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What is Internet bonding and can it improve connection speed

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Everyone wants a faster internet connection – be it for streaming media, uploading pictures to social media, or playing the latest online game. The biggest problem is pricing and in many cases availability. So, what is one to do to get a better connection speed, or wrestle more out of what one has access to? One possible solution – line bonding.

Internet connection bonding has been around in some shape or form for many years, going back to the good old days of ISDN. Using a special modem, two 64k ISDN lines could be “shotgun’ed” into a single connection providing a single presented 128k connection. This was possible, even locally, but didn’t really gain much traction due to the relatively high cost.

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Rare in South Africa at the time, but so super-cool!

Link aggregation is a similar concept applied in a LAN configuration, whereby a suitable networking switch and a properly equipped PC (usually a server PC of some sort) could use multiple network cards to present a single, unified connection which would then be capable of transmitting and receiving data much more rapidly than a single interface. Alternatively, this arrangement can be used for failover connectivity between various switches for redundancy purposes. This arrangement is routinely used in data centers today to minimize downtime due to equipment failure.

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Prepping your Windows Server 2012 for NIC teaming...

How does broadband bonding work?

In most circumstances, broadband bonding works by splitting your networks’ traffic up across multiple broadband connections using a special link aggregation device. Companies such as Mushroom Networks, Cisco and Viprinet have created these special appliances that perform this aggregation at your networks’ border, and then can present your network with a single unified internet connection.

This is also useful as a failover option if downtime isn’t. For example, the one DSL connection does fail, remaining traffic will continue to be routed via the other connections, with no apparent break in connectivity, only a speed reduction.

Typically, with the installation of these devices, some sort of coordination has to be performed to present a unified connection. Regardless if speed or failover options are required, the traffic heading out of your network will split up by the aggregator, send via VPN or MPLS connectivity to the aggregation provider, re-assembled, and presented onto the Internet. If this isn’t being provided directly by your ISP, then the data will more than likely be sent to a datacenter where the aggregator has presence, and sent from there. These services will inherently carry a subscription fee.

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Prepping one of these little Mushroom Truffles for some serious HTTP bonding!

Some manufacturers, such as Mushroom Networks with their Truffle devices, don’t specifically require a subscription, but then only certain types of traffic can be bonded; the remainder of traffic would be handled in a load-balancing method. Examples of this would be HTTP traffic that could benefit from this type of aggregation; session based traffic such as VOIP, cannot.

Is internet line bonding still a thing?

Various local ISP’s, notably VOX Telecoms, went big some years ago with their Fishbone offering. Several other ISP’s followed suite with their own solutions, including MWEB, RSAWeb and IS. With the rise in speeds and availability from ADSL, VDSL, fibre and 3G/4G, aggregation of this type has declined in popularity, but it is still available in some form or another, if only for redundancy, not so much the speed benefit.

As a gamer, would this help me?

It depends from which angle you’re asking. If you’re playing Overwatch on a bonded connection to a European server, then no, it won’t help. Traffic from here to Europe isn’t going to go any faster, if on one connection or four stacked together; you’ll probably actually have a worse experience as there will be a slight overhead incurred on a bonded connection as the traffic has to be divided amongst the connections and reassembled on the other side, before going to the target game server. Think of it as driving from Cape Town to Johannesburg, alone, on either a single-lane road or an 8-lane highway, in identical cars. It’d take the same amount of time.

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The Ubiquiti Networks Unifi Gateway Pro does fail-over like a... pro!

On the other hand, if you’re looking to get your game patches delivered faster, then bonding or aggregation would be a thing for you. Just be aware of the costs involved; you’d be paying for two or more internet connections for that privilege. The highway / road analogy does apply here too; instead of lorries driving one after the other, having 8 lorries gunning down the 8-lane highway simultaneously will get the goods delivered that much more rapidly.

You might want to check out what MWEB offers gamers:

Conclusion

Connectivity and speed considerations have improved significantly since when line bonding was still a big thing, and cost has also largely made the facility irrelevant.

For the average gamer – if you’re wanting to ensure uptime no matter the cost (and aren’t willing to pay too much more) – most modern routers sold today usually offer some sort of redundancy option, with a 3G/4G connection of some sort. Your session may drop, but you’ll be back up in no time in your gaming session, thanks to many titles’ ability to re-join a game on disconnect.

Here’s an interesting video from Linus Tech Tips about line bonding, and about how the basics of this tech work. Remember, he’s Canadian, so this isn’t even something the Yankees typically use. Have you played around with line bonding options? Are you set to make sure your gaming session doesn’t die? Let us know in the comments below!

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