I need more than one way to get on the Internet from home

August 8, 2016

I'm in an unusual situation in today's modern world: I have only a single way to get on the Internet from home (and from only a single machine). My DSL connection is so reliable and so comfortable (especially lately) that I usually don't even think about it; it's just there, quietly working away. Until the rare occasion when it isn't, and I get smacked with just how crippling a problem this is. It's not just that I spend a lot of my time fiddling around on the Internet (although I do) and no Internet kind of leaves a void there. It's also that the Internet has become my channel for getting crucial or at least important information, like weather forecasts and whether or not my bike club has had to cancel a planned ride for various reasons.

(Weather information is pretty important even just for commuting to work, since I don't carry rain gear all of the time and I'd really rather not have to bike home in the rain without it.)

It's become obvious to me that I need to finally give in and get a smartphone, which will help solve part of this problem; a smartphone is a second path to the Internet and a second device, so I can at least check weather forecasts and dash off a quick email to my regular ISP's support people. But it's not really enough by itself, not when what I actually want is for my main computer with its big screen and nice keyboard to get back on the Internet so I can return to doing my usual things.

There's a number of potentially plausible options for a backup home Internet connection. One is to make sure my future smartphone can be used as a hotspot, then figure out how to connect my (Linux) machine to it (probably with a USB wireless adapter of some sort). If I'm getting a smartphone anyways, this has the advantage of minimal operating expenses in the normal case (ie, when my regular DSL connection is up). Another is to go all the way and get a cable Internet connection to go with my DSL connection. For various yak-shaving reasons this is not ideal, but it's probably the gold standard for redundancy and if I worked from home it would likely be essential. Cable also appears to be the overall cheapest option if I get a low-bandwidth plan from a third party ISP. A number of ISPs around here also offer some form of mobile or wireless Internet, but that seems to be mostly more expensive and has much lower bandwidth limits.

I'm most likely going to postpone doing anything until I get a smartphone and then go with the theoretically very little work hotspot approach. The most nominally sensible thing is probably to do the work to get cable Internet, but I know that it would just annoy me to be paying some amount of money each month for something that I'm almost never going to use (and that I shouldn't need at all if everything was working the way it's supposed to).

(I sort of have a backup if my DSL goes out sufficiently severely, but 28.8kbps dialup Internet is no longer really good enough. I can check email and do other text things, and check weather forecasts with patience, but that's about it.)

(I call the hotspot approach only theoretically very little work because I suspect that in practice it will be kind of a pain to get my home Linux machine talking to the Internet via a hotspot and probably a USB wireless network adapter.)

Comments on this page:

(I call the hotspot approach only theoretically very little work because I suspect that in practice it will be kind of a pain to get my home Linux machine talking to the Internet via a hotspot and probably a USB wireless network adapter.)

I recently installed a USB wireless dongle on my desktop and Fedora took away all this pain, plug-and-play detection and the rest was easy.

Actually you may not have to get a smartphone, but perhaps a tablet with a cellular chip and then add tethering to your data plan. The tablet can then act as a hotspot.

In many cases you don't even have to get the data plan ahead of time, but just enable it as needed. Of course you want to test things ahead of time, and again at regular intervals, so that when an emergency does occur you have all the procedures documented.

By Bruce ONeel at 2016-08-09 08:25:57:

You might find a wifi hotspot an ok backup too.

For example I have one of these:


If you really don't want to carry it around then you could also use something like this:


By Bruce ONeel at 2016-08-09 08:43:36:

Oh, I guess I forgot to point out that the assorted wifi hotspots are trivial to use with Linux, OpenBSD, MacOS/X, smartphones, tablets, etc. As long as you have something which can run a webbrowser to do the initial configuration nothing else special is needed.

By cks at 2016-08-09 10:42:26:

My smartphone plans are being driven by things outside backup home Internet. It has clearly become just too useful to have one for things like bike rides (where a smartphone gives me weather checking, maps for wherever I wind up, and so on). I can still live without one, but at this point it's mostly stubbornness keeping me away instead of any rational choice. Recent things have pushed me more strongly in this direction for interesting reasons that are outside the scope of this comment.

(I currently have a basic cellphone for things like roadside emergency calls, but that one's aging and aging as time goes by so I'm going to need to replace it someday no matter what.)

As far as getting USB wireless dongles and so on working, the problem isn't Linux in general it's that I don't use anything like a standard Fedora desktop with standard 'handle it all for you' tools like NetworkManager. If I ran NM it would probably be plug-and-go; that's the general NM experience I have on my office laptop (both for wireless and for VPN connections). Since I do it all by hand I expect that I'll either have to figure out how to run NM temporarily in my environment or figure out how to do all of the wireless and VPN stuff by hand.

The wifi hotspot/LTE router idea is a potentially interesting backup, because it occurs to me that quite possibly I could either connect both the smartphone and a hotspot/router to the same cellular plan or move a SIM card between the two as needed. Sharing devices will probably cost me some more money up front but be more convenient.

(Probably I'd chose the LTE router option; the one Bruce ONeel linked has an Ethernet port, which should save me configuring wireless and so on on my Fedora machine.)

Android smartphones support USB thethering out of the box (depending on your carrier you may need a special command to enable it...), which works with standard Linux kernels (module "rndis_host"), and your connectivity is a simple "dhcpcd usb0" away.

Bonus is it charges while it tethers.

What Bruce said. When I moved a few years ago I bridged the gap until my wired internet was hooked up by using one of these. As far as your computers care, it’s just a regular old WLAN access point, so the setup couldn’t be less exciting. I don’t recommend this one particularly, due to some issue with coexisting with other uses of the same SIM card, but one of its ilk would be my first choice for a backup connection now.

Oh, you responded while I was writing. Sorry for the noise.

By cks at 2016-08-09 11:42:37:

More happy success stories are always welcome! That so many people have had success with wifi hotspots and LTE routers and so on is good.

And I didn't even know that USB tethering to a phone was possible. That's good news, since it takes the need for a wireless dongle out of the picture; I could just connect directly to the phone. For longer term usage I'd imagine I'd want a dedicated LTE router or something, but hopefully I won't have such a long term DSL outage.

Can confirm what Christian said; last time I needed to do this, it Just Worked (with a Nexus 5, Marshmallow & recent Fedora). In fact, it took longer to fudge the routing on the Linux side.

Written on 08 August 2016.
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