California Engineering Contractors, Pleasanton, Calif., was not happy with its high-speed Internet options. Even while paying thousands of dollars a month for bonded T1 lines or similar high-end connectivity at its main office, field offices at projects were often stuck with limited broadband. “In construction, sometimes you just don’t have the facilities for a T1,” deadpans Sam Hanna, CEC Internet technology director.
But most of the company’s data traffic moves between project sites and the main office, and slow connections and digital bottlenecks can cost money.
So CEC decided to try “broadband bonding,” a relatively new concept in high-speed Internet connectivity developed by Mushroom Networks, San Diego, Calif. The technology can take up to six standard broadband connections, including cable, DSL, satellite or T1, and combine them into a single connection for speeds of up to 50 Mbps, depending on the total provider speeds available. Broadband bonding treats any mix of broadband providers as a single pipe, allowing for not only significant speed increases beyond any single provider’s broadband service but built-in redundancy as well.
By setting up one of Mushroom Networks’ “Truffle” broadband network appliances at the main office and others at remote field offices, CEC is able to bond several Internet connections into a single, secure virtual private network connection, allowing for fast and reliable transmission of data between locations. “We looked at our options, broadband bonding versus a T1 line, and it seemed very obvious to go with this,” recalls Hanna. “It’s been a very viable solution.
The broadband bonding concept is not new,” says H. Cahit Akin, Mushroom Networks’ CEO and co-founder, “but the technical limitations of earlier versions required a component at the provider’s central office and did not allow for a mix-and-match of differently performing lines.
Mushroom Networks holds several patents on the technology and uses a proprietary tunnel for creating a secure VPN between locations. No special arrangement is needed with Internet service providers, and the company’s appliances are able to bond standard broadband Internet connections in what Akin calls a “transparent install.” The units are controlled through a Web-based interface and support mesh as well as star-topology network configurations.
Where broadband bonding really shines, however, is at locations with less-than-optimal broadband access. CEC had to set up a field office in Emeryville, Calif., for a Bay Area Rapid Transit project in nearby Oakland. Installing a T1 line was not an option and no single broadband provider offered the speeds CEC needed. “This particular site did not have good options for broadband,” said Hanna. “We were going out in the middle of nowhere, but once we got [broadband bonding], set up it was fine.
For locations even farther afield, Mushroom Networks offers the “PortaBella” broadband network appliance, which can bond up to six wireless Internet connections for the same functionality as the wired Truffle model. Users plug in wireless cards supplied by their service providers, and the PortaBella bonds the different wireless networks into a single connection, which then can be connected to a LAN. The PortaBella comes with a wall adapter as well as a battery pack for setup at remote locations.
According to Mushroom Network’s Akin, the technology is catching on. The company has over 160 authorized resellers worldwide, with clients in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. In addition to the construction industry, the company also is seeing sales to small and mid-sized businesses, airports, schools, governmental offices and large transportation projects.
Mushroom Networks’ broadband bonding products do not require an ongoing subscription, although Mushroom does offer a bonding subscription service for offsite backup at its data center. Purchasing subscriptions to multiple Internet service providers is up to the user. Leasing options for the Truffle BBNA start at $80 per month. More information is available at www.mushroomnetworks.com.