How to Improve Your Internet with a Load Balancing Router

Posted in: Expat Hacks, Resources & Gear

load balancing routerHow’s your internet?

Depending on the country your internet might be good.

Or it might be awful.

More likely than not, it will be both slow and unstable.

Why the Internet is Slow & Unstable

There are a number of factors working against you.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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 & 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 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.

TP-LINK TL-R470T router

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. (I explain it in detail here.) 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. More Bandwidth: I saw dramatic improvements in large file uploads with the combined connections. Especially videos to YouTube (200-500mb).

Read more about how to load balance two connections on BryanHaines.com

Now it’s your turn…

How is your connection where you live? What do you do to improve it? Are you using a load balancing router?

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines

Bryan Haines is editor of GringosAbroad - one of the largest English language sites about Ecuador. Work with GringosAbroad. He is a travel blogger, photographer and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands).

10 comments… add one
  • Doug B Sep 19, 2014, 7:08 am

    Hi Bryan:
    Did you, or any of your followers ever try running Linux,
    to see if that does not give you better results, than plugging along
    with Windows 8, or 7. Give LinuxMint 17, Debian 7.6, or PCLinuxOS MATE Desktop (2014.08). a look.
    The latter could be a nice one to start with for a Newbie. Just a thought.
    Take care,
    “Canuck”

    • Bryan Haines Sep 19, 2014, 6:46 pm

      I haven’t used Linux in years – maybe another reader will be able to comment on this.

  • Ian Hutton Sep 15, 2014, 12:01 pm

    Bryan . . . In all honesty, it doesn’t make sense to me either, and I buy and sell used laptops, including putting in fresh operating system such as Win7 and all the necessary drivers and usual programs such as Office and Skype etc.

    But it worked, and that’s all that mattered. And if maybe it can work for others, all the better. I’ve worked with computers for years and something I learned a long time ago is that if something works on a computer that doesn’t make sense, just close your eyes and go with it !!

    Have some strong feelings about coming down your way, at least for an initial exploratory trip. Thanks for your on-going info, if’s often very helpful. Ian

    • Bryan Haines Sep 15, 2014, 12:38 pm

      I agree that sometimes computer stuff doesn’t have to make sense – just be happy that it works.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Ian Hutton Sep 15, 2014, 11:10 am

    Bryan, I don’t know how applicable this idea is in general but I have found the following is a way to strongly improve my wifi internet. I am involved with the stock market and where I presently live the community wifi is anything but impressive. I tried various methods to improve it, including increasing the RAM on my computers and getting a better long distance antenna, both of which helped to a degree but didn’t really solve the problem.

    I am running two laptop computers, one with Windows XP and the other with Windows 7, and they both were equally slow. Finally, in desperation, using Google I decided to download and install Firefox, and as the saying goes, ‘Presto, ChangeO’

    Although my computers could be faster, they are now at least running at acceptable speeds, enough so that I can operate satisfactorily relative to the stock market.

    I have no idea how universal this fix would be, but it worked for me and may work for others. The worst that could happen is that you try it and it doesn’t help, in which case you can just go into your computer’s ‘Control Panel/Add or remove programs’ function and delete Firefox, which will take you back to your previous operating system.

    I have no idea why Firefox made that much difference but am just glad to be getting better wifi reception,

    Ian from Canada

    • Bryan Haines Sep 15, 2014, 11:46 am

      I’m glad to hear that your speeds have improved, but it doesn’t make sense (to me) why a different browser would have made a difference. I routinely use Chrome, Firefox, and Explorer and haven’t noticed any speed difference between them.

      This post addresses unstable and slow internet – both of which can be improved by using a load balancing router.

      Thanks!

  • d.j. Sep 15, 2014, 7:32 am

    That is very interesting .What is the cost of having to systems running per month.
    Thanks D.J.

    • Bryan Haines Sep 15, 2014, 8:24 am

      Depends on the two service levels you choose :). We use a premium (for Ecuador) and an entry level service. Total is around $75/month.

  • Dave D Sep 12, 2014, 4:13 pm

    Only thing missing is VPN. If you need that, then the TL-ER6020 will fill the bill, but more like $120

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