VPN tools open the gates to vast opportunities when surfing the internet, as long as they are properly configured. Such an application gives you the possibility to connect to the workplace intranet when you’re actually working from home, to download files that are otherwise forbidden due to geographical restrictions, as well as to access online streaming services that are normally blocked for your country, to name just a few examples.
Considering the high level of security provided by virtual private network utilities, it’s natural to assume that such services have a negative impact on internet connection speed, especially when connecting to the server of a country that’s far away from your actual region. While apps dedicated to virtual private networks can indeed slow down your web connection, this isn’t always the case. In fact, with the aid of a reliable program and a good configuration behind it, it’s even possible to speed up the internet.
In this article, we are analyzing the ways in which VPN apps can slow down your network speed. Fortunately, there are workarounds for most of these issues, which we are not leaving behind. We also looking into situations when a VPN can actually increase your internet speed, along with a simple solution for testing internet speed.
3 causes for slow internet with VPN
There are three main issues which cause a negative impact on your internet speed when using a virtual private network tool: the distance between your real location and the remote server you’re trying to connect to, the number of people who are currently using the same VPN server as you, along with an improper configuration of the VPN program settings. Don’t worry, we’ll show you simple ways to get around all these unfortunate events.
Problem: physical distance toward the remote server
Many VPN applications offer support for numerous servers that are spread across the globe. This is actually one of the main reasons why people prefer paying a subscription for a premium VPN instead of going with a freebie: hundreds, if not thousands of VPN servers to choose from. These servers correspond to different countries, cities within each countries, as well as IP addresses within each city. For example, ExpressVPN supports over 2000 servers in 148 locations from 94 countries. For additional information and to find our experience with this application, you can check out our ExpressVPN Review.
The drawback to establishing a link to an IP address that exists in a region far from your own is that the connection speed is weakened, as it’s proportional to the distance of the server (the farther the country, the slower the connection). This happens due to the fact that data packets take a longer period of time to travel back and forth in order to facilitate transfers.
How to fix
Unless what you want to do online with a VPN requires having an IP address from a specific country (e.g. BBC iPlayer streaming content requires a UK location), it’s better to select the remote server closest to your physical location. It can be either in the same country or nearby. Luckily, most VPN apps have a built-in “recommended” or “best choice” option which is tailored for your location. For instance, NordVPN has a feature called “Quick Connect” that automatically detects the nearest server for ensuring optimized internet performance. If you’re interested in learning more about this program, you can check out our NordVPN Review.
On the other hand, if the server hosting your online activities must identify an IP address that’s from a particular region in order to work properly (or work at all), you can cut your losses by trying multiple servers from the same country, ideally from different cities. With the help of an online ping tool, you can run a speed test on the website by IP address or host name while you’re connected to the VPN. This helps with testing the connectivity strength between the two devices and checking for any delay. Doing this operation while testing multiple IP addresses can give you a better idea of which VPN server is closer to the website.
Problem: crowded VPN server
If the cause of slow internet is a crowded VPN server, then the problem lies not with the destination but with the source. It doesn’t matter what website you’re trying to reach while connected to the virtual private network since the internet speed remains low, regardless of your actions. When this happens, it means that too many people are connected to the same IP address while you are also linked to it, inadvertently producing connection delays and even drops.
Unfortunately, busy VPN servers are a common flaw that comes with free or freemium VPN applications. Freeware programs typically receive less attention from their makers since developers prefer to shift their attention toward software products which generate income. When it comes to virtual private network utilities, this can mean investing in fewer servers (among other things) because it’s the cheaper option.
How to fix
This solution may seem simple for some people but inaccessible to others: a premium VPN subscription. Paid tools provide better and more features than their freemium counterparts. It’s like any other job: the developer (the boss) is generating enough income to afford hiring people who can provide round-the-clock maintenance for any issues which may occur. And investing in hundreds or thousands of VPN servers makes no exception.
Once you get hold of numerous servers to choose from, you should be able to easily spot one that’s fewer people are linked to. However, if you cannot afford paying money for a VPN tool, you can take the longer route of downloading and installing multiple freebies until you find one that doesn’t slow down your internet speed due to busy servers.
Problem: poorly optimized VPN security settings
Depending on the company policy of each VPN service provider, some may want to deliver the best possible privacy when routing your internet through a virtual private network (sacrificing network speed), while others prefer to focus on optimizing internet speed (sacrificing security). All VPN applications have a default configuration, and most (good) developers try to find balance between security and speed.
If you notice that your network speed is slow, even after trying to connect to multiple servers from all over the world, you can take a look under the hood and configure program settings to lower security and increase speed. Before doing so, you should make sure that the tool has an option for restoring the configuration to factory mode.
How to fix
You can pick a different VPN encryption mode or protocol that’s kinder with the internet speed. An example for this is choosing UDP over TCP if you don’t mind the occasional data loss, or selecting PPTP to improve speed while lowering overall security. If AES is the only VPN encryption protocol on the list, then go with the one with the smallest key size. However, it’s recommended to do your research when it comes to VPN encryption and VPN protocols, in order to better understand what you’re getting yourself into. If the developer has thought this through (the good ones do, anyway), they have probably left behind helpful tips and descriptions across the graphical interface to guide you toward making the right call.
How to test VPN speed
It’s not necessary to have special computer skills to be able to run tests when it comes to your internet speed. This can be effortlessly done with a downloaded application or an online service like Ooka’s SpeedTest. It’s a web-based utility which runs a benchmark on your internet speed to measure the ping time along with the maximum supported download and upload rate.
To get a point of reference and better understand how fast your VPN application really is, you should first run speed tests while connected to the public, unencrypted internet. Then, you can try it on while connected to your VPN service. It’s a good idea to experiment with as many VPN servers as possible to be able to tell which location grants you the superior speed.
The best results working in your favor should be delivered by the server recommended by the VPN application. The download and upload rates returned by SpeedTest should be close to the initial benchmarks performed on the public internet. Otherwise, if the difference is very big, it could be a sign that the utility either has major flaws or makes false claims about how reliable it is.
How to improve network speed with VPN
Virtual private network applications are not always bad for internet speed. In fact, when they are used properly, they can even improve the network performance if this cannot be normally done without resorting to a VPN tool. Situations that permit a boost in internet speed with the help of a virtual private network are linked to your IP address. More specifically, certain network restrictions may apply based on your IP address, so you can change it with a VPN to get passed those limitations and enhance internet speed.
Problem: network bandwidth limited by the ISP
It’s sometimes difficult to get passed a certain level of network speed no matter what system settings you configure when you’re connected to the public internet. It occurs when your internet traffic is capped by your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Depending on the internet subscription you signed up for, your ISP might keep track of your browsing activity and intentionally slow you down.
This limitation can be permanent (e.g. for students living in dorms) or triggered by certain conditions. For example, the ISP may keep a certain hourly schedule during which it allows or denies unlimited network traffic. Bandwidth throttling can also be triggered automatically when performing illicit or questionable activities on the internet, like downloading torrents with movies protected by copyright. However, when bandwidth throttling occurs out of the blue, for no apparent reason, the ISP might be trying to lure you into upgrading your monthly subscription for more money. You might also come across restricted web traffic when checking into a hotel, in which case it’s not possible to control the ISP subscription service.
How to fix
By using a VPN application, you can connect to another IP address to be able to fly under the radar. Although they will be able to tell that a user is connected to the internet through a virtual private network utility, the ISP cannot see what websites are being accessed or what files are being downloaded (great for torrents). More importantly, the ISP cannot tell which one of its subscribers is using the VPN, which means that intentional bandwidth throttling cannot be enabled. All of this is thanks to the encryption features that can ensure full anonymity if configured properly. For more details, check out our article on how to bypass bandwidth throttling and increase Internet speed with VPN.
How to help with enhancing VPN internet speed
Although there are workarounds to VPN utilities which decrease your network speed and there are cases when using VPN actually boosts internet traffic, there are also things you can personally do for optimization. Some solutions don’t require any special skills, thanks to the fact that there’s plenty of how-to information just a Google search away. Others require in-depth inspection and perhaps the help of a professional, but we’ll talk about that another time.
Explore the hidden VPN settings for extra speed boost features
In addition to configuring settings related to encryption and protocols, you can take a closer look at what a VPN application has to offer. If the software developer did their job right, there should be bonus features to help with optimizing performance, like minor tweaks that can be applied to your operating system to turn off features which unnecessarily use internet bandwidth.
For example, ExpressVPN has an option for optimizing the Windows networking to improve internet speed. It also has split tunneling, which gives you the possibility to secure network traffic for certain applications and leave it disabled for the tools that don’t need security but better speed across the web. This is done by separating the LAN traffic from the public internet.
Make upgrades to your hardware equipment
If your router is not suited for high-speed internet, then using a VPN application isn’t going to solve the problem. In this case, network speed is limited by the hardware used by your computer, which means that it’s time to consider buying a Gigabit router which allows a larger bandwidth. Until that happens, you can consider the plain old trick of restarting the router to get better speed results. If this doesn’t work either, you can switch to wired, Ethernet mode. In fact, switching to Ethernet is recommended if you have multiple devices connected to the router and to get better speed.
Besides taking a look at the router, you should also inspect your network card and computer processor (CPU). If the hardware is outdated, then it can have significant impact on the low internet speed. However, before taking the more expensive route of purchasing new hardware components, there’s a cheaper alternative that you should try first: update your device drivers. This elementary software trick solves more problems than expected. Also, it might sound silly, but turning your computer off and on again might help, too. Performing a router hard reset is not out of the question either.
Make software changes to your computer
A security specialist would strongly advise against this but, if you need to boost your VPN speed at least temporarily, consider deactivating the system firewall, antivirus, and any other software products that hamper the internet connection. For example, you can exit your secondary web browsers to keep only the main one active for online activities while you’re using the VPN. Web browsers are huge resource eaters since they have multiple processes running in the background and perform updates continuously.
Another trick is to clear your DNS cache with the ipconfig /flushdns command (on Windows systems). Furthermore, you can check out the software market for a virtual private network provider than ensures minimal-to-no packet loss. Another neat solution for this is to install a VPN on the router. Apart from reducing the risk of packet loss, this method leaves the VPN open to all devices connecting to the router, and you don’t have to worry about devices being unsupported by your favorite VPN provider.
Taking everything into account, the most important aspect about VPN is that there’s always a solution for most problems. It’s also really easy to test VPN speed, thanks to the fact that there are many utilities out there specially made for this, whether they are downloaded tools or online services.
And, if you have a bit of patience and know how to search the web, you can definitely come across various tips and tricks for VPN speed optimization. Speaking of which, we’d love to hear your own workarounds for improving internet speed when using a virtual private network.