Stable internet is always a concern. While the internet would go out once in a while in Canada, it was rare and for short periods of time. Living in Ecuador means that internet isn't as stable as we were used to. In the past few years, we've had the internet cut for days at a time.
While this isn't the end of the world for the average user, it can be painful for our business – and our schedule.
How a Load Balancing Router Will Improve Your Internet
In order to create a more stable connection, I recently had a second internet connection installed. One is cabled and the other is via an antenna outside of our building.
If the main one failed, I just unplugged it and then plugged in the other. This got a little tedious. And obviously didn't maximize the available resources and bandwidth.
How I Created a Stable Internet Connection
While I had never heard of a way to join two connections into a single, stronger one, I searched for it. What I found is a technology called “load balancing”.
What is Load Balancing? Quick Answer
Load balancing is a computer networking method for distributing workloads across multiple computers or a computer cluster, network links, central processing units, disk drives, or other resources. Successful load balancing optimizes resource use, maximizes throughput, minimizes response time, and avoids overload. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
Essentially, a load balancing router takes multiple incoming internet connections (WAN – wide area network) and combines them into a single, strong connection (LAN local area network). A broadband router with multiple WAN ports is needed.
I found lots of expensive (and heavy) options. Prices ranged from $170 to over $400 for a router with multiple WAN ports. Weight is a concern, because I had to ship it from the US to Ecuador. And I have a maximum value limit of $400 for individual shipments, according to Ecuadorian Customs.
My Load Balancing Router
The router I ended up buying is the TP-LINK TL-R470T+ (5-port Load Balance Broadband Router, 3 Configurable WAN/LAN ports, 1 LAN, 1 WAN). What this description means is that there are a total of 5 ports:
- 1 dedicated WAN port
- 1 dedicated LAN port
- 3 ports that can be configured to either WAN or LAN.
I used the dedicated WAN port and one of the configurable ports as a WAN port as well. So I have two incoming internet connections that then feed a single connection across the three remaining LAN ports. I directly wired two of our computers into the LAN ports. The remaining LAN port feeds my ASUS Dual-Band AC2900 Router.
Back then, the cost was around $65 (product plus shipping to Ecuador). Although TP-LINK isn't a high-end brand, I thought it was worth a try. My biggest concern was configuring it.
Configuring the Load Balancing Router
One of the biggest complaints for this type of router is how difficult they are to configure. Many online reviewers said they just had to return their router because they couldn't make it work.
When it first arrived, I set it aside because I thought I would need hours to get it setup. I was afraid to change configurations of the current modem/router – and be left with nothing working.
Well, one night I got a burst of blind confidence and in less than 10 minutes the router was functioning and blending (load balancing) my two connections. When it was finished, I couldn't believe how easy it was.
Just follow the four steps in the printed guide and you'll be good to go. Now my connection should almost never fail (because if one cuts, all the traffic automatically switches to the other one). And my bandwidth has increased significantly – even at night when the internet usage is extremely high.
Simpler Option for Load Balancing (All in One)
I currently have an Asus gaming router (but I'm not a gamer). It is high-end gear and super easy to set up. It is almost just plug-and-play.
The unit automatically combines two internet connections – giving you more stability and bandwidth.
Why the Internet is Slow and Unstable
There are a number of factors working against you.
- Power cuts: In many countries, the power grid is not very stable. It doesn't take much to knock it out for hours (sometimes days) at a time. When we first moved to Ecuador we would frequently have periods (4-14 hours) without power. Other times we would have power but no internet – because their main hub was without power.
- Sharing connections: While your internet connection might be passable during the day, it will often grind to a near halt at night. It seems that everyone goes online around 7pm until midnight. Because of one connection being shared between up to eight households, the internet often becomes almost unusable in the evening (and during holidays / Sundays).
- Poor administration: We've had our connections disconnected by our internet service provider many times. When I called to see what happened, they told me that we didn't pay for that month. Of course, we did pay – they just didn't have a proper system in place to track payments. This has happened with multiple providers – multiple times.
How to Have Fast and Stable Internet Abroad
To get around this, we have two permanent connections: one cabled and one via an antenna. They are different companies with distinct delivery methods. We also have a USB modem in case of an emergency.
Regardless of the issues, we almost always have an internet connection. When one provider is out, we can use the other one. Because of our UPS (uninterruptible power supply) we can manage any brief power outages without losing the connection. The weakest link in our system is that we don't have a generator. Once we pass the 40-minute mark, our UPS runs out of juice and we are reduced to paper…
For a while, we had to manually switch between connections when one went out. While it worked, it wasn't ideal.
Then we discovered load balancing.
What is Load Balancing?
Load balancing is a method for sharing (balancing) workloads and bandwidth across multiple connections. I've heard that there are web services and programs that will do this. We just purchased a load balancing router that does it automatically.
The setup was simple and straightforward. (See above) To make it work, we just feed our two connections into the router and then it combines them into one, stronger connection. I then connect the load balancing router to my main wireless router to distribute the signal throughout the house.
While there are lots of options, the load balancing router we use is the TP-LINK TL-R470T. It cost around $50 and was well rated. While the brand isn't a premium one, I am very happy with this purchase. We've been using this for more than a year without any issues.
3 Benefits of Using a Load Balancing Router
If you set up two connections that are then load balanced into one, you'll see a number of immediate benefits:
- More Stable: This is significant. If one connection goes out (and it will), you won't lose your connection. You will continue to send/receive data through your remaining live connection.
- Higher Speed: You get the combined upload/download speeds of the two connections. Many areas still offer just entry-level speeds. The only way to increase this is to combine two connections.
- More Bandwidth: I saw dramatic improvements in large file uploads with the combined connections. Especially videos to YouTube (200-500mb).
It's been two weeks with the router and I love it. I can't believe I went the last four years living in Ecuador without it.
If you live abroad – and the internet is important to you – you should consider getting two connections installed and combining them with a load balancing router.
What has been your experience with the internet abroad? Have you used a load balancing router?