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Living on the edge, where broadband doesn't reach

Kirk McElhearn | Feb. 12, 2014
If you live in a city, you take a lot for granted. Not just access to stores, culture and public transportation, but also access to Internet and cellphone networks. It's easy to get complacent when you have fast broadband access and 4G cell phone speeds. But what happens when you lose all that? I recently moved to a new place in the English countryside and, in the process, ran into problems getting basic access to the communication networks I use all the time. I eventually managed to solve those problems, but not without some money, time, and effort.

Watch out for Dropbox: If you use Dropbox, and especially if you've shared folders with friends or colleagues, you'll be downloading data each time files in those folders are updated. You may want to only launch Dropbox when you need to access files, letting it update occasionally, rather than leaving it running all day long.

Smart TVs, not so smart: In the first couple of weeks, I saw a lot of data being used, even though I was very careful to not download too much. A technician from my provider suggested I take any smart TVs I might have off the network. Even when such TVs are not actively connected to the Internet to download content, many of them still use up data all day long.

All in all, this is a new way of working with the Internet. I had never had data caps in the past, but now I'm aware of them all the time and think twice before clicking any download links.

Cell phone coverage in forgotten areas
The cell phone problem was actually easier to solve. It turns out that EE sells something it calls a Signal Box — in other words, a femtocell. This device costs £106 (about $174), connects to the Internet, and provides its own local 3G cellular service. I now have four to five bars anywhere in my new house; I can even sit outside in the garden and still have cell-phone coverage.

But not many phone companies offer these devices in the UK. Only Vodaphone sells them to the general public; EE only let me buy one because I have a business account. Depending on where you live, and your provider, you may or may not be able to get one.

Two networks
To be safe, I did get 2-Mbps DSL service as well. I felt it would be useful for three reasons. First, if the satellite goes down for any reason, I'll still have a connection, albeit a slow one. Second, I can download unlimited amounts of data, so if I want to download something during the day, there's no quota; it's just a lot slower. Finally, the femtocell seems to work much better with DSL than with the satellite.

So I use the DSL for our iOS devices: two iPhones, two iPads, one iPod touch. I've put the smart TV on the DSL as well. And I occasionally switch networks on my Mac, when I want faster Web access, and don't need to download anything large. (And, as a plus, Netflix actually works fairly well on a 2-Mbps connection, just not in HD.)

All this was complicated; it took a lot of research to figure out the best solution. And it's expensive: I'm paying £86 (about $141) a month for internet access. But I live in a beautiful stone barn, surrounded by lovely countryside; the Internet and cellular hassles are just a price I pay for that.

 

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