Virtual Private Networks, also known as VPNs, have a range of useful functions. The secure, anonymous browsing available via VPN is used for a range of different purposes by people around the world. But while many web users are familiar with the idea that a VPN can keep prying eyes away from online banking transactions, and assist you in logging on to blocked websites from work or school, there are a range of things that VPNs can do which aren’t such common knowledge.
Accessing US Netflix from Australia or getting around similar geo-restrictions is just the tip of the iceberg. While privacy and security are focal points – because VPNs can secure public Wi-Fi networks and prevent people from tracking your behaviour online – Virtual Private Networks are also great ways to save money, and to get more for the money you spend.
- Get more free content online
An increasing number of websites are now implementing restrictions on how much content you can view for free, either per day, per month or overall. They register that your IP address has viewed a certain number of blog posts, videos or articles, and then they cut you off – sometimes requesting that you sign up to a subscription or paid account in order to access more.
If you connect via VPN you’re able to switch IPs, meaning every time you switch and open a new browsing window, those websites treat you like a brand new visitor. The result? Seemingly limitless access to otherwise limited content.
- Side-step phone tethering restrictions
Some mobile providers don’t let you tether your phone to other devices at all, while others charge additional fees for using data via tethering – so trying to use your mobile data to connect a tablet or laptop to the web is sometimes out of the question. Companies use a tactic called ‘deep packet inspection’ to monitor the traffic to their network via your connection, and to establish whether you’re trying to connect additional devices rather than just your own phone.
VPNs can get around this by cloaking your connection so that everything you’re doing is totally hidden. Your mobile service provider won’t be able to tell how many devices are using your connection, stopping those tethering restrictions from kicking in.
- Get cheaper flights & car rentals
There is a misconception that clearing your cache and cookies is enough to get you cheaper flights, because of the suspicion that some flight providers will gradually increase the prices shown to your IP address the more you view their options. In some instances this may make a small amount of difference, but if you’d rather save hundreds of dollars than a handful, using a VPN is the best way.
Airlines and car rental companies sometimes offer different rates to different locations, so a person booking a flight from Vietnam might pay a different price to a person booking the exact same journey from Brazil. Certain VPN services allow you to connect to the internet as if you’re in just about any country in the world, meaning you can get yourself flights and car hire at the discounted cost that someone on the other side of the planet might get them for. Not bad.
- Avoid speed throttling
It’s no longer a secret that internet providers around the globe are deliberately ‘throttling’ their customers’ web traffic, meaning much slower upload and download speeds. This can be to encourage people to pay for additional service packages, to lower the amount of data the provider has to process at a particularly busy time of day, or a number of other reasons. Regardless, it can be really frustrating when you’re trying to stream content or upload large files and find it taking way longer than usual.
A Virtual Private Network hides the specific variety of traffic that you’re creating online, for example catch-up streaming or music downloads. So if your provider is throttling speeds to particular things, like movie services or torrent sites, they won’t be able to spot the difference between you accessing one of those restricted services and accessing any other kind of page.
- Access cheaper VoIP calls
Voice over Internet Protocol – also known as VoIP – is best known under brand names like Skype, Viber and Google Hangouts. Akin to making a phone call over the internet instead of through a traditional telephone, VoIP is an extremely popular service because it makes keeping in touch easy almost regardless of where you are.
There are some countries which block VoIP use altogether, and much like airlines, many VoIP providers will charge different rates to users in different countries. Log on with a VPN instead of an ordinary, unencrypted connection and not only can you get around any geo-restrictions that might be in place, you can save money on the price of your calls by connecting through an IP registered to a lower-cost country.
- Host a long-distance LAN party
It’s not the first thing that springs to mind for a lot of people, but to the avid gamer the ability to host LAN parties without actually being in the same room as you coplayers is not to be overlooked. Local Area Network gaming sessions usually only work if you’re actually connected over the same network, and older PC games with multiplayer options sometimes aren’t compatible with online multiplayer in the traditional sense.
If you want to host a LAN gaming gathering but the other people playing aren’t in the neighbourhood, getting everyone to connect via the same VPN is a simple away to work around the technology and trick the game into thinking you’re all on the same network.
- Shop more easily abroad
Another use for a Virtual Private Network that’s often overlooked is shopping abroad. Maybe it’s because a sale started at your favourite shop while you were on holiday, or you remembered you needed to order something for when you got home – but when you tried to access the website, an error message explained that this store doesn’t serve your current location.
As well as securing your payments in online shopping by encrypting your web connection, VPNs can help you shop as if you’re at home – or abroad – meaning no barriers to accessing last-minute deals and purchases.
There are a whole range of uses for VPNs outside of the obvious, and whether you plan to spend most of your time online shopping or streaming it’s worthwhile downloading a VPN to ensure that your privacy and security aren’t compromised – and to make sure you’re getting the best deals on the other online services you use.
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Founder Dinis Guarda
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