VPN is much more than a private network.
by Sabrina Bucknole
Until recently, many people thought of VPNs as a tool used by tech-savvy kids to anonymously download music and films. But, as concern about the use and security of personal data online continues to rise, it is no surprise that the number of people using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) has increased dramatically – and this type of tech is now establishing itself as an essential part of any security setup.
By routing your connection through their own servers, in a process known as tunneling, VPN providers hide your IP address and browsing activity. Coupled with end-to-end encryption, the only things that are visible to someone looking at your activity are the VPN’s IP address and the fact you are using the service, leaving you with a private and secure browsing session.From connecting to free public Wi-Fi to access company documents while out of the office, there are many practical benefits to using a VPN service – but what else can a VPN do? The uses go far beyond security, and may reveal benefits that many users have not previously considered.
1. Avoid speed throttling
With so much demand for online services, it has become common practice for ISPs to shape the traffic on their servers to ensure a steady service at peak times, or when their servers are especially busy. The practical result of this is slow connections and frustration for anyone who experiences lag in online games, or buffering during a Netflix binge.
ISPs often regulate their traffic by throttling certain types at peak times, often high-bandwidth activity like streaming video. By using a VPN service, your connection becomes encrypted and the type of activity you’re using it for is hidden from prying eyes, allowing you to avoid frustrating speed restrictions on your connection.
2. Save money on holidays
In many cases, websites will adjust the price of things like hotels and flights depending on your activity. To combat this, many savvy shoppers clear their browser cookies or use incognito mode to prevent frequent searches from adversely affecting the cost of their hotels and rental cars. This principle can be taken a step further thanks to a VPN – after all, the more money you save, the more you have to spend!.
By selecting from your VPN provider’s range of international servers when you connect, it is possible to make it look like you are browsing the web from a range of different countries around the world. IP addresses are used to monitor geographical location, so sites provide you with the relevant version of their website for the country you are based in. As a VPN masks this information with their own server, you can appear to be browsing from any country your VPN provider has a server in.
As many companies offer different rates based on the customer’s location, this is a great opportunity to make big savings by appearing to be shopping locally. For example, if a Spanish hotel room costs less when booked from Spain, simply connect to your VPN via their Spanish server and these rates will now be available to you too.
3. Get more content
Geo-restrictions are a common method used by service providers to restrict their content to specific regions of the world. It’s also used by TV or film services like Netflix and Hulu, to manage their library internationally – restricting content due to copyright, censorship or existing licensing agreements in international markets. While this is understandable, it can be incredibly frustrating when you are traveling abroad and unable to catch up with your favorite series because your streaming service is unavailable.
By connecting to your streaming service through a VPN, you can make it appear that you are connecting from your home country. This ensures that you can sidestep geo-restrictions and access the content you pay for anywhere in the world.
Similarly, many websites implement a paywall that restricts the number of articles you can read for free. In most cases, the number of articles you have read is tracked through your IP address. By simply switching to a VPN IP and opening a new window, you will appear as a new user and be able to read as much as you like.
4. Bypass tethering blocks
Tethering is a useful tool for mobile workers and people in areas with no Wi-Fi. By tethering your laptop or tablet to your phone, you can use your mobile data plan to get online with your other devices, wherever you are. However, it is not uncommon for mobile providers to block or restrict tethering for various reasons, similarly to how they are sometimes the cause of speed throttling. Tethering blocks are implemented by monitoring your traffic, to determine if multiple devices are using the same connection.
Because a VPN will hide your activity, it can be used to get around this obstacle in a similar way to avoiding geo-blocking. Without access to the specifics of your browsing activity, while you are connected to a VPN, your mobile provider will not be able to see how many devices are sharing your connection. As the tethering cannot be seen, it cannot be restricted and you will be free to continue working on cloud-based documents without Wi-Fi.
While a VPN is a valuable tool for improving the privacy and security of your online activity, they can do so much more – helping users to save money, access content abroad and browse without restrictions to speed or additional devices.
The more that the internet is required in daily life, the more benefits using a VPN will reveal as it becomes not just a security measure, but a tool for getting the most out of your online experience.
Sabrina Bucknole is a web writer and digital enthusiast based in Norwich, UK.