We might live off grid, but modern life demands—or at least strongly suggests—a digital connection to the wider world. There’s a reason, after all, that nigh on 50% of the population globally owns a smart phone. While we do have some cell coverage where our yurt is located in rural southeast Vermont (we’re on different plans: AT&T and Sprint), it’s never been a strong enough signal to use our phones as a hot spot. And the size of our solar setup and battery bank has always been a limiting factor when considering off-grid satellite internet. But now, five years into this little yurt adventure, we found an off-grid internet solution that works for us. And to be honest, it surprised us a little.
Summary of Our Off-Grid Internet Solution
If you don’t feel like reading, here’s the TLDR summary: we installed the Yeacomm 4G/LTE Outdoor Router on the outside of the yurt, and ran an outdoor, waterproof CAT5 power-over-ethernet cable (bought separately) inside to the modem (included with Yeacomm router purchase), which plugs into our Goal Zero Yeti 400 powerbank (obviously sold separately). We pull the AT&T SIM card from an iPhone and plug it into the outdoor router whenever we want to turn internet on. (These are affiliate links, which only means we earn a small commission at no cost to you.)
Considerations for Off-Grid Internet
The main limiting factor for us as we considered off-grid internet solutions was power supply. We have a very small solar setup (120W foldable panel from PowerFilm Solar connected to a Goal Zero Yeti 400 battery), so we ruled out satellite internet, which is what many rural residents resort to. If you have a large enough power supply (and obviously if you are covered by whatever satellite provider is in your area), you’ll probably get better (i.e., faster) internet going that route. And now, it may be worth looking into the new Starlink system from SpaceX.
Since we are limited by power supply, we opted to explore cell service-based internet. We do have cell service in the clearing we live in (both AT&T and Sprint), but it’s not fantastic. We can send texts, for instance, but phone calls can be spotty depending on the weather and whatever other conditions can conspire to influence coverage. (Plus, a unique consideration for the yurt is that the Reflectix insulation in our walls and roof effectively acts like a giant farraday cage, so we don’t have any service inside the yurt.)
Our first attempt at off-grid internet was an AT&T hot spot. If you have good cell service in your location, this is a viable and affordable option. Our service wasn’t quite good enough, and because we had to keep the hot spot indoors, close to the door, signal was limited. We ended up returning the hot spot.
Finally, I after hours of digging around on the internet, I came across the Yeacomm 4G Outdoor Router. It seemed to check all of our boxes: 4G/LTE-based, low power draw, and able to be left outdoors, where we have signal, to get around the farraday cage effect of the yurt.
Review of Yeacomm 4G LTE Outdoor Router with Modem
We’ve been using the Yeacomm outdoor internet router since March of 2021. The short review: we were skeptical, to be honest, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well it works! Definitely recommend, especially if you don’t have the power supply for satellite internet.
While cell service outside of the yurt with our iPhones is not spectacular, the router must have a better receiver because internet speeds are much faster when we’re connected to the wifi inside. We’re able to browse the internet quite capably, and are able to stream Netflix (though we still generally download for offline viewing when we’re elsewhere, just to save data) and participate in video calls with friends. I will note that the video call performance isn’t so good that I would rely on it for working remotely, if video calls are a mainstay of your day-to-day work, but it’s definitely good enough for the occasional zoom. And if your cell coverage is better than ours, or perhaps if you have a signal booster, you might see better video call performance than we do.
The big selling point for us—and what differentiates this product from a standard hot spot—is that it’s made to be outside in all conditions. It’s waterproof and can be in sub-zero temperatures, as well as extreme heat.
How the Yeacomm Router Works & What You Need to Buy
The router goes outside. I tested a few different placements around the yard, but ultimately found the best signal mounted on the side of the yurt.
You’ll also need to buy a power-over-ethernet cable to connect the router to the modem (which is included in the Yeacomm package). I bought a 100-foot cable, so that I had extra length to experiment with router placements outside. I also got a waterproof, outdoor, direct burial cable so that if I did end up stretching the cable across the yard, it would be weatherproof and I would have the option to bury it. Note that the product title of the Yeacomm router says CAT4 but you want a CAT5e POE (power-over-ethernet) cable.
This ethernet cable runs from the outdoor router inside to the modem, which is included in the package. This modem is plugged into whatever your power source is. I wasn’t able to find the exact power draw of this internet setup, but from what I can tell, comparing to the draw of our LED lights, it seems like no more than 10W.
Crucially, you’ll also need a SIM card to actually get internet. The manufacturer recommends AT&T, and that’s what we have. You have two options: if you want the internet on all the time, you’ll want to get a new unlimited data plan so that you can install the SIM card and leave it in. The other option, which we’ve done so far, is simply to use the SIM card from my iPhone when we want to turn the internet on. The router package comes with a SIM adapter kit, so you can use regular and nano SIMs.
As I said, we were skeptical of the product when we bought it. The description makes it read like a cheap piece of junk. There’s no getting around that. But we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well it’s performed as an off-grid internet solution. Please do let us know if you end up trying it and how it works for you!