Moving from the city to the country has many challenges, and as an information technology worker, all the more challenging when it comes to internet!
Roz and I knew when we moved to Prince Edward County that internet access was going to be… different. Depending on the area where you live throughout the county (it can take an hour to traverse the whole island) there are different providers, speeds, and connection types. The internet landscape here is a patchwork just like its farmlands— and there’s no easy or simple guide to what services are offered where, and what’s best depending on where you are.
Determining what internet services were available to us initially was just checking with our agent to inquire with the current owner about what they had. It appeared that stated they had Bell internet via DSL, and I saw the landline demarcation point on the house.
So when we moved in I immediately inquired with Bell… and after 15 minutes on the phone and the agent trying different variations of our address… they determined that services were not available to us!
This is pretty common in rural areas, where address databases (depending on where they’re from) may not be quite up to date. Having recently completed a website overhaul for a rural internet service provider (Execulink), I learned about how they qualify addresses, and things should improve in the next few years as service providers move away from Canada Post & Google databases and lookups, and over to modern geolocation-based qualification, which should greatly improve the accuracy of determining services available.
“Sorry, We Don’t Service That Address”
Out of date address databases issues coupled with the fact that Prince Edward County has become much more popular over the past 5-10 years, with land severances and new home builds— and it’s pretty likely that when you call a provider they may not be able to verify they can service you, or tell you they can offer you X when actually X and Y are really available.
I had to call Bell back three times, trying different approaches with the sales agents to see if they could verify the service address. It wasn’t until I actually gave them the name of the former owner that they could bring it up! After that, they sent out an installer and after 2 weeks of moving in and trying to get internet going— we had an install date (the next week!).
Check With Your Neighbours
I also inquired with neighbours about what service they had. Some were using an over-the-air LTE Fixed Wireless service from Xplornet, others were using Bell DSL reseller service from providers like KOS & Teksavvy. Unfortunately there’s no cable available where we live, though Cogeco services homes just a couple KM’s away.
Most Ontario rural communities currently have a patchwork of Fixed Wireless LTE, DSL, Cable, FTTN (fibre to the node), and (rarely) dedicated fibre service.**
Some folks choose to use a mobile LTE package from a cell carrier instead, however this solution is usually expensive, and often only decent if you’re getting great cell service (live near a tower) and don’t require much bandwidth (50 GB or less), which isn’t practical for anyone working in the digital economy.
Install of DSL
When the installer was finished and we finally had internet going, it was a small triumph. After a self-satisfied beer when they left and a speedtest on a hot summer day in July… the reality— moving to a rural community and facing what was essentially akin to going back in time 10-15 years in service quality— started to sink in.
10 down, 1 up. Yikes. We had just left 120 down, 15 up in the city, with Cogeco… and they were just rolling out fibre in our building. We could have had 1Gb down and 150Mbps up!
Never Gonna Give Up
Being that I work in web and software development, and my wife Roz works in video production, it wasn’t long before I started to investigate how to improve the situation without breaking the bank.
After a few weeks with the DSL service, it was clear that we were going to suffer big time without another solution. We have around 20 internet connected devices— phones, laptops, computers, network attached storage, game consoles, smart TVs, nest thermostat, wifi light switches… many of which don’t use lots of bandwidth at once but do sip a little each at a fairly constant rate. As a result, anything more than light use caused problems— stuttering streaming video, slow downloads, being kicked off game servers, broken video chats.
Searching For A Solution
I began researching solutions, which essentially came down to these two options:
- Get a second internet connection.
- Try to get fibre installed from about 5KM away directly to the home.
Number 2 was difficult to research, and I couldn’t get through to any non-consumer oriented office about it with Bell and a few other providers. It seems you need to pursue it via the commercial route. I estimated based on research to cost around $5-$12 thousand to have installed, and a monthly cost of around $500 thereafter…. so… out of the question for now.
Number 1, seemed like a much more reasonable approach. At first I thought I might just end up with a second Bell connection, and then I would split some devices on one network, and the rest on the other. After some more research I learned that you can have Bell bond two connections right in the modem, which explains why there’s 2 ports on the back of most modem/routers they provide.
Load Balancing… FTW
Through this research I learned of a device which I’d previously heard of but only thought existed to serve the commercial space (and this would be cost prohibitive to buy for my purposes): a Load Balancing Router.
Most of these devices can support 3+ internet connections. These devices can connect all of your devices seamlessly behind the multiple internet connections, and balance the load of traffic in and out spread across the connections. They don’t typically have WiFi built-in, so you’ll need a WiFi router plugged in to it (or another router connected to the load balancer) to connect all your wireless devices behind the load balancer.
There are a variety of ways you can distribute traffic with a load balancer, from shaping it based on devices (MAC addresses), type of service (e.g. mail vs. Web browsing vs. File downloading) and more.
I was now excited that it might be possible to get decent internet that could do for our requirements, for a few reasons:
- The cost of the smaller devices was less than $100, and I already had gigabit Ethernet switches I could setup behind the device so I could get one that didn’t support gigabit Ethernet further saving money;
- The ability to meter traffic itself by device or service type was going to help greatly (for example stopping our kitchen iPad from having a software update party right when we were trying to watch a show)
- I could truly make the most of limited bandwidth, maximizing the efficiency of the home network, so that it felt like a much faster connection
So… great! I was going to get a Load Balancing Router, and get a second internet connection and then network the hell out of things to eek out performance wherever I could.
READ PART 2 HERE: Rural Internet Secrets: Part II
**If I have some spare time I would love the build a mapping page where county residents could enter what service they have from what providers so you could better see the service networks available— and possibly use that to encourage providers to expand.