Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are the ideal way to protect your privacy and hide your location from snooping eyes on the internet. They are also essential if you are working from home and accessing company data following the COVID-19 pandemic. But as you may have noticed, this can come at the cost of a slower connection.
The good news is that there are various things you can do to fix this, and below you'll find seven methods of speeding up your VPN.
Before you do anything, disconnect from your VPN and run a broadband speed test to check what speed you're currently getting. Then run it again when connected to the VPN to see if the problem really does lie with the VPN, or with your broadband provider. It pays to know roughly what speed you can expect from your un-cloaked connection so you can more quickly see if your VPN server is the issue in future.
1. Pick the fastest server
A VPN will route your data through one or more servers in order to hide your location to any outside observers. Some of these will perform better than others, so if you're experiencing problems then it's worth manually selecting an alternative.
In the VPN app there will usually be a list of servers. If you’re playing an online game then you’ll want to keep latency to a minimum, and this is best achieved by using one that is geographically near to you. If displayed, look for the lowest ping and choose that server. PureVPN is one provider which shows ping - most don't.
If you’re in the UK and the selected server is in Australia, then any game data will travel to there and back again before being displayed on your screen. This can cause lag, and therefore have a detrimental effect on response times.
If you're using a VPN for watching Netflix, or general browsing, shouldn’t find distance to be an issue as ping time is more important for time-critical applications. But if you're getting stuttering or buffering problems, that's simply because the connection speed is too slow to stream the video at the selected quality. To fix it, try a different server if there are multiple servers in the country you need (such as the US), as the one you’re connected to could be overloaded with other users.
Remember if you're using the VPN to circumvent regionally locked content then you'll need to choose the country in which the service you're viewing is based. So, for access to the American version of Netflix you'll need a server in the US.
2. Try a wired connection
A simple solution that’s always worth trying is to plug your laptop or PC directly into the router. This can bypass any performance issues that your Wi-Fi might be experiencing. Naturally, this isn't an option if you're using a phone or tablet.
3. Choose a different protocol
When using a VPN, data is encrypted by software. This add that security and privacy we were talking about, but does have an associated cost in terms of performance.
If you’re not using a VPN as a security measure, but instead for watching region-locked content, then reducing your encryption levels might help alleviate any bottlenecks in the system. Commonly used protocols are the OpenVPN or IKEv2/IPsec, but you could try other options such as L2TP/IPsec instead (avoid L2TP if possible for when security is important).
The protocols on offer will vary between VPN providers and also which operating system you're using, but dive into the settings and have a look. You can always change it back to the original or default setting if it makes no improvement.
4. Change the port
Alongside adjusting the protocol and security settings there's also port selection to consider. When a VPN connects to the web it does so through a predetermined port. While this is usually fine, some networks can throttle or restrict the use of said port, which will in-turn cause you problems.
Take a look at the settings in your VPN and see if there is an option to alter the port it uses. If so, try opting for the one numbered 443, as this is a common fix for VPN speed issues linked to port selection.
5. Turn off your firewall and antivirus software
In much the same way as encryption can overload the amount of work your PC has to do to process data, antivirus and firewall settings can be a burden. If you’re really struggling with performance then you could try turning them off temporarily, and seeing if that improves your situation.
If this does fix the problem, you'll want to look for an alterative package that doesn't cause the problem. Don't just run your PC without this software.
6. Reset your device
Finally, have you tried turning it off and on again? There’s a reason why that catchphrase from the IT Crowd has stuck around – because it’s often the easiest solution to many problems!
Try this on both your PC and router, or your phone or tablet, then hopefully you’ll see your bits run free across the digital Serengeti once more.
7. Change your VPN provider
A somewhat extreme option, but some VPN providers are faster than others. If the one you're currently using isn't fast enough for you, then consider switching to another. Do bear in mind, though, that VPN speeds will change depending on the time of day, day of the week and other factors (including server selection as we outlined in method 1). This is why it's so difficult to test whether one VPN is faster than another.
It can also mean that if you just wait an hour or two and then try again, you might well find speeds improve. Admittedly, that advice isn't much use if you're trying to watch a video right now while you have time, but it is true.
Since quite a few VPN providers offer refunds or free trials, you can at least download their app, sign up and try out the service. Once again, check out our roundup of the best VPN services for our recommendations of the top 10 to try.