Monthly Archives: January 2014

A new take on the “WiFi vs. Cellular” question

Guy on the phone on a haybaleEvery so often I run into someone who asks, “Why would I want a WiFi network across my farm? I have a cellphone that will access the Internet anywhere I go…”

It’s kind of a funny argument, for a few reasons:

  1. If you have good cellular data access across your entire farm, you’re in the minority – most people in the rural U.S. and Canada have no or only very slow Internet access via the cellular network on some, most, or all of their properties.
  2. Even if you have Internet access via cellular, it’s almost always slower than WiFi. It’s been my experience that people appreciate WiFi a lot more after they get a smartphone.
  3. Having a local-area network (LAN) enables you to do more than just access the Internet – it allows you to use IP cameras, weather stations, soil sensors, and other devices to keep track of what’s happening on the farm, and even use network-connected relays, grain dryers, irrigation, lighting, and HVAC systems from anywhere on the farm

The cellular service providers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) originally only used the cellular networks for both voice and data – but the data connections were at “modem-speed” – kilobits per second. Then smartphones (led by the Blackberry and Nokia phones) started to be capable of much more data usage – email and even some web browsing – and phone manufacturers started including WiFi connectivity. Later on, cellular providers offered faster cellular data options (“3G” and “4G”), but modern smartphones still use the cellular network for voice, and the voice network is still separate from the data network. The upshot is that, in many rural areas, you can make or receive voice calls and get or send text messages, but you may not be able to load a web page or send an email unless your have a nearby WiFi network.

A new article in Businessweek points out some new providers are actually turning that model on its head, introducing phones that use the WiFi network by default for voice and data, and only access the cellular network if there is no known WiFi network in range.

Now, I have a cellphone with a data plan, and I pay over $120 per month even though my phone is on WiFi about 90% of the time. If I weren’t traveling all over the place on Ayrstone business, I’d be very tempted to get one of these Republic Wireless or Scratch Wireless phones and save about $80-100 of that bill per month.

For people who have a Wireless Farm Networking system to provide farmwide WiFi, these new phone plans may be very tempting.