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Does a VPN decrease internet speed? Yes, but if you're using a good VPN, you probably won't notice. The amount by which your connection is slowed down should be so small that it doesn't impact your online activity. There are also some situations in which using a VPN can actually improve your overall speed. Read on to find out more.
May 04, 2022 · 8 min read
At its core, a VPN's job is to encrypt your connection and send it through a secure VPN server. Because a VPN adds extra steps between you and the Internet, it’s bound to slow down your connection somewhat. However, there are tips you can use to reduce the impact, and we’ll even see cases later where a premium service like NordVPN can make your connection faster!
So, what really causes latency? Below are a few aspects we should consider.
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 60 countries.
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. NordVPN's Quick Connect button comes in handy here because it automatically picks the best server to give you the fastest speeds possible.
Encryption is the key feature of virtual private networks. It makes your online traffic inaccessible to hackers and snoopers, letting you browse in 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.
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: the 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.
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 any content- or user-specific speed limitations imposed by your ISP.
In some cases, a VPN can actually make your internet faster. This happens when your ISP uses bandwidth throttling to target you, artificially slowing down your connection to release pressure on the wider network. There are two main ways in which a VPN can help:
In most cases, you can expect your internet speed to take a hit when using a VPN. That's because your traffic is being routed through a VPN server, creating one extra step in the data transfer process. But using the right tools, techniques, and settings, you can achieve the best VPN speed possible. Check out these 9 tips:
If your connection is slow to begin with, your VPN isn’t the bad guy here. Run a quick test and check your internet speed with and without a VPN. This will help you determine whether your VPN is responsible for the slowdown or if you simply need to upgrade your internet plan or hardware.
Premium VPNs like NordVPN come with extra security settings and other features that can change your VPN speed. Go to Advanced Settings on the NordVPN app and try switching to a different internet protocol if available. Choose UDP for a faster connection, but be ready to accept the risk of possible instability. If you'd rather have a slower but more stable connection, go for TCP.
Either way, you can switch between these two as many times as you want. Keep in mind that “slower” and “faster” are relative – you probably won't notice any difference until you're pushing the limits of your connection. NordVPN also offers NordLynx, a lightning-fast protocol that balances powerful encryption with rapid speeds.
Depending on your device, platform, and VPN, you may be able to change the type of encryption you’re using. But before playing with protocols, study their differences and find out about any possible risks associated with them (read about different protocols here). For ultimate security, pick the OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPsec protocols used on the NordVPN apps.
This one is as simple as it sounds. If your router/modem is running slower because of memory leaks or other issues, an old-fashioned restart will probably help. Also, remember that a VPN connection on your router will probably be slower than connecting to the VPN from your device (unless you have a very powerful router). If you've set up your VPN on your router and the speed is too low, you may want to use the VPN primarily on your computer/phone only. Never use both at the same time, as this will make your connection even slower!
If you chose a server far from your actual location, it could slow down your internet speed. Connecting to a closer server may help increase your VPN speed. Try it yourself – NordVPN's simple interface makes globetrotting with your connection a breeze.
Wi-Fi is awesome, but it can cost you some speed, especially if you connect multiple devices to the same network. Wireless connections use a shared channel to transmit data to many computers and phones in your home, which can slow down your speeds. If you can, consider switching to a wired connection to enjoy faster connectivity.
Your computer or smartphone may just be “tired.” Give it a fresh start by turning it off and on. This is another old-fashioned trick, but it could help you get the best VPN speed available.
Free VPNs can be a tempting option, but there's always a cost, even if it's not money. Most free VPNs find other ways to make a profit, and will often sell your data as a way to cover their costs. They're also more likely to provide slower speed, less stability, and (most importantly) poor security.
On the other hand, premium VPNs can afford to maintain proper server networks with strong encryption protocols, giving you a much better user experience. Their business model also relies on customers being genuinely satisfied, so they're usually much more focused on providing privacy and security.
These tricks should help make your VPN connection run faster. Try them and see which one works best for you.
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.
Your optimal internet speed is defined by the activities you use it for. While 25-30 Mbps can be considered pretty good for an average home user, it’s not really a one size fits all kind of answer.
Think about the amount of internet-connected devices in your household. How many users will be online simultaneously? While sending an email won’t take up a lot of bandwidth, activities like gaming have higher and more specific speed requirements.
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.
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.
Here's a quick and easy way to perform a VPN speed test:
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.
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.
Overall, these experiments point to one thing: a good quality service like NordVPN won't slow your internet connection down by a perceptible amount. You can enjoy all the benefits high-quality encryption without compromising on speed.
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. We recommend connecting to special servers optimized for secure streaming.
A VPN won’t significantly increase your data usage, but this depends on the provider and protocol used. The usage usually increases by around 5-10% due to the encryption process. In terms of speed, your VPN can only be as fast as your internet 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.