Load Balancing WAN Connections

I’ve previously posted about how slow my ADSL connection is (5Mbps max!) and that I bought a 4G router just over a year ago (http://blog.v-s-f.co.uk/2014/10/fed-up-of-waiting-for-superfast-broadband/). Before I bought the 4G router, I decided to look at how to load balance the connections. There were two reasons for doing so. One was that I planned to buy another ADSL connection to get a stunning combined* max of 10Mbps!!! And the other reason is that the 4G connection has a few quirks that mean I prefer to send and receive certain traffic down the ADSL connection.

I did a lot of research and bought a Netgear FVS336G v2 off Ebay. At the time I bought it, I only had the ADSL connection, but the device only lasted a month. The device wouldn’t work on the newest firmware, would work for a few days and then grind to a halt and also my tablet couldn’t access the internet! Needless to say, it went back on Ebay…

After more research I then found pfSense. At the time I had a spare media centre pc lying around which had become redundant, but ran at 80 watts idle. I repurposed it for the task of determining if pfSense would be suitable.

pfSense is brilliant and free! As a router it does everything I could possibly want (Port forwarding, OpenVPN, Firewall and Load Balancing to name but a few). The administration portal never crashes or decides not to load a page – it simply works.

I started off again with just the ADSL connection and then bought the 4G router. Setting up the load balancing took a bit of time along with determining what firewalls to put in place.

I’ve recently upgraded the hardware to use a low power cpu on board motherboard and the entire system now runs at a max of 20 watts.

Even when the 4G conection was running at 50Mbps for over 10 minutes, the cpu never went above 5%.

pfsense-windows10-download

(Example of the firewall rules for sending traffic down ADSL for banking and email)

firewall-rules

* Load balancing WAN connections does not mean you will achieve A+B – you would need to bond the connections to get close to achieving A+B speeds. For example in the screen shot above where 50Mbps is being transfered, it’s all across the 4G connection as the connections are not bonded. Load balancing however in my situation is great as a family member can watch iPlayer and I can still browse the internet without affecting the video stream as the data will normally be distributed across the connections available according to load.

Doh!

I bought a new motherboard, small ssd and some ram the other day on Amazon to rebuild my home router and make it more energy efficient. I was really looking forward to going home on Friday and setting it all up only to find out that I’d bought the wrong ram! Realised as soon as I opened the box and though “eh?” that ram’s laptop ram… Doh!

Extend Home Wifi

If like me your house has a few rooms and you’re finding that the wireless signal from your ADSL modem can’t quite reach the kitchen, it might be worth thinking about extending your wireless network.

We had this problem a couple of years ago when a radiator upstairs blocked all but a little bit of the wireless signal and the back garden is a complete wireless black spot.

I researched around and looked at getting a wireless repeater and even tried it out with a pair of Netgear WN203’s. It was patchy at best…. The access point in the shed could only occasionally receive the signal from the one in the kitchen, so being able to use the wireless hotspot in the garden was hit and miss.

So having researched a number of solutions and tried out a couple, these are my recommendations for extending wireless coverage.

Run an Ethernet cable to the point where you’d like wifi coverage and then put a wireless access point in instead of a repeater/extender. A wifi access point will connect to your network via the Ethernet cable and broadcast its own new wireless network rather than trying to connect to your existing wireless network. This will be far more reliable than a repeater/extender!

If you have multiple access points (your ADSL wifi modem is one!), make sure they are on different wifi channels, but all on the same mode (b/g/n). If you’re still using 2.4Ghz wifi (b, g or n modes), use channels 1, 6 and 11 as they don’t overlap – see here for more details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_WLAN_channels#2.4.C2.A0GHz_.28802.11b.2Fg.2Fn.29

If you have multiple access points, use the same wifi SSID and password! (This one really annoys me when people have multiple access points at home [or at the hotel on holiday in the Netherlands] and they don’t have a roaming network.) If you use the same SSID and password (case sensitive!), users can roam between the access points as if they are all the same access point! There is a short delay between swapping from one access point to another.

This is my home network with two wifi SSIDs, one for guests and one for home users. All three access points are on different channels to avoid clashing and the two access points on the left have the same SSID to enable roaming between the two.
my-wireless

(This is not an advert for Netgear technology! Although I do use Netgear products at home as in the past they have been reliable, the current products don’t seem to have the same reliability as yesteryear. I will be swapping out the WN203’s this year and the DGN2200 is v1, before the new bloatware they put on the new models. That device will be swapped for another brand when it finally stops working – not long now!)