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Does VPN decrease Internet speed? Let’s test it

Does a VPN slow down internet? And does a VPN affect speed? Don't let these concerns stop you from using a VPN. The fear of VPN latency is often overstated, especially since internet speed depends on a number of factors.

Elle Friberg

Elle Friberg

Feb 17, 2021 · 5 min read

Does VPN decrease Internet speed? Let’s test it

Yes, a VPN will always slightly decrease your internet speed, as it adds a number of steps that were not present in your connection before. Namely, the encryption process and connection to a remote server. However, premium VPNs are designed to mitigate the impact of latency until it becomes barely noticeable. Incidentally, A VPN can even increase your internet speed.

What affects Internet speed?

So, what really causes latency? Below are a few aspects we should consider.

    1. Distance to a server

      Shorter distances between you and the VPN server improve internet speed. For example, if you’re in the UK and connecting to a server in Australia, it is a substantial distance for a data packet to travel. So the nearer a server is located, the faster the internet speed will be. Unless you need to connect to a server in specific location, it's better to choose VPN servers in nearby countries or the one you're in. To help reduce VPN latency as much as possible, search for a high speed VPN service provider with a broad country coverage and a large number of servers, like NordVPN which offers 5200+ servers in over 50 countries.

    2. Server load

      When there are too many users connected to one server, the connection speed drops. Overload issues are common among free and slow VPNs that cram too many users into too few servers in the hope that being “free” is enough to gain users. Users of premium VPNs with extensive servers should never face latency. Here's where NordVPN's Quick Connect button comes in handy – it automatically picks theist server to give you the fastest speeds possible.

    3. Quality of encryption

      Encryption is the key feature of virtual private networks. It makes your online traffic inaccessible to hackers and snoopers, letting you can browse in total privacy. However, the way encryption is handled depends on the VPN service provider, which can cause latency if executed poorly.

      Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is the block cipher algorithm used as the current encryption standard. It may come in different levels of strength, such as 128-bit, 192-bit, and 256-bit encryption. The higher the encryption level, the more reliable the protection of your data. Before becoming the most frequently used algorithm in ciphering data, AES with 256-bit keys was used by the US government to secure classified information, and by the NSA to protect national security data.

      The strongest type of AES is what you should be looking for in a VPN. However, there is a small tradeoff you have to make: security and privacy supported by the strongest available encryption can produce latency and lower internet speeds.

      So, it’s a matter of preference: do you prioritize maximum speed or data protection against snoopers? In terms of NordVPN security, next-generation AES-256 encryption implemented into the IKEv2/IPsec and OpenVPN security protocols gives users incredibly powerful data protection.

    4. Internet speed offered by your ISP

      If your Internet speed is low to begin with, a VPN won’t be the only culprit of sluggish speeds. Sometimes, internet service providers (ISPs) throttle bandwidth on purpose. Users might experience this by their internet speed slowing down for specific websites or at certain times. As a user, this usually means that you won’t be able to stream videos or download content as fast as you normally would. In this situation, a VPN is a true lifesaver – by routing your internet traffic through a virtual private network, you can bypass the speed limitations imposed by your ISP.

VPN internet speed infographic

Will a VPN stop buffering?

Buffering issues are often a result of ISP throttling. If your ISP can see that you’ve been streaming a lot or consuming a large amount of bandwidth, they are more likely to throttle your speed. Since a VPN hides what you’re doing from your ISP, they can’t throttle your speed, which means you’ll have far less buffering issues.

Stream without interruptions with NordVPN!

How to check your VPN speed

To see how internet speed differs when connected to servers in different locations, run a speed test and take a look at the ping time. It shows the length of delays in the connection between your device and the server it’s communicating with. This will give you some inkling of how much latency you’re likely to experience.

To run a VPN speed test for NordVPN, we used the Ookla service for speed testing while connected to Wi-Fi. Without a VPN, using a local speed test server, the internet speed looked like this:

Speed No VPN

When connected to a recommended server via the auto-connect functionality, which picks an optimized server based on its load and geographical proximity, we noticed a slight decrease in the download and upload speed.

Speed Ukraine

When continuing to experiment by connecting to servers in geographically distant countries, we got varying results depending on the server location. Generally, the closer the server, the less the internet speed drops. That being said, some countries have faster internet speeds which can make your VPN faster.

Speed Estonia

Which country has the fastest connection?

South Korea has the fastest internet speed at 26.7 Mbps, compared to the global average speed of 5.5 Mbps. To put it into perspective, with South Korea’s speed, you could download an HD movie in seconds rather than hours. Sweden ranks second at 19.5 Mbps, followed closely by Norway (18.8 Mbps), Japan (17.5 Mbps), and the Netherlands (17.0 Mbps). Of the top 10 countries with the fastest internet speeds, Denmark has the lowest speeds of 16.1 Mbps, while Hong Kong, Latvia, Switzerland, and Finland all have speeds between 16.6 Mbps and 16.8 Mbps.

So, as you can see, the server location plays one of the main roles in speed performance and latency. If you use a VPN for simply browsing the web, you will experience little to no latency. If you use a VPN for watching video content securely, you might want to explore ways to make streaming faster. In this case, we recommend connecting to special servers optimized for secure streaming. You can also try out these tips on how to increase VPN speeds.

A VPN won’t significantly increase your data usage, but this depends on the provider and protocol used. The usage usually increases by around 5 or 10% due to the encryption process. In terms of speed, your VPN can only be as fast as your inetrnet connection. In fact, slight drops of around 10-20% in speed are absolutely normal when using a VPN, since their main priority should always be security and privacy.

If you want to see for yourself how fast NordVPN is, you can download the app today. Make sure you use a NordVPN coupon to get the best deal available.

Get NordVPN, and enjoy a 30 day money-back guarantee if you're not 100% satisfied.