If you are considering to encrypt your online activity using a VPN you are, sooner or later, faced with choosing the best VPN vendor to sign up with. With hundreds of VPN vendors making similar promises and thousands of phony reviews to sift through, this task may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. To choose the best provider for your needs you only need to answer a few key questions.
What Really is a VPN Provider?
It doesn’t take much to run a VPN service, a server, software, an Internet connection and the ability to accept payments and they are good to go. On the other side of the spectrum you have VPN providers that own their network and servers and some even write their own software. It is often hard to tell from looking at a provider’s website where exactly they fall.
Unfortunately searching for VPN reviews isn’t of much use either, because many review websites are less then genuine in their recommendations as most of them earn commissions when you sign up with their providers, if they even reviewed anything themselves and didn’t just scrape reviews from other sites.
What Should You Look For?
The easiest way to select a VPN provider is not by simply comparing VPN providers against each other, but by comparing your needs to what a vendor has to offer.
Location isn’t just important for real estate, but also for VPN vendors, here’s the scoop:
Server Locations – The closer you are physically located to a VPN server the faster your connection will be, because of less network elements and distance between you and the server. If you plan on using a VPN to access region restricted content, online content not available from your current location, then it is important that the VPN provider has a server in the region where you want to access content. If you have ever wanted to watch Hulu from outside the US you know what I am talking about.
IP addresses – Your IP address identifies you and determines your location on the Internet, who you are and what you are allowed, or not allowed, to access. A VPN allows you to spoof your IP address to hide your identity, and in most cases more importantly, your real location, or to put it differently, to remain anonymous and access content that may otherwise be restricted.
VPN vendors boast about the number of IP addresses they offer, the more the better, but where those IP addresses are located is equally as important, therefore check if a VPN vendor has VPN servers and IP addresses in locations where you need them to be.
Jurisdiction – If anonymity and privacy are of high priority to you, it is important to consider where a VPN vendor is legally located. You want to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to gain access to a provider’s data and ways of identifying your activity. The two major questions to ask are: (1) How well does a country’s legal system protect your privacy and (2) how difficult would it be for a bother country to gain access to your data? Hint: Consider VPN providers located in countries other than the one you are located in AND with good laws protecting an individual’s privacy.
The term ‘VPN protocols’ refers to the software a VPN provider uses to establish a secure connection to your device. Two aspects are important, the security each VPN protocol offers and if your devices can run the software required. A quick visit to the VPN provider’s website should suffice to determine if your devices are compatible with a VPN provider’s requirements. For more information on the security aspect check out VPN Protocols (link)
Most VPN providers allow you to connect with several devices at once, concurrent connections, but not all of them do. If you want to connect more than one device at a time, say your PC and your mobile phone, make sure the VPN provider offers concurrent connections without an additional charge.
Information Logging – Many people consider this a fringe topic or never consider information logging at all, not so fast though! If your reason to subscribe to a commercial VPN is increased privacy and anonymity then you should care about what information a VPN provider logs and for how long they keep those logs. After all, you don’t want to replace one evil with another!
When you connect to the Internet through a VPN, all your Internet traffic gets routed through the VPN provider’s network, hence the VPN provider has the ability to see your every move. Servers can log everything from the IP address you were connecting from to what sites you visited etc… Ideally a VPN provider does not log anything about your connection, not even where you connected from, or if they do, they delete those logs quickly enough to not be able to provide any information to third parties, such as law enforcement or the copyright police… A VPN providers terms and conditions and privacy statement will shed light on their logging policies, and if they don’t, email the provider and get clarification on this before signing up with their service.
Price – Bluntly put, most provider’s pricing is about the same, hence I don’t consider pricing to be much of a deciding factor. Expect to pay around USD 60/year for unlimited service. Some providers offer free service, usually it isn’t the fastest or best supported and then there are a few providers with astronomical pricing. You decide!
Support – Nowadays you will need very little support to setup VPN service, because most services offer software to automate the process specific to your operating system; point and click, easy!
If you do need to contact support, few provider offer phone support, most offer support via chat or email, which is sufficient in most cases. I prefer the ability to chat with a support agent (real-time chat) rather than email exchanges that can easily stretch over days if not weeks.
Putting it All Togehter
Not all VPN vendors are created equal, with the most obvious difference being price, but it is the less obvious that makes the difference.
The best VPN providers own their own network, their servers and preferably write their own software. During day-to-day use connection speed and server locations are the most important aspects of any provider, because those directly impact your Internet experience. Your proximity to the nearest VPN server is key, the closer the server the faster the connection.
If you are watching a lot of region restricted content then IP addresses in the regions you want to watch content in are a must. Support is a nice to have, but not a must.
Choosing a VPN provider that fits your needs is easier than it might appear, if you keep the above tips in mind. To get you started, here are a few providers we use ourselves:
Image Credit: up to 2011