It’s now 2020, and the internet is practically a basic necessity to participate in the modern world. Setting up your internet connection is a piece of cake when living in a regular home – just call your service provider and have them connect a router and modem to their system, and voila! But when dealing with a tiny house, there are a few more things to think about.
So how do you get a faster internet connection when living in a tiny home?
If your tiny house is stationary, it’s just as easy as setting up a connection in a regular home, by contacting your local ISP or WISP and having them set it up.
If you travel with your home, the best way to do it is with a cellular data plan with one of the major carriers, and using your smartphone or a mobile hotspot device to broadcast signal to your other devices.
Is Fast Internet Possible in a Tiny House?
The first question is whether or not fast internet is even possible in a tiny home, particularly an off-grid mobile home. Here’s the truth: it’s definitely possible, but there will be some issues.
Internet technology has evolved at a blistering pace over the last few years, with large strides made in both coverage and data speeds. Price for data has also gone down over the years, although since we use data for more and more services these days, the amount you pay has stayed relatively the same.
However, you should always be prepared for the limitations and frustrations that you will undoubtedly encounter. Travelling while staying online is possible and sometimes easy, but there can also be times when it is downright impossible. You will face issues such as:
- Unreliable connections
- Data limitations
- Unexplainable varying speeds
Investing more time and money into your tiny house internet connectivity won’t guarantee a flawless and painless experience; despite recent advancements, there are still areas and situations where you just won’t have the signal you need.
If you require 24/7 connectivity for work needs, then you should make sure to always have more than one option for your connectivity ready at all times. In some cases, you might even need to drive to your local coffee shop for a short-term fix.
Important Questions to Answer Before Setting Up Your Internet
To understand exactly what you need to think about for your tiny house’s data requirements, you must first consider what you need with your connection. Answer the following questions:
- How important is internet accessibility to you and your family?
- What do you need to do with the internet? Stream? Upload videos? Send emails? Chat? How much data will you need?
- Is your tiny home on wheels or on a foundation? If mobile, where do you usually travel? Do you often go off the beaten path, or do you stay in areas where connectivity is common?
- What are your current devices? Do you have phones and laptops ready for easy connection, or do you need to upgrade any equipment?
- How comfortable are you with dealing with your own technology?
Answer those questions, assess your own needs, and get a better understanding of the exact set-up you need to best complement your lifestyle. Once you have assessed your situation, you can better choose the best internet option for you. Here are the basic differences you will find with your choices:
|Unlimited with throttling after limits
|Connected wherever you can get a signal
|Affordable or costly (depending on the plan)
|Can be fast or slow, depending on the plan
|Requires a fixed location
|Depends on area
|Available only in public areas
|Depends on area
|Available in most areas
|Depends on latency
Setting Up Fast Internet in a Tiny House: Stationary or Mobile?
Setting up internet can be as easy as 1-2-3 or much more complicated, depending on your living situation. Is your home stationary or mobile?
Stationary Tiny House
Not all tiny house homeowners like to live nomadically, travelling from one off-grid area to another every few weeks. There are many homeowners in the tiny community who simply enjoy the minimalist, sustainable lifestyle without doing any or much travelling.
If you are one of these – either living in a tiny house on a foundation or in a long-term parking situation – then the first internet option to consider is simply subscribing to a local internet service provider, the same as you would in a regular home. As long as you aren’t too far off-grid, you can check out the local internet provider and see if any of them have a connection in your area.
If you are in a tiny house community or an RV park, there should already be a cable hookup available, meaning setting up your internet is as easy as calling the internet provider, buying or renting a modem and router, and having them hook it up. This is definitely the easiest way to set up your internet, making it a great advantage of living stationary.
You can also look into WISP access, or Wireless Internet Service Provider Access. If your area has a WISP around, this might be a preferable long-term solution for your stationary tiny house. No wires are needed, as the provider simply establishes transmitters on nearby high points, then equips your home with a broadband receiver to receive the connection. This will require a professional installation, so check out your local internet options to see if it’s available.
Mobile Tiny House
Mobile living makes setting up a connection a bit trickier, but it also depends on how important connectivity is to your lifestyle. If you regularly travel and you only use the net to chat and check email once every few days, then you might be fine simply using public Wi-Fi networks whenever you are within range of one. These are widely available and often free, but they also have variable quality and present a few security concerns.
However, if you are looking for fast connection in your mobile home, then you need to start thinking about two things: carriers and gear.
The US has the “big four” national carriers – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. All four carriers offer 4G LTE technology, which is the latest in cellular networking. The biggest difference between the four is the stability and quality of the net over different parts of the country.
To check out which carriers offer the best coverage over your area and the areas you plan to visit, you can download the Coverage app which presents an overlay of all the four major carriers’ coverage maps.
For more accurate information, you can also check out Open Signal, which crowdsources coverage reports from real users to create real-time maps showcasing different carriers’ coverage over time.
Here’s what you need to know about each of the big four carriers:
- Verizon: As the largest carrier in the country, Verizon offers the broadest range of coverage with an above average quality performance. If you don’t want to think about your choice too much, Verizon is usually the safe pick for 4G LTE. However, plans can sometimes be pricey with unusual limitations, and since Verizon is so popular, connection can sometimes be sluggish during prime time.
- AT&T: Second only to Verizon, AT&T is a great alternative. While AT&T is generally slower than Verizon in popular parts of the country, there are many less populated areas where AT&T shines. If money isn’t a problem, then the ideal solution is to subscribe to both Verizon and AT&T, guaranteeing fast connection wherever you go.
- T-Mobile: T-Mobile is the fastest growing network of the four, so it might just be a matter of time until it overtakes AT&T and becomes as widespread and reliable as Verizon. While T-Mobile has some concerning gaps in its area of coverage, these gaps are only getting smaller, so it might be worth checking out in the next year or two.
- Sprint: While Sprint offers some of the most affordable plans of all the four big carriers, they also have the most limited coverage nationwide. Sprint is typically only reliable in core urban areas; anywhere outside of that, and you will probably run into trouble.
Understanding Unlimited Data Plans
The major carriers all offer their own versions of unlimited data plans, but unlimited doesn’t actually always mean what you think. Carriers have a limit on how much bandwidth they can offer their users, this is known as spectrum. The spectrum needs to be managed, or else their systems will become overwhelmed and they won’t be able to distribute bandwidth properly to their users.
To manage their limited bandwidth capability, carriers offer “unlimited” plans that have certain limits. After those limits are met – typically a certain number of gigabytes used per month – they clamp down on the speed of your connection. There are two ways this is done: throttling and network management.
Throttling is when a user’s connection is permanently slowed down or throttled for the rest of the month after a data plan limit has been passed. Network management is when a user’s signal is slowed down only when the tower they are connected to becomes congested with high usage.
Gear for Cellular Data
Deciding on your carrier is only the first step towards setting up your tiny house’s fast connection. The next step is optimizing and sharing your connection.
There are two kinds of devices you can use to share your connection throughout your home to your various devices: smartphones or cellular tablets, and dedicated mobile modem devices.
Smartphone and Tablet Hotspots
Using your cell phone or tablet as a hotspot is the easiest way to share your carrier’s bandwidth to all devices in your home. All you have to do is go into your cell phone or tablet’s network settings and switch on the hotspot feature.
You can set up your own network name and password, and then connect all your devices to it. While this does drain your battery quite quickly, there is nothing stopping you from keeping your cell phone or tablet plugged in while it is in hotspot mode.
|This can be done at no extra cost with most plans from major carriers
|It can leave you in tricky situations if your devices are limited. If you need to take your cell phone with you somewhere else, you will strip the rest of your family of network access
|You don’t have to think about managing any other extra devices
|The phone battery drains relatively quickly, so you should always keep it plugged in while it is in hotspot mode. Make sure your phone doesn’t overheat if using it as a hotspot for an extended time
|Very easy set-up
|Some devices have built-in sleep features that will automatically turn off your phone hotspot if your network isn’t used for a while
MiFi – Mobile Hotspots
Also known as jetpack devices, mobile hotspots are devices that act in the same way your smartphone would – they connect to your data plan and then establish a private network for your home devices.
Simply put, when you don’t want to deal with a phone, setting up a hotspot, and dedicating a smartphone to your entire home’s connectivity needs, a mobile hotspot device is the way to go. Most mobile hotspots are built with a battery, meaning they can be moved around the house and even taken outside without disturbing the connection.
|Plug and play. Simple set up that allows users to just power the device up and connect right away
|These devices do not have the features you would expect of a typical home router, such as ethernet ports
|If you want better performance, you can find a mobile hotspot device built with an antenna port
|Some carriers have restrictive data caps built into their plans for mobile hotspot devices
|It allows you to keep your hotspot on at all times, instead of relying on your phone which you might need to take out of the house from time to time
|Range is limited – while the entire house can generally be covered, you won’t get much range outside of it
Increasing Your Signal with Extra Gear
- External Antennas: If you are using a mobile hotspot device with an antenna port and want to increase the signal it picks up, you can connect an external antenna to your device. Antenna is generally placed on the roof of tiny houses, giving you the best chance at maximizing your signal. When you find yourself totally off-grid, these can be the best solution to snag the connection you need.
- Cellular Boosters: If you are not using a device with an antenna port, you can consider using a cellular booster. Cellular boosters work by connecting to an external antenna, picking up any signal it catches, amplifying that signal, and rebroadcasting it wirelessly to all other devices in the home.
FAQ – Setting Up Internet in a Tiny House
What about MVNOs and prepaid plans?
MVNOs or Mobile Virtual Network Operators offer prepaid plans that sometimes offer better pricing than what major carriers offer. Instead of paying for a monthly plan, you can just pay for the data you need, making it a preferable option to some users.
However, the downside is that the lack of a contract means that you can’t rely on the data you purchase from MVNOs. Terms often change with no notice, making it more of a short-term emergency solution than anything else.
What about satellite internet?
It might seem like an easy choice to go for satellite internet and have your connection beamed to you from space, however there are quite a few drawbacks to satellite. While the coverage is available in most areas you would travel, you would have issues with latency and data caps, as well as the bulky and pricey equipment to make it happen.
Remember: your commands would have to travel up to the satellite and come back down every time, meaning you would feel the delay with every click.
What is roaming?
Roaming is when your carrier allows you to go beyond their normal range by partnering with other network towers. This allows users to pass outside of their regular area and stay connected for extra costs.
What about local carriers?
There are also local and regional carriers that you might consider for your connectivity needs. Some of these include Cellular One, Cellcom, nTelos, C-Spire Wireless, and US Cellular. While you might think that smaller carriers would offer better coverage in your specific region, this isn’t usually the case.
Smaller carriers don’t always have the same level of customer and tech support to handle special cases like tiny homes living off-grid. And if you often travel with your tiny home, you will be limited by the area where your local carrier is based, as their roaming coverage might have all kinds of restrictions built into it.
Hey, there! We're Ivan and Manuela from Croatia, and we're crazy about tiny houses. We don't own one (yet).
This website is a result of our passion to share all the knowledge, photos, tips and tricks that we were able to learn while studying everything possible about the tiny house movement.