Why Phones Need Rural Mode

A couple of times a year, a few dozen of us converge on my wife’s family farm in southern Minnesota. The farm is a serene, joyous place full of social time with the cousins, but we all need to remain connected at some point. This is where the trouble begins – you see, the farm has terrible Internet service, and essentially no 4G/LTE. I mean, it’s like trying to play a modern video game on a 486DX – it’s not just slow, it starts out being almost uselessly slow – just barely enough bandwidth to do the basics if you don’t all try at once, a bit like taking a shower there. When it’s just us and the grandparents, we can patiently check our email and make a few Amazon orders without timing out.

The problem begins when the aunts and uncles, cousins and their kids, and any friends arrive. We can all connect to the farm’s wifi, but that’s about it – unless you wake up before 6am, forget it – no one is getting online, even just to send an email to the office. The connection is crushed, useless for all.

It occurred to me that the problem isn’t so much too many people trying to surf the Web at once – even if no one appears to be actively using their computers or mobiles, we still have no bandwidth. The cause is more subtle – all our phones constantly try to suck down app and OS updates in the background when they are on wifi, and they don’t appear to care that the backend connection sucks. I caught my phone trying to download app updates, books, and even a new album – hundreds of megabytes, or more, of data a day that I didn’t actively request.

This lead me to the title of this blog: what we need, dear readers, is a mode somewhere between normal and Airplane mode. Leave wifi, BlueTooth. and cellular data on (unlike Airplane mode), but disable all background refreshing, updating, etc. Only allow interactive traffic – network traffic triggered by an explicit user interaction.Let an occasional notification through to remind us to run updates. Boom. Instant, massive improvement for those with terrible slow Internet connections.

Not sure Rural Mode is the right name, but you get the point.