During a blackout, your phone’s data plan isn’t the most practical or economical way to stay connected. But how exactly are you supposed to keep your home broadband going when the power is out? It’s easier than you think!
First, Is Your ISP Ready?
You’ll need backup power for your home internet connection, but there’s no point if your ISP (Internet Service Provider) isn’t doing the same thing. It’s a good idea to contact your ISP and ask them whether their service stays up during power outages. If not, you may want to consider a different ISP. Once you’ve confirmed that your ISP does have backup power, you can start the process of planning your blackout strategy.
Keeping Your Primary Router (And Gateway) On
There are varying types of home internet connections. Copper-based DSL and especially dial-up internet are exceedingly rare. The most common modern broadband is fiber-based, while cable, satellite, and fixed-wireless 5G fill various niches around the world.
Whatever broadband you have, there’s a router involved to share the internet connection between the various devices in your home. The router is connected to some type of modem, such as a cable modem, fiber ONT (Optical Network Terminal), and so on.
In some cases, the modem and router are integrated into a single device, which means you only need to power one item. If your router and modem are separate devices, you’ll have to power two. To cover either of these scenarios, you have three main options.
Option 1: A UPS
A UPS or Uninterruptible Power Supply using a lead-acid battery has been a mainstay of business computing for decades. These devices seamlessly keep your connected devices running, but they aren’t designed to act as battery backup systems. They are only meant to bridge short power interruptions or give you enough time to safely power down your gear.
That being said, we’ve successfully run fiber routers for hours on small, inexpensive UPS devices. There are generally two downsides to using a UPS for internet backup power. First, the lead acid batteries they use aren’t meant to be discharged past 50%, or they’ll degrade rapidly. So if you have frequent blackouts, the UPS will wear out in as little as a few months if blackout periods are long.
The second problem is that these devices often have an annoying audible alarm that warns you when the power has gone out, but it’s not always obvious how to disable that alarm. It’s a good idea to look for a model with a button to disable this feature. If not, you may have to connect the UPS to a computer and use its software to disable the alarm. We’ve even had to open such devices in the past to physically remove the speaker.
Option 2: A General-Purpose Inverter
Battery-powered inverters convert DC power to AC power, allowing you to run your appliances during blackouts. These large inverters can use various battery technologies, but the two most common are lead acid batteries and lithium batteries.
Jackery Explorer 240
You can power your smartphone, tablet, laptop, and most other electronic devices with the Jackery Explorer 240.
Each of these battery types has its own advantages and disadvantages, but in general, we think that lithium-based inverters are the best general solution, especially since their prices have come down significantly.
These backup systems aren’t meant to run only a router but several devices at the same time. For example, with a small- or medium-sized lithium “power station” you could power your internet gear, television, console, and one or two lights for a few hours.
Buying a large battery backup inverter to serve multiple devices at once can be more economical than buying many small backup solutions, but it does represent a large upfront cost.
One common issue is that not all of these power stations can function as a UPS, where power bypasses the battery normally and you’re instantly switched to battery power when a blackout strikes. If you try to use these devices as a UPS, you’ll wear out the batteries through non-stop charging and discharging.
Option 3: A Specialized Router Backup Device
Finally, we have a backup power device designed explicitly for use with routers and modems. These devices usually offer direct DC output and come with multiple DC cables and barrel-plug adapters. The power adapters that came with your modem and router can be safely put into storage, with the backup system acting as a direct source of DC power.
These products are designed to be set-and-forget solutions to backup internet power. Usually, they use battery technology such as LiFePo4 that can withstand deep discharging and thousands of cycles before degradation sets in.
TalentCell Mini UPS Uninterrupted Power Supply
This mini UPS can power DC equipment such as routers, cameras, and modems directly without the need for power adapters.
The main caveat here is to make sure you don’t accidentally send the wrong voltage to your modem or router. Router backup units usually offer 5V, 9V, and 12V output. Check the power adapter for your of your devices and make 100% sure that you’re matching voltages correctly, or you could fry your equipment!
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What About Mesh Routers?
Mesh router systems are great for spreading Wi-Fi around your home, but in a blackout, it can be difficult to power all of the units up since each one needs its own backup. If you install something like a Tesla PowerWall tied to your home’s power, the problem is solved, but more temporary solutions are impractical for large mesh networks.
The good news is that you don’t have to power on every mesh node to have internet access. As long as you’re within the Wi-Fi footprint of the main mesh router, you’ll have internet access. You can also selectively provide power to only some satellite routers during a blackout to spread the Wi-Fi footprint somewhat.
Wi-Fi repeaters and extenders have the same problem as mesh routers, and the same advice applies to them.
Blackouts are particularly problematic if you use PowerLine networking to extend your home network. Unless you install backup power for your home itself, the PowerLine units won’t work. Plugging them into temporary backup power units is pointless since they must all be on the same circuit to work. Even if they were all connected to a portable power station, these devices have surge protection, which filters out the signal that PowerLine technology uses.
Routers With Cellular Fallback and Satellite Internet
Circling back to our first point about ISPs with backup power for their customers, you have some options if your broadband infrastructure provider doesn’t have adequate backup power. If you have a router with a USB port, it’s often possible to purchase a USB cellular modem that’s compatible with it. The router can then automatically fall back on cellular data if something goes wrong with your broadband connection. It’s not ideal, but it’s a good option for mission-critical business users.
With the growth of services like StarLink, satellite internet is also becoming a viable alternative to ground-based broadband. As long as you can keep the satellite equipment powered up and somewhere in the network there’s a ground station with power, you can access the internet!
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