency Spectrums
- Radio Frequency Bands
- Best Satellite Internet
- Ham Radio Licenses Made Easy
- Learning About Radio Communications