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17 Off-Grid Communication Options [From High-Tech to Low-Tech!]

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.

Sound good?

Then let’s continue.

Commence transmission!

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

white network amplifier near an excavated cliff for poor reception
Do you have a lousy cell or 4g internet service? Then cell phone signal and hotspot boosters are one of our favorite off-grid connectivity hacks. They’re perfect for mobile networks if you live in a remote area. They amplify an existing 3G, 4G, or 5G connection. Most signal boosters we’ve tried are network-agnostic. In other words, they work with Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and others. (However, double-check with your mobile network to ensure they support your preferred signal booster!)

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.

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:

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

satellite dish communications antenna on a wooden cabin with blue sky background
Here’s one of our favorite off-grid communication methods. Satellite internet! Satellite internet allows you to make video calls and connect to your favorite apps – even in the middle of nowhere. Our favorite satellite provider is Elon Musk’s legendary Starlink. Starlink gives worldwide internet connectivity for approximately a $110 monthly plan. There’s also a one-time hardware fee of around $600 for the satellite. The cost might seem high. But since satellite internet can give you internet access where traditional cable or FIOS connections can’t reach, we’re massive fans. (Starlink also partnered with T-Mobile. Together, they promise to help eliminate cellphone dead zones. Sounds good to us!)

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.

Download and upload speeds from established satellite internet service providers like Viasat and HughesNet vary but compare on average with moderate 4G LTE connectivity speeds in urban areas:

  • 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.

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

ham radio transceiver resting on green table near window
We love amateur radio or ham radio for emergencies. We realize ham radios aren’t as fancy as satellite communication with grandiloquent wi-fi networks. But they still work – and can reach across the globe. And during internet outages and a power failure, ham radio waves can save your life. We’ve even read that ham radios transmit into outer space. No cell service is required!

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

hiker speaking on two way radio in the middle of nowhere
Here’s one of our favorite off-grid communication options for emergencies. GMRS (or General Mobile Radio Service) is perfect for short-distance two-way communication. (They work by line-of-sight.) One thing we love about all GMRS networks is that they must prioritize emergency communication. Most GMRS communication devices we’ve seen are small and handheld.

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 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!

Read More!

5. Off-Grid Voice Communications With FRS Walkie-Talkie

walkie talkie radio station resting on shelf with brick wall in the background
FRS (Family Radio Service) walkie-talkies are perfect off-grid communication options. You can use them to communicate with neighbors, nearby family members, and friends. They usually have a range of about one to two miles. FRS walkie-talkies are easy to come by on Amazon. We prefer models with a decent rechargeable or backup battery.

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

newish cb radio with old fashioned microphone resting on wooden desk
Here’s an excellent landline phone backup idea. Citizens Band Radio Service! (Also known as CB radio.) Contrary to popular belief – CB radios aren’t the same as ham radios. They’re two different technologies! The main differences homesteaders need to consider are licensure and distance. CB radios don’t require licensure. Unfortunately, they don’t have the reach that ham radios have. CB radio usually has a broadcasting distance of a few miles.

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).

Mesh device costs range from a premium (Thousands of dollars) and budget prices (Under $100 DIY).

8. Off-Grid Mobile Text and Location Data via Satellite

hand held satellite gps during nature walk in wilderness
GPS satellite devices are lovely instruments that allow others to track your location and communicate – even if you’re in the wilderness. (A satellite subscription is required.) They’re miracle workers if you hike in the middle of nowhere and worry about getting lost. Or stuck! Text messaging features vary by model – so double-check and conduct research! The Garmin inReach Mini 2 allows you to send text messages to another person. However, you must initiate the text on your device for the second party to reply.

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

two military field phones with green grass in background
Military field phones are the old-school analog devices you see in World War II movies. Field phones don’t have the distance of satellite phones. However, they have reputations for being tough as nails – as long as nobody cuts the cable!

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:

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

drone flying above farm with sun in background
When researching the best off-grid communication methods, we stumbled upon a company named Zipline. Zipline is a drone delivery service that helps save lives by delivering life-saving medical supplies within hours (or even minutes) to those in remote locations. We love to see drone technology get put to good use!

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

motorcycle parked in the woods off roading in the beautiful weather
We’re electric dirt bike fanatics! While it’s a bit of a stretch to say dirt bikes are reliable off-grid communication methods, they’re arguably the best solution if the grid goes down for good. What if there’s no fuel, power, internet, or cell service? A reliable mountain bike or electric dirtbike is your next best bet for contacting civilization. (We hope you let the bike charge before losing power! That’s another reason we love mountain bikes, too.)

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

stranded traveler holding a signaling mirror with sun reflecting asking for help
Sunlight reflected from a signaling mirror can travel for miles! That makes survival mirrors one of the best off-grid communication options. They’re low-cost. And while they aren’t the best for communicating during extreme weather, they’re light, cheap, and effective.

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

tactical flashlight shining on table with blue smoky background
Most survival and off-grid enthusiasts put flashlights at the top of the list for requisite survival gear. Flashlights are perfect for extreme weather and power outages. They can also help get the attention of emergency personnel if you’re lost or stuck in the woods.

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

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

compressed metallic cannister with loud air horn
Check out this massive DIY bullhorn! We think this one looks too bulky and heavy to carry around. But we wouldn’t mind having it in the shed. (It would probably work perfectly for scaring away pesky coyotes or raccoons when they dig through our trash bins!)

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

diy wooden whistle carvings with a knife on a table
Here you see a few DIY wooden whistles. Whistles aren’t the most far-reaching off-grid communication options. However, several reliable sources (such as the Purdue University Emergency Preparedness guide) advise carrying whistles to help alert emergency personnel if they’re stuck or trapped inside a building.

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. 

17. Off-Grid Alerts Using Smoke Signals

smoke torch smoke signal in the evening by the lake
You might laugh when we say smoke signals are a reliable off-grid communication option. But hear us out! Smoke signals are excellent if you’re stranded off-grid. Covering the fire with green vegetation should create heaps of thick smoke. You can also create a distress signal by burning three fires in a triangle at night.

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:

Author

  • Paul Collings

    Paul writes for a living, about trucks mostly. He lives away from the city and off the road, nurturing his love for all things outdoors –- like tiny house construction, country cooking, bushcraft, woodwork and power tools, alternative energy, and minimalist living. If there’s a way to Do It Yourself, Paul wants to hear about it, and try it out. Then he’ll write about it, and share his story with blog readers around the world. Paul was raised on a South African homestead where he tended two horses, a Jersey cow, and half a mile of split pole fencing. At age 16, he bought a dirt bike, pirated a punk rock compilation, and commenced a blind-rise adventure that continues to this day where words, Wabi-Sabi, cooking, all-terrain tires, and all things to do with canvas and wood are his fodder. His overarching existential question is – “What more does a man need than a cast iron pot and a pair of loose-fitting trousers?”

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