On This Page...
We have a cell phone and a Mifi device we use to connect to our laptops for fast internet in the van (thanks to some speed-boosting tricks). But staying under the data caps for each was challenging, so we’d try to connect to Wifi connections whenever we could. But juggling all of this quickly became a problem (before I implemented “internet bonding”) because we each have a laptop, plus there is a small computer in the van automatically recording data about our travels.
That small computer ended up being the solution. I turned it into a Raspberry Pi access point (wifi hotspot) which is smart enough to switch between (or even combine) internet connections. At only $27, it provided an extremely cost-effective solution to an annoying problem. Plus, it’s simple enough to do that even if you’ve never heard of “Linux” or “Raspberry Pi,” you can still complete this tutorial in about an hour. At the end of this post, you’ll find some open-source tools to help set everything up.
Why Not a Dual-SIM Device?
Many people we have met on the road who care about combining internet connections use a dual-SIM device like the Teltonika RUT950.
As I explained in the van/RV Internet Guide, our solution:
- Can combine more than two internet connections.
- Can use your existing phones’ data (instead of dedicated SIM cards).
- Can combine things other than cellular connections, like Wifi or satellite connections.
- Can intelligently limit data to not go over any connection’s cap.
- Costs hundreds of dollars less.
Building a simple version of a Raspberry Pi access point is described in the official documentation. Unfortunately, that documentation may be a bit complicated for those who are not advanced Linux users. I created a separate tutorial on building a Raspberry Pi router (below) and monitoring its traffic. These tutorials should help with some of the basics, but do not cover using two internet connections simultaneously to create internet connection bonding.
Internet Connection Bonding
Even the cheapest, tiniest computers (like a Raspberry Pi Zero W kit for $27) comes with a Wifi card and 4+ USB ports. That’s at least 5 different channels for bonding internet connections.
You may have heard of “pair bonding” DSL.Because DSL connections are so slow, it is common to use two of them together.
All kinds of bonded internet work very similarly. However, DSL accomplishes this with a channel bonding modem. Instead, we’ll use a Raspberry Pi to use two modems in one “house.”
The idea behind using a Raspberry Pi for internet bonding is simple:
- Each one of the USB ports can connect to the internet via:
- Tethering via one of our phones.
- Connecting to a Mifi.
- Connecting to a public Wifi network via a USB dongle.
- … or anything else.
- The “preferred” internet connection is shared via a WiFi access point.
- The fastest connection can be chosen.
- Data caps can be applied to each connection.
- … or they can be combined together for faster speeds.
This last option is known as “internet bonding” or “connection bonding.” Each of the different connections are combined together into a single, virtual connection. This combines the speeds, as much as possible, from each connection to create one faster than any of the individual connections.
Use a good-quality USB WiFi adapter, instead of using a Mifi or phone’s “WiFi Hotspot” feature.This is significantly faster — especially as you try download many things simultaneously.
A big advantage for us is also the fact that our solution automatically and intelligently switches between the connections, yet the internal WiFi network remains the same. So our computers stay connected to the same van network and don’t care about which internet connection is used.