Does a VPN Affect Speed?
Updated: March 30, 2016
Yes. When you connect to the internet through a VPN, you will experience some speed loss on your network connection. The level of speed loss you experience will vary depending on the VPN service provider you use, which server location you connect to, and the sophistication of encryption you place on your network connection.
A VPN is the best solution to any online user that wants to optimise their privacy protection and unblocking of online content without requiring a significant amount of technical "know how" or a big budget.
With that said, if you place very high priority on having the most optimal connection speeds (i.e. you place this higher than you online privacy protection) then a VPN may not align with this. The very nature of VPN technology is such that losing internet speed is inevitable, as encrypting your data requires a more sophisticated internet connection.
However, the speed loss suffered by using a VPN does not have to be significant at all. How much speed loss you incur depends highly on the VPN provider you choose and how you go about connecting to the VPN. Let's look at this in more detail now.
How significantly does a VPN affect speed?
This is real question to ask when discussing VPNs and the speed loss incurred therein. Why? Because although speed loss is inevitable; you can minimise it to make the actual loss incredibly insignificant. I will explain this in the next section, but for now here's a general overview of why and how much speed loss is generally suffered when connected to a VPN:
Generally speaking, you can expect to lose anywhere between 10 to 15% speed on your internet connection when connected through a VPN. However, this can be as low as 2% speed loss depending on a variety of factors that are well within your control.
All in all, a solid 80% of VPN providers available today will give a loss of speed that really does not affect your online experience in any real significant way. You websites will load mere milliseconds later than normal, downloads/uploads will take a fraction longer than a non-VPN connection and video calls may experience some quality degradation.
What can I do to minimise the speed loss?
Here is where you have a lot of say in just how much speed loss you need to deal with when using a VPN. Personalising exactly how you connect to your VPN can make a big difference to the amount of speed loss produced. These fall into five factors that you have the ability to customise:
When you choose a server to connect through, if you select a server located as close to your actual location as possible, this will reduce the "ping" time. Basically, your online behaviour is transmitted via whichever server you choose, so by reducing this distance you will reduce the time it takes to transmit each and every action you perform online.
Before connecting to your VPN, you will have the option (with 99% of high quality VPN providers) of which protocol you want to connect through. Most common protocols are OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP. Between these -- and any other your specific VPN may offer -- there is no real consistently "fastest" protocol to connect through, but if your VPN is causing too much speed loss for you then it's definitely worth disconnecting and reconnecting through a different protocol. Be aware though, that each protocol comes with its own pros and cons, especially regarding level of encryption.
There are a variety of factors based on your standard ISP (Internet Service Provider) connection quality and limitations that can affect the level of your VPN speed loss. Essentially, if your ISP offers a specific speed (very high/average/low) or you connect via a specific method (wireless/3G/cable) then this will make a difference on your speed loss through a VPN. For example, it is quite common to experience much more speed loss through a VPN if your ISP offers very high speeds, like 75-100Mbps (VPN can drop this to almost 40% slower) than you would experience with a more modest ISP speed of say 50mbs (VPN can drop this just 10-15%).
Firewall setup on your device
Not a major factor to VPNs, but worth checking -- many devices have a default firewall setup that won't directly affect a VPN connection but may be affecting the actual CPU of your device, which can cause some speed loss to your internet connection in general.
Lastly, it will serve you well to do some research and try a few VPN providers before settling on the one that gives you the most consistent performance. Performance consistency between each VPN provider definitely varies. Some VPNs place much more emphasis on encryption sophistication, while others choose to not go so deep with this in order to give a more consistent connection speed and reliability across all servers offered on their VPN service. You want to find that sweet spot between these two so you get a reliable-yet-still-highly-privacy-protecting VPN connection.
Is there an alternative way to protect privacy and/or unblock websites without losing speed?
That will protect your privacy like a good VPN does? No. There is not.
However, if you are looking for a way to get access to geo-restricted content and care not for protecting your privacy, then there are definitely alternative methods outside a VPN that will accomplish this for you. Namely, SmartDNS and proxy services. These will effectively allow you to change your IP address, which will allow you to access various blocked online content and services.
In conclusion, although speed loss when using a VPN is inevitable, it does not need to be significant at all. By taking some extra time to choose a top quality VPN provider and setup your connection through a server located as close to you as possible, through a protocol that best suits your priorities of speed against encryption sophistication -- you can definitely minimise this loss down to a very insignificant level.