reliable internet in puerto rico?
Post Maria, speed is the least of my concerns. Five months after the hurricane, service from Liberty in my area is intermittent at best. Interestingly, it generally works in the evening and early morning and then proceeds to go up and down throughout the day… mostly down.
Because my trading and other work depend on the internet being up, having a backup is absolutely crucial. Using my phone as a hotspot worked for a while. However, I found out the hard way that doing this day in and day out will torch your battery! Therefore, I had to find a setup that could be used on a more permanent basis.
At first, I tried some inexpensive solutions with the thinking that Liberty would be back up to pre-hurricane form “any day now”. I picked up a Card King Long Range Wi-Fi Adapter but it didn’t find any free Wi-Fi signals in range. Then, I tried a FreedomPop hotspot which uses the Sprint network here in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, at least in my area, it was so slow as to be unusable.
A few weeks of struggling with terrible internet at home, occasionally using the Wi-Fi at McDonald’s and even trying to do work on our phones was all it took to resign myself to the need for fully redundant internet connectivity. We went to the AT&T store in Aguadilla Mall and purchased a Netgear Nighthawk LTE mobile hotspot router along with the $20 a month fee to add it to our AT&T unlimited data plan.
At this point, we thought our internet troubles were over, but for some reason, our hotspot would disconnect from the internet several times a day requiring us to reboot it. Needless to say, this was very aggravating. I heard about people with grandfathered AT&T unlimited plans selling service on eBay, so I went out on a limb and purchased one for $60 a month. After we received the SIM card and did a factory reset, we were relieved that the random disconnects had ceased. (Update 4/14/18 – see “best deal on unlimited data anywhere!” to see what plan we’re using now)
The AT&T signal in our area is not as strong as it was before the hurricane so I also purchased an antenna for our hotspot. It helped a bit, but not as much as I would’ve thought. Hopefully, AT&T will boost the signal back up to pre-hurricane levels soon. (Update 5/22/19 – it’s much better now!)
If you want to take it a step further than we did and have automatic failover from cable to LTE, you may want to consider the Netgear LB2120 instead of the Nighthawk. For now, manual “failover” by connecting our devices to whichever wi-fi is working is good enough for us.
Internet access is just one piece of the puzzle. Before Maria, if the power went down, work for Holly and me generally ground to a halt. It wasn’t a big issue for us though because the outages were infrequent. Post-hurricane, it’s a completely different story.
Electricity had actually been surprisingly consistent for us for most of the year, but a week ago Puerto Rico’s bankrupt power company (PREPA) announced it would begin ramping down select energy generation units to save money. I don’t know if it’s related or just a coincidence, but we have lost power several times since this announcement for a couple of hours to several hours at a time. Thankfully, we’ve picked up a few invaluable tools in recent months that have already proven themselves to be worth their weight in gold.
First, the Nighthawk hotspot I’ve already mentioned has a massive battery in it that will reportedly keep it running for up to 20 hours! The fact that it also has a USB port that can be used to charge other devices, such as phones and tablets, is just a bonus.
Next, I had been eyeing an APC BGE50ML UPS for our cable modem and router for a while now but Amazon wouldn’t ship it here. (Apparently, they won’t send anything to Puerto Rico that has a large battery in it.) Therefore, when we were in the states, we made a point to pick one up and bring it back with us.
The recent power outages have allowed us to see the UPS in action and it has not disappointed. As expected, we’ve noticed that the internet signal is usually still present even when electricity is not. It’s just a matter of keeping the cable modem powered, which this UPS does quite well. The fact that it has an integrated mobile battery pack, which you can never have too many of around here, is just more icing on the cake.
Finally, I picked up a new Dell Inspiron 17 2-in-1 laptop. My old Lenovo laptop only lasted for about an hour on battery but the Inspiron lasts for about 8 hours! That’s pretty impressive considering it has a 17.3-inch monitor on it. Holly’s HP laptop lasts for about 4 hours which is usually plenty for her.
I’ve heard that both AT&T and Liberty are rebuilding their infrastructure to be more resilient, which I hope is true. Regardless, I expect frequent power outages to be the norm for the foreseeable future as PREPA is apparently operating at a loss and up for sale. This is all the more reason why I have been so thrilled with these new tools as they have enabled us to not miss a beat when the power or internet goes down. I suppose it’s to be expected that the cost of doing business is higher if you want to live the dream in a beautiful (but troubled) tropical paradise!
(Update: 9/1/2019 – Power and internet reliability has significantly improved since I originally wrote this post. Further, the Nighthawk LTE hotspot has proven to be MORE than capable of handling both scenarios. Therefore, even though the battery has died on my APC cable modem UPS, I don’t feel a need to replace it.)