Channel Bonding

Nathan Hill-Haimes

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    Channel bonding

    What are the differences between channel bonding and load balancing?

    When you are looking for ways to improve your internet connection, you will inevitably encounter a lot of technical jargon. Two bonded broadband terms you will probably come across are channel bonding and load balancing. These two different techniques involve using two or more internet connections to boost your internet speed. But they are fundamentally different and yield different results.

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    When looking back, load balancing was the first of these techniques to find its way into networking for both business and domestic applications. Channel bonding for home users is relatively new, but it is sure to have a bright future with its ease of use and functionality. Let's look at the two concepts and compare them a little, then assess which is better.

    What is load balancing?

    In computer networking, load balancing is a technique for optimising connectivity, reducing latency, increasing bandwidth, and avoiding overloading a single internet connection. By using load balancing with multiple connections, the user gets greater availability and reliability through the concept of redundancy. It would be best if you typically had dedicated software or hardware for load balancing, including special routers.

    In terms of setup, load balancing usually involves specialist networking hardware embedded with balancing software. The router will need to be connected to two or more WAN internet connections to implement the balancing function.

    How does it work?

    When you use applications on devices, data travels to and from the internet via network sockets. A load balancer serves to distribute these sockets evenly throughout the internet connections that are in use. This helps prevent a single connection from being overloaded, maintaining optimum performance at all times.

    As long as your apps use plenty of sockets, the load balancer will help ensure your internet speed is faster than it otherwise would be. This is usually sufficient for things like general web browsing and torrenting. However, certain activities that only connect to the internet via a single network socket will not benefit from load balancing. Things like VPN connection, large file transfers and video streaming will not happen faster with a load balancer.

    What is channel bonding?

    Channel bonding is sometimes referred to as link bonding or broadband bonding. It is a technique in which two or more internet connections are combined into a single connection with greater bandwidth, reduced latency and boosted reliability.

    As with load balancing, you will need dedicated hardware or software to execute channel bonding.

    channel bonding

    How does it work?

    As we've previously mentioned, load balancing optimises your internet traffic by distributing it evenly across sockets. Channel bonding takes things a step further, optimising traffic into smaller chunks of data known as network packets. These packets can be equated with a 'liquid' that flows through the 'tubes' that are network sockets.

    Channel bonding gives you the power to spread these individual network packets across two or more internet connections. By dividing all your internet traffic at this packet level, even larger, single-socket transfers like video streaming and large file transfers will undergo a significant speed boost. For this reason, we standardise on bonding to yield all-out internet and WiFi connections.

    Which is better: load balancing or bonding?

    Both load balancing and channel bonding result in an improvement to your internet connection by:

    • Providing a boost to the available bandwidth
    • Reducing latency for a more streamlined experience
    • Making the connection more reliable

    However, load balancing only really conveys those benefits to general web browsing and torrenting. With channel bonding, you benefit from those activities and other popular things like downloading and uploading files, live streaming and connecting to a VPN.

    One thing to consider is your reasons for choosing either load balancing or channel bonding. If you are a business that needs a faster connection but also relies on being constantly connected, it is wise to use two completely different types of connection. If, for example, you used two leased fibre lines with either technique, you could still end up with significant downtime if something like a natural disaster caused an outage to both lines. However, if you combined a microwave connection with a leased line, you could fall back on the microwave connection if the leased one went down.

    Generally speaking, channel bonding is the better option because its benefits are conveyed to a more significant number of online activities. It is also, arguably, a more future-proof system since load balancing has been more widely available for a longer time. The benefits of channel bonding are becoming more accessible to both businesses and homes, and it will likely become the preferred option in the future.

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