In our last post, we briefly introduced VPNs and what they’re all about. Now, we will dig deeper into VPN speed, which is porbably the most important factor to consider.
Speed does matter. None of the other features or benefits of a VPN service mean much if it is slow to the point of being unusable. But what makes one VPN provider faster than another, and how can you get the best experience?
In this post, we will talk about the most important factors that affect VPN speed. Addressing any of them can make a VPN connection much quicker.
What affects VPN speed
Several things can impact the upload and download speeds of a VPN server. There are six that we believe are worth mentioning. A few are entirely in the hands of the VPN provider. However, your network setup and how you chose to connect to the VPN can also have a big effect. We will cover the six factors in order of importance.
Your Internet Connection
Regardless of how fast a VPN service is, it can never be faster than your internet connection. Even if a provider could guarantee 100 Mbps speeds (which they never can, but let’s say so for argument’s sakes), if you’re using your cell phone and are on a 5 Mbps network, that’s the maximum speed you’ll ever get from the VPN.
Splitting the internet connection amongst several users, which is often the case at home, will further impact VPN speeds. This is especially true when those other users use real-time services like video streaming (which can often be given higher priority over other traffic to maintain a good user experience).
VPN Server Location
The physical location of the VPN server you connect to relative to where you are can be a big influence on VPN speed. The further the server, the greater the distance your data has to travel, the more networks it has to cross, and the more traffic it has to contest.
Assuming no influencing factors other than distance, if you had a 100 Mbps server next door, that would very realistically be the speed of your VPN connection. If you moved the same server to the other side of the planet, you would be lucky to get a tenth of that.
Unless you have a reason to do so, like wanting to stream content from another country, always pick servers that are as close to your location as possible.
Server Bandwidth and Load
The number of individuals simultaneously using a VPN server will affect its speed. If the maximum connection speed of the server is 1000 Mbps and 50 users are connected to it, then on average, each person can expect a top speed of 20 Mbps. As the number of users rises, that top speed will drop.
Pay VPN services usually invest a lot more into their hardware that free alternatives. If you can afford it, a good pay provider is recommended. Visit a high-speed VPN review site beforehand and look through their service speed test comparison to determine which provider is typically the fastest. Singing up with the quickest one will be a good starting point.
VPN encryption keeps any data your transfer secure. It can also be computationally expensive and eat up additional bandwidth by making the data you send or receive slightly larger. Usually, the stronger the encryption, the slower the connection.
If you don’t have a good reason to do so, don’t necessarily pick the highest level of encryption possible. 256-bit encryption is still very secure and will be a lot less resource intensive than 2048-bit encryption.
VPN Connection Protocol
Most VPN providers give you a choice of protocols you can use to connect. Which one you choose can affect your data’s encryption strength (which is discussed above), and can also affect the connection speed.
The most popular protocol is called OpenVPN. It comes in a couple of flavors: TCP and UDP. TCP is the most reliable of the two. It keeps track of data packets sent, and knows if any go missing (which happens a lot more often than you think). That reliability comes with some overhead and is often overkill. Pick UDP and only switch to TCP if you find yourself having major connection issues.
How your data is routed to the VPN vendor’s hardware affects speed. That, unfortunately, you have little control over. Once data arrives at the provider, it is routed to one of its servers based on some heuristic which can involve server and infrastructure load and several other factors.
New or inexpensive VPN providers may do this internal routing quite inefficiently. Premium providers that have been around for some time are usually much better at it due to their extensive experience with and research into the problem. So, just like with server load and bandwidth, if you can afford one, choose an established pay provider like PureVPN or Private Internet Access.
More to Come
There is a lot more that can be said about each of the above six factors. That is something we plan on doing shortly. Each factor will get its own post that will cover it in much greater detail. It’s certainly not information everyone needs to know or fully understand. But in my experience, when dealing with VPNs (or anything computer related for that matter), having as much knowledge as possible is never a bad thing.