Cable Internet Alternatives: Mobile Broadband, Satellite, T1 Lines, or Dial-up for Rural Properties

Today, far too many rural properties are too far from the local hub to support a cable or DSL connection. While rural broadband initiatives are working to lay fiber lines that support fast, cheap cable connections, these initiatives are, unfortunately, sporadic and slow to implement. In the meantime, those who live off the cable internet grid are left to blaze their own trail.

The Ends Of Many Broadband Cables
Most rural properties are too far from a local hub to support cable or DSL Internet

If cable internet providers like Time Warner Cable, Charter, or Earthlink don’t cover your rural property, there are other internet options for the resourceful to discover. This quick reference sheet outlines the effectiveness and costliness of four cable alternatives: mobile broadband, satellite, T1 lines, and dial-up. It contains the fast facts you need to make an informed, empowered decision about your rural internet coverage.

Mobile WiFi Device
A Mobile 4G LTE represents one of the four options

First on our list is mobile broadband, the internet you get with your cellphone carrier’s data plan. The wireless mobile broadband network sends radio waves between cell towers and the modems in your phone, tablet, e-reader, or laptop. It can also be installed on an external modem to provide Wi-Fi to an entire property, just like cable internet.
Mobile broadband is, usually, the fastest user experience available to rural properties. Unfortunately, 3G or 4G LTE mobile broadband networks do not adequately cover all rural areas (particularly those in mountainous terrain). Poor coverage makes mobile broadband less reliable than satellite, T1 lines, or dial-up in some areas. Check the Rhoonet website to identify all mobile broadband providers operating in your area.

Mobile Internet Router
Mobile Internet Router


Download speed: 5-12 Mbps (LTE), 1-4 Mbps (3G) Upload speed: 2-5 Mbps (LTE), 1 Mbps (3G) Latency/lag time: 75-100 ms Service cost: Typically $50-$60/10GB/month Installation cost: Around $75

Satellite Internet is literally Available Anywhere

The second most popular internet alternative for rural areas is satellite internet. The wireless satellite network sends radio signals between satellite dishes on earth and satellite dishes in geostationary orbit 24,000 miles above earth. It’s not the most efficient system, but it allows satellite providers to beam internet virtually anywhere (including onto boats, mountains, and motor homes).
Technically, satellite internet is faster than mobile broadband, but the signal latency as radio waves travel in and out of space creates significant lags that slow down the user experience.

Satellite Internet Communication Dish
Satellite internet communication dish sends and receives signals


Download speed: 5-15 Mbps Upload speed: 1-2 Mbps Latency/lag time: 500-1500 ms Service cost: $50-$90/month Installation cost: Around $500

T-1 Internet provides VoIP and Business Internet

Each T1 line has 24 symmetrical channels operating at the same download and upload speeds, making it an incredibly predictable and reliable technology. The wireline connection transmits signals along the dedicated fiber optic or copper lines with virtually no latency.
In the eighties, T1 lines were absolutely revolutionary. Now, however, they have been outstripped by faster and more economical options like internet over Copper and cable. For those with the budget, T1 is still the most reliable option for rural businesses that cannot install a cable or DSL connection.
With T-1, you have a guaranteed connection for broadband and VoIP services under a service level agreement(SLA).

A T-1 Circuit
A T-1 Circuit

T-1 Internet

Download speed: 1.544 Mbps Upload speed: 1.544 Mbps Latency/lag time: 3-5 ms Service cost: $300 to $1200/month Installation cost: $1,000 to $45,000, depending on the distance of location to the central office. Keep in mind, you can negotiate some of these fees. Be sure to do your research in terms of actual cost.
If your property is within wireless range of one or two other properties, you can add an 802.11ac wireless router to share the service with your close neighbors and split the monthly billing or even the built up cost.

Dial-up Internet is Alive and Well in Rural America

Amazingly, millions of Americans still connect to the internet using dial-up technology. Dial-up internet is a wireline connection that sends signals over the public switched telephone network. The connection is not strong enough to support multiple devices at once, so the phone line is connected to a modem that connects directly to the computer via telephone cable.

Dial-Up Modem
These modems (14.4 Kbps) sold for about $49.00 at CompUSA in 1990

Dial-up doesn’t require any additional infrastructure, excepting a phone line connected to the public switched telephone network. It is, then, an incredibly accessible and affordable technology. Cheap, however, comes at a price; dial-up connections are painfully slow, particularly when processing today’s high definition online content.

DIAL-UP Internet

Download speed: 56 Kbps Upload speed: 34 Kbps Latency/lag time: 150-200 ms Service cost: $5-$10/month Installation cost: Usually free

Coming Soon: Rural Broadband Bonding Series

For businesses and work at home professionals who do not find a complete fit in the options discussed, I will be doing a series in late August on Rural Bonding broadband appliances such as Peplink, Mushroom Network and Multapplied.
Please feel free to tweet this to anyone that might be interested. Thanks!