One big issue many tiny house dwellers face is how to get fast and reliable internet service to their tiny house. Many tiny housers have somewhat alternative, location-independent jobs, and often work from home. This makes a good internet connection even more important. Many of us also forgo the traditional cable TV hookup, relying on an entirely wireless, internet-based solution for our entertainment and education (Netflix, Hulu, HBOGo, etc.).
For those living in cities, internet options are more numerous, but the farther you get from a major city, and the closer you are to being off-grid, the harder it may be to stay connected in the way you want. If you are lucky enough to live in someone’s back-yard who has internet service, sharing their service might be the easiest solution (more on this at the bottom of this article), but for all others, read on…
Here’s a rundown of some of the more common internet options along with many pros and cons of each.
Wired Cable Internet
For those of us in cities or other developed residential areas, a traditional cable (or DSL) hookup is most likely the fastest and most affordable way to get internet service. Even if you don’t need TV or phone service, cable provides the best bang for your buck.
Larger national companies like Comcast (Xfinity) and Time Warner are most likely to exist in your area, but are generally known for poor customer service. There is a good reason that no one likes the big cable companies. You’ll probably be much better off if you can find a smaller, local cable company.
Here in Austin we went with Grande Communications. I have heard stories of cable companies denying service to a tiny house, because they had legal liability issues hooking up the cable to an temporary structure such as a tiny house. Luckily for us, Grande came out and hookup up our house with no questions asked. They were happy to have the business, and maybe being a local company, were less worried about legal issue and generally more helpful.
- Fastest download/upload speeds
- Typically no data limit
- Lower monthly cost
- Not available in more rural, off-grid locations
- Customer service from large companies can be very bad
- May be liability issues hooking up service to a temporary structure such as a tiny house on wheels
If you can’t get a physical cable to your house, the next best option might be to use a data plan from your cell phone provider, and set up a mobile wireless router or hot-spot. This can be costly, and coverage and speeds are often less reliable, but it’s a decent option if internet at home is a priority.
By using your phone as a WiFi hotspot (tethering), you may be able to do this with little or no additional equipment. However, using your phone as a hotspot usually means you can’t simultaneously use it as a phone. For a more permanent solution, major mobile providers like Verizon offer “installed” data-only plans and 4G LTE wireless routers (or mobile hotspots) that will free up your smartphone for normal use.
Sprint, T-Mobile and virtually all mobile carriers offer similar data plans and wireless routers/hotspots, but all of them usually have the same restrictions — higher prices per GB, data limits, and overage charges, etc.
Karma is new player in wireless internet that looks very promising. They now offer unlimited monthly usage for $50. I have not read all the fine print or tried the service myself, but if their claims are true then this is far less expensive than Verizon (or other major) data plans, with the added bonus of no data limit! Speeds on their unlimited “Neverstop” plans are a bit slow by cable standards (up to 5Mbps), but as the only unlimited mobile plan (from any provider that I’m aware of) this will surely be attractive to many tiny house dwellers!
- Available in most areas, wherever mobile data service is reliable
- Can likely use your existing mobile carrier, combining phone/internt on the same monthly bill
- New Karma service may have pricing competitive with cable, with no data limits
- Tiered pricing (pay per GB usage) and data limits are not as flexible and may lead to overage charges
- Much more expensive (per GB), especially for heavier users (streaming video)
- Not as reliable or fast as cable connection
Satellite internet is usually thought of as a last-resort when a physical cable or mobile internet is not available. For those living off-grid in less developed areas, in the mountains, or other remove locations, this may be the only option.
While satellite internet has improved a bit over the years, bandwidth (speed) is still far worse than cable and 4G LTE mobile internet. For this reason, it will likely be frustrating for most modern-day users, especially when streaming video (if you use the internet as your primary form of entertainment).
- Available in most areas, where cable and WiFi may not reach
- Reasonable prices for data limits, but given slow speed, not the best value
- Much slower speeds than cable or 4G LTE
- Tiered pricing put limits on usage
- Less reliable than cable
Shared Internet with Host/Neighbor
When I first moved the Tiny Project House to Sebastopol, CA, I lived in someone’s beautiful backyard. The tiny house was within 100′ of the main house for easy access to power and pressurized water. This also meant I could potentially share my hosts’ internet service as well.
Very few WiFi signals have the strength to go through one or more walls, and then travel any significant distance, so I quickly realized I’d need a better way to share their internet connection.
The most reliable method was simply to string a cat-5 ethernet cable from the modem/router in “main” house all the way to the tiny house, and set up my own wireless router (my own WiFi network) for the tiny house. This way, by piggybacking off of the main router and having a direct cable to the house, I didn’t need to worry about signal strength at all and had a very reliable connection as long as the modem in the main house was functioning.
Shared Internet Pros
- No new service needed and no additional costs
- Save money by sharing an existing connection
- Easiest and cheapest solution if available
Shared Internet Cons
- Only available if living with a “host” or close neighbor
- Relies on “hosts” keeping their modem working and troubleshooting service interruptions themselves
- Requires long cable run above or under ground for direct link
- If heavy users, sharing connection my require a service upgrade for more bandwidth
Different internet option exist in different locations, so always check with your “hosts” and for local providers before falling back on the large national companies.
Though living in a tiny house does present some unusual challenges, there are always options. With creative solutions and a few simple lifestyle modifications, we can get the services we need while living in an alternative structure like a tiny home.
Are there other internet options you’ve considered? If so, please share them in the comments below. Thanks!
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Author: Alek Lisefski