There are several ways to set up a virtual private network and take advantage of secure browsing with improved privacy. But installing a VPN on a router is arguably the best way to do this.
It’s also the simplest way to share your connection with other devices nearby, even if the gadgets don’t have built-in support for VPN technology. However, before actually setting up the VPN app at the router level, it’s necessary to choose a router and a VPN service.
What makes a VPN service excellent for router setup
In this article, we’re focusing on finding a virtual private network application that can be installed on the router, assuming that you have already purchased a broadband device. Although there are numerous VPN services available on the market, not all of them can be configured at the router level. Besides, there are fishy VPNs on every corner.
Learning about what a VPN service is supposed to do comes a long way. Therefore, you should dig a little into the matter and find out if the VPN service you set your eyes on matches the following criteria. It should go without saying that we assume you haven’t already paid for a VPN subscription.
1. OpenVPN support for best security and speed
Your router should already have support for VPN, depending on what firmware it uses. By accessing the router settings page, you should find an area dedicated to VPN, which shows the supported VPN protocols. Theoretically, if the VPN protocol supported by the router is also supported by the VPN service, then it’s okay to use that VPN service.
Practically, you should only be interested in a secure protocol like OpenVPN. The router might be compatible with PPTP connections but that doesn’t mean you should use this vulnerable protocol. Thus, to ensure a secure browsing session, the VPN service should support OpenVPN.
2. Unlimited number of simultaneous connections
The best thing about installing a VPN service on a router is that it counts as a single connection to the VPN provider, even when multiple devices are connected to the private network. This means that you shouldn’t worry about the maximum number of simultaneous connections specified by your VPN provider, as long as it supports OpenVPN.
However, it’s better to be on the safe side and check the terms and service of the VPN service to make sure you’re not breaking any rules, in case something was overlooked by the company. In most cases, you should find pages on the VPN’s website with tutorials about how you can set up the app on the router. But if you can’t find anything relevant, contact customer support and ask them point-blank if it’s possible (and legal) to set up their VPN service on a router.
3. Great speed test results with OpenVPN
Compared to using the normal Internet, a VPN service needs more time and processing power to establish a secure tunnel, since it must encrypt each data packet before sending it and decrypt each one after it reaches its destination. This is why a VPN app generally slows down your network connection.
However, there are various workarounds for this. Although it mostly depends on the hardware specifications of your router, it’s important to find a VPN service that delivers excellent speed test results when using the OpenVPN protocol.
4. Favorable jurisdiction and logging policy
Many virtual private network services advocate enhanced security and privacy, but few of them stay true to their ideals. Jurisdiction and logging policy play a huge role here. Depending on where the VPN company is physically located, it might be required by law to hand in the personal information of its customers, thus compromising their privacy.
If the company is in a country part of the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes or 14 Eyes surveillance alliance, it’s a red flag. At the same time, it’s essential to consult the VPN service’s logging policy to find out what type of data it collects about you. Part of the reason why you’re using VPN in the first place is to hide your browsing activity from your ISP. And this means trusting the VPN provider with your personal data.
5. Supported countries and servers
The range of countries supported by a VPN app is important for users who want to explore many regions and find the best connection speed. Theoretically speaking, the nearest location brings the best speed, but stranger things have happened.
If you want to enjoy streaming and torrenting, though, you should find out if the VPN service has optimized servers for these special activities, using IP addresses that have not been yet blocked by Netflix, to name an example.
A vast number of supported servers helps when too many users connect to the same server and share the bandwidth. In case you come across a busy server, you can just switch to another. It helps if the VPN company is proactively managing server locations and utilization to show traffic statistics in real time, such as Perfect Privacy and Windscribe.
6. Compatibility with DD-WRT, OpenWRT or Tomato
If you plan to flash your router with open-source firmware like DD-WRT, OpenWRT or Tomato, it’s worth looking for a tutorial on the website of the VPN service. Depending on the router’s make and model, you might also stumble upon exact VPN setup instructions for what you need.
Another option is to buy a pre-flashed router that’s already configured with a VPN service. FlashRouters is an online shop that can do this. To find compatible routers, you just need to specify the total number of devices, Wi-Fi coverage area, and VPN plan. As far as subscription plans are concerned, FlashRouters is partnered with many popular VPN providers.
7. Excellent customer support
Problems are likely to occur when using any type of software, and VPN services make no exception, especially in the long term. When it comes to VPNs installed on routers, you might encounter issues with the hardware (router) or software (firmware and VPN service). If the problem cannot be quickly solved with a Google search, you will need immediate assistance.
This is why it’s important to pick the services of a virtual private network application that cares about its customers. Live chat is the fastest way of getting in touch with tech support, although other forms of contact shouldn’t be underestimated if the replies are fast enough. Before paying for a VPN subscription, you can test live chat by asking for help with a router-related matter.
8. Costs, free trial, and money-back guarantee
Last but not least, you should decide on a budget that you’re willing to allocate to a VPN service. It shouldn’t be a surprise that high quality is expensive. Therefore, if you’re looking for the best VPN service, you should be ready to pay the price.
Almost all VPN apps offer multiple subscription plans to accommodate your needs, like monthly or yearly billings. In general, the monthly plan is cheaper when paying for many months in advance, so you will get a better deal with a yearly plan. It’s also worth monitoring the VPN provider’s social media channels for special deals with big discounts.
Further, some VPN services offer a free trial (usually 7 or 30 days), during which you can test all application features for free. At the end of the trial, you can either register the full version of the software or uninstall the app. But if the VPN app cannot be tested for free, then it should at least come with a 100% money-back guarantee.
Without further ado, here are our top five recommendations for VPN services that can be integrated with your router. All of them have been reviewed by our team and they currently occupy the top spots in our rankings. The best part is that each VPN client has something the others don’t, but we’ll let you figure this out for yourself.
It supports 5 simultaneous connections and over 3,000 servers in 94 different countries from all over the world, with emphasis on OpenVPN servers. Located in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN has safe jurisdiction, outside of what’s collectively called “The Eyes”. Data logging is kept at a minimum.
The application has a proprietary feature called MediaStreamer that connects you to streaming websites like Netflix without encrypting your traffic, in order to preserve speed. It returned great speed test results in our tests.
ExpressVPN offers manual config files for OpenVPN and can be purchased with a pre-flashed router at FlashRouters. It’s a bit expensive and cannot be tested for free but has a 30-day money-back guarantee. Setup guides are available on ExpressVPN’s website for configuring OpenVPN on routers. There’s live chat available.
It allows six simultaneous connections and has over 5,000 servers in 60 countries (4,658 servers for OpenVPN, at the time of this article). Based in Panama, a country with no laws issued about collecting user information, NordVPN passes the jurisdiction test. It doesn’t maintain logs about user activity.
The tool is great for Netflix and torrenting. It had excellent speed test results during our evaluation. You can download manual config files for OpenVPN as well as purchase a pre-flashed router from FlashRouters with NordVPN.
The VPN service is a bit pricey but not the most expensive on this list. It cannot be tested for free anymore but comes with a 30-days money-back guarantee instead. There’s a router setup guide available, but the website doesn’t have live chat.
Using this VPN app, you can connect from seven devices at once. It has over 3,500 servers in 59 countries. Located in Romania, where there are no laws for data collection, CyberGhost VPN is safe to use as far as VPN jurisdiction goes. It doesn’t record logs about user activity but only for account administration.
The application has special servers dedicated to streaming and torrenting, wrapped in a straightforward interface. It returned decent (but not excellent) speed test results in our case. Unfortunately, some connections were unstable.
CyberGhost VPN has manual OpenVPN config files available for download along with a step-by-step guide for router setup. It’s partnered with FlashRouters for pre-flashed routers. The service is affordable (somewhat cheaper than NordVPN), offering a free trial and 45-day money-back guarantee for all plans except 1 month (14-day money-back guarantee). It has live chat.
4. Mullvad VPN
It allows five simultaneous connections and has over 300 OpenVPN servers in 34 countries. Mullvad VPN is based in Sweden, which is a member of 14 Eyes. But it more than makes up for this inconvenience by adopting a very serious approach toward protecting your privacy: no logs and anonymous payments, including crypto and cash.
The tool supports Netflix and torrenting, but it, unfortunately, failed with Netflix in our tests. Instead, speed test results were impressive. You can download manual config files for OpenVPN and check out router setup guides on their website. It can also be bought with a pre-flashed router on FlashRouters.
There is no free trial available and only one flat subscription plan: monthly. But it’s the most affordable monthly plan on this list and comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee (except for cash payments). There is no live chat.
It has unlimited simultaneous connections with over 800 servers in over 50 countries, focusing on OpenVPN servers. Just like ExpressVPN, the company behind Surfshark is located in the British Virgin Islands, where there are no data retention laws. It doesn’t save logs about user activity but only those necessary to manage accounts.
Surfshark works with Netflix and allows torrenting. Although not the strongest on this list, speed tests were fair in our tests. But it has the cheapest 2-year plan from here. Plus, the app comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.
The VPN client is just as important as the router’s firmware. It’s better to opt for a premium service that supports the OpenVPN protocol, multiple servers in many countries, favorable jurisdiction and logging policy, as well as excellent customer support. Once you build a VPN router, you can share the VPN connection with all devices in range, allowing them to benefit from secure browsing.
We’d love to know what you think makes a good VPN tool for router configuration, as well as what your go-to options are, so please don’t hesitate to drop us a comment in the section below.