Does A VPN Use Mobile Data?

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Does A VPN Use Mobile Data?

Updated: January 1st, 2018

Yes, but only a teeny tiny bit.

The way a VPN works requires that a couple more "packets" are transmitted every time you perform an action online (to actually encrypt your data), which uses up a fraction more data than transmitting without a VPN connection. So on your mobile phone 3/4G internet connection, if you are on a VPN, yes, your VPN will be using data -- just a super small amount. 

We recommend using a trusted VPN provider to make sure your mobile data is not being used up (some VPNs do this without your knowledge). For this reason, we suggest using a VPN like ExpressVPN

Detailed Answer

VPNs are arguably one of the most essential applications to have installed and running on your smartphone in today's heavy surveillance and data-monitoring climate. There are a huge selection of highly sophisticated VPN services available, 99% of which offer incredibly inexpensive plans to use their service. 

In this detailed answer to the question, "does a VPN use mobile data?" we will answer this question as fully as possible -- along with all follow up questions surrounding this common query. 

So does a VPN use my mobile data?

Yes it does. A VPN achieves its goal of privatising and cloaking your online behaviour by adding a layer of encryption to every data packet that is transmitted. A data packet is -- to super-over-simplify it -- each group of 'bits' of information that is sent from and to your smartphone each and every time you perform an online action like going to, opening an app, downloading/uploading anything, etc. 

So to have each of these packets privacy-protected, a VPN places a few extra bits of data onto each packet to encrypt them accordingly. These extra bits of encryption obviously equal more bits of data being transmitted in the end, which adds up to more mobile data being used. 

Thus, technically it is true that a VPN uses mobile data. However, it is important to understand exactly how much mobile data a VPN uses on average. So let's go into this now.

How much mobile data does a VPN use?

Understanding how much of your mobile data a VPN uses is vital, since this is basically what you really want to know by asking the main question in this post. 

The amount of mobile data that a VPN uses depends entirely on the type of protocol you choose to connect to the VPN through. You see, every VPN provider offers multiple protocols to connect via, with the most common being L2TP, OpenVPN and PPTP. 

Each of these protocols attribute differing levels of "overhead" to each data packet transmitted on your mobile device. To put this another way, L2TP uses more data than OpenVPN, with PPTP using the least data of the three. 

A practical example of this was done by Quora user Rose Ab. She tested and tracked the VPN on her mobile device to monitor the difference in MB traffic when downloading the same file both with and without a VPN connection. Her results showed that by downloading a single 50.4MB HTTP file without a VPN, 51.5MB of data was used; whereas 57.7MB was used to download the same file when connected to a VPN. 

This is just one such example that potentially shows the level of data usage a VPN takes up, however there are a lot of variables to consider in order to really define the exact percentage of data usage a VPN takes up. With that said, lets take a look at some ways you can minimise the amount of data your VPN will use. 

What can I do to minimise the amount of mobile data my VPN uses?

There are ways to reduce the overall amount of data your VPN will use up, so it's worth looking at these and seeing the pros + cons between each recommendation. 

First and foremost, as mentioned in the last section, you have the option of different protocols you can connect to your VPN through. Each of these protocols differ in the amount of data they use, thus, if you really care about reducing the (already small) amount of data used by your VPN, then you can connect through an L2TP protocol and save some precious extra data bits. 

However, one important caveat with basing your protocol choice on data usage alone, is that each protocol uses less or more data than the other for a very good reason: level of encryption. 

That's right, the reason L2TP uses less data than OpenVPN is because OpenVPN offers a higher level of encryption to your connection, and higher encryption = more privacy protection security. With privacy protection being the main reason 99.999% of people choose to use a VPN on their mobile device, it would be quite counter intuitive to compromise on this for the sake of decreasing an already negligible amount of data usage incurred by using the VPN. 

Another even less significant consideration to reduce the mobile data used by your VPN is to connect to a server location as close to your actual physical location as possible. Why? By doing this you reduce the "ping" time of your connection, which means you increase the speed of your connection. This makes a difference by proxy (pun intended!) to decrease VPN data usage simply by reducing the overall time-intensiveness of any one online action you perform. 


To conclude this answer I will reiterate the main takeaway -- that yes, a VPN will use your mobile data, however the actual usage amount is insignificant, especially considering the incredibly sophisticated level of encryption (privacy protection) that is given to you in that tiny data usage increase. 

If you want to try out some VPNs on your mobile device, a great place to start is our list of the top ten best VPN providers, which you can find right here.

We recommend using the VPN provider ExpressVPN, as this provider has proven to be the best for users worried about their VPN using mobile data. Check them out by clicking here.

Article Name
Does a VPN Use Mobile Data?
The answer to the common question of whether a VPN uses mobile data or not.
Chris Beattie

3 Answers

  1. Mark
    March 18, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    Hi I’m a little confused by the comments below. They seem to contradict each other.

    ‘To put this another way, L2TP uses more data than OpenVPN, with PPTP using the least data of the three.’

    ‘…the reason L2TP uses less data than OpenVPN is because OpenVPN offers a higher level of encryption to your connection, and higher encryption = more privacy protection security.’

    Which protocol adds the least amount of overhead (i.e., uses the least amount of additional data to perform encryption)?


  2. Bill
    September 18, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    I am very confused. I use VPNs as I live in the UAE and most of the VOIP communication apps (and others) are blocked, and so the only way to use these is by connecting to a VPN. For example Viber calling and Whatsapp calling can only happen when connected to certain VPNs. In addition, they seem to block VPNs on a weekly basis, and so often we must change the VPN we use here regularly. Yes, very annoying and very frustrating. However, in relation to the main question, I find that and of the VPNs i use actually use up an incredible amount of my monthly data. For example, this month I was using a new VPN and I noticed my data (3gb) was being used up at an incredible rate. When i looked on my phone at which apps were consuming my data, the VPN was by far the greatest consumer- in fact it had used up almost 2gb in a matter of 10 days!!! I stopped using it and tried a different one. SAme result. Any VPN I use tends to use up much of my data. So I am unsure if I am doing something wrong, or should I do something with settings? I noticed that much of the data used was “background” data usage. I am not sure what this means, but I disallowed this option now- although I think it prevents the VPN from actually working. Any suggestions?

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