Optimizing rural internet: Using a Mac’s Internet Sharing with satellite and cellular for a more unified experience

#1

Like most rural residents I don’t have many internet choices but I’m lucky to have more than just satellite. I’m also in an area covered by various 4G/LTE options. I’ve just made a change to how I’ve got things set-up and I think it might be useful to others in similar situations.

Okay, first, here are my sources of internet:

  1. Hughes Net, 10GB plan with 50GB from 2am-8am
  2. Sprint LTE on iPhone, unlimited with 50GB of tethering
  3. Sprint LTE on iPad, unlimited with 10GB of tethering

Generally, due to device synching, iCloud back-ups, background processes, my 10GB of Hughes Net is gone within just 3 to 4 days. Their 4th and 5th gen plans basically run at about 20 to 30mb download which isn’t bad but there’s always a bit of latency so it rarely seems fast in day-to-day use. Best use is app updates/file downloads. But streaming Apple Music is usually decent. Streaming movies is hit or miss even with plenty of available data. One the allotment is gone then they say they throttle you down to 2-3mbit and that seems about right. I can still sometimes stream music okay and even sometimes video but with degradation of quality and buffering. In short, it works but it’s never great.

Day to day, I have a Mac Mini, 2 HomePods, AppleTV, various HomeKit devices. Everything accesses the internet through an AirPort Extreme via the Satellite modem. The HomeKit devices work very well regardless of my data status. Apple TV works great with my local iTunes library. And as stated above, streaming is dodgy but often sorta works. In this set-up my iPhone and iPad are off on their own and very fast with the Sprint LTE. No latency and 15-20mbit make for a very nice experience. But, because they are on their own connections, AirPlay to the AppleTV has limitations such as no great audio pumped to the HomePods while watching anything via AirPlay. Also, if I’m streaming music or a podcast via device I can’t send its audio to HomePods. Sometimes I can start it on the LTE device then switch it to the wireless network and it will play fine to HomePods. Eventually the audio might start to cut-out though. Depends on which way the wind is blowing and if I’ve said the magic words correctly.

So, for $130/month I’ve got two services that mostly sorta work but sort of in their own separate silo based on the different source.

Yesterday a friend mentioned that his parents had dropped satellite and switched to an unlimited hot-spot device with Sprint and that it was working pretty well. My Hughes Net commitment is up at the end of this month so I could switch. Currently they no longer appear to offer the unlimited standalone hotspot but they do offer a 100GB plan for the same as what I pay Hughes Net so that got me thinking about a switch. But they have a 10 device limit (with my HomeKit devices I have more than this) on the hotspot so that got me thinking about how well it work if at all via a share through an AirPort, Express or Extreme. After a bit of reading and experimenting this is what I’ve come up with and I’m pretty excited.

  1. I may not need the standalone hotspot device at all.
  2. I’ve rearranged my network such that the Mac is now sharing internet from wireless to Ethernet which goes to the AirPort Extreme which then shares via it’s own network.
  3. In day to day stuff I can just let the Mac access the wireless Hughes Net modem and this shares out the slower but relatively stable connection. The Mac will always connect to this network by default if no other is available.
  4. If I want to stream NetFlix or Apple Music, or anything else that requires the reliable higher speed I simply switch the Mac over to the iPhone’s hotspot with just a couple clicks in the menu bar. With no extra work it is now sharing LTE over the AirPort network and I can connect to that network with my iPad or stream video as desired from any app installed on the AppleTV or from iPad to AppleTV or whatever. It’s seamless and allows for using the HomePods for audio when watching video. When I leave on errands with the phone the Mac automatically defaults to Hughes Net so HomeKit stuff still works while I’m gone and I can access devices as needed while away.

To summarize, with this new arrangement with the Mac as the internet sharing hub, I feel as though I have the best of both worlds and a more unified internet experience. I’ll finally start using and enjoying the 50GB of Sprint LTE tethering on the phone which I was not using before. (Sidenote: I’d tried tethering the AppleTV to the iPhone for Netflix and Prime Video but the downside was that I could not stream audio to HomePods as they were on the other network and also tethering meant manually logging in to the iPhone hotspot each time which was a pain in the rear and often failed at least once).

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#2

I have ambitions of moving to a rural area in a few years. My hope is that by then new LEO satellite internet services form SpaceX and others will have smoothed over some of these pain points.

In the meantime, good luck!

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#3

Or move to a place like Paonia, we’re rural, but have fiber to the house. Rural electric company installed it. you can get 1 Gig speeds both up and down unlimited for $80/month. Yes I’m smug :wink:

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#4

I live in an urban area with very fast internet, but I am deeply interested in how to maintain the conveniences of big city internet should I travel to someplace without it. Thanks for this post, and I can’t wait to read the responses.

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#5

So “in the same boat” Denny…from rural Maryland.

We went from dial up (yep) to Hughes net, to Starband now to a sort/kinda working broadband…and we get little or no cell phone service.

So I often hightail it to the local library for fast connection and downloading when we need it.

We still consider ourselves very lucky…in many aspects, because with kids etc, we have to be very mindful of our internet use. Like growing up and having parents reminding you to “turn off the lights” when you leave a room, etc…

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#6

Check out Peplink routers they are the market leader in Cellphone modems, Load balancing various ISP’s etc etc.

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#7

Unlimited Ville offers plans with unlimited data.

https://unlimitedville.com/plans

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#8

I have a similar problem when we’re traveling in our motorhome. Most RV parks have crappy internet access. Too often a 100mbps connection shared among a hundred RVs. Might get d cent speed at 2am but not other times.

We have an unlimited Verizon plans shared between our iPhones and iPads. Each gets 22gb of data before being deprioritized and 15gb of tethering before being throttled. I’m trying out a deal from FMCA (RV organization) for a Sprint hotspot with unlimited data for $50 per month. I had no problem using over 100gb in a month. Speeds varied between 10 and 50 mbps depending on signal strength and tower congestion.

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