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MPLS vs. VPN: what’s the difference?

VPNs and MPLS systems are two different technological solutions for online privacy. So how do they work? And which one should you choose?

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez

Jun 29, 2021 · 3 min read

MPLS vs. VPN: what’s the difference?

What is an MPLS?

First, let’s discuss how the “normal” routing works. When you visit any website on your browser, there are a lot of interesting things happening in the backend. Your web requests are divided into small pieces called packets. Each packet carries information about its destination and where it’s coming from. Routers forward packets to other routers and this is how they move across the network.

While two packets might travel to the same destination, they can take different routes.

How does MPLS work? Multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) is a data forwarding technique, in which labels are assigned to each packet. These labels determine how that packet should travel, and can create a private network. Since the packets are labeled between their transition from layer 2 (responsible for transferring data between nodes) to layer 3 (responsible for packet forwarding and routing), it can be called a “layer 2.5 protocol”.

Let’s take a simple analogy to understand MLPS. Imagine a bus traveling from point A to point B. While it takes multiple stops along the way, it always sticks to the same route. In traditional routing, every time a bus travels from point A to point B, it takes a different route. That’s why MPLS is different.

What is a VPN?

A VPN (virtual private network) redirects all your internet data through an encrypted tunnel and masks your IP address. Nobody can see what you do on online, what websites you visit, or where you're based.

NordVPN app allows you to access the internet in restrictive environments, bypass bandwidth throttling, improve your security, and enhance your privacy. There are multiple interesting VPN uses that make it an appealing choice for all kinds of users.

You can install the NordVPN app on your laptop, smartphone, router, and other devices and enjoy multiple VPN features.

What are the differences between MPLS systems and VPNs?

  • Security. Since an MPLS system is a private network, it’s considered to be quite secure. However, it doesn’t encrypt your data, so if it’s intercepted, it can be viewed by anyone. A VPN, on the other hand, provides users with encryption, protecting you from hackers, snoopers, internet service providers, and anyone interested in your online activities.
  • User experience. VPN apps are user friendly, and you don't need to have any technical background to navigate them. You can download the app, set up an account, and connect to a server with one click.

    It’s a different story with MPLS, as it requires an extensive configuration on your router. Setting up the MPLS network yourself is only advisable if you know what you’re doing. Otherwise, leave this task to IT administrators.

  • Speed. Since packets in MPLS networks travel in predetermined ways, routers don’t need to perform an IP lookup in every step. This means the whole routing process consumes fewer computing resources. An MPLS system can be beneficial when speed is an important factor, especially when running real-time applications.

    The closer you are to a VPN server, the faster your connection is. If you’re based in Spain and you connect to a server in France, the distance between you and a VPN server is short. But if you connect to a server in Australia, your web requests have to travel half of the globe to be processed.

    NordVPN has more than 5500 servers in 59 countries, allowing users to choose the fastest servers available. The app also supports the NordLynx protocol, which combines ultra-fast speeds with advanced security.

  • Usability. VPNs are used by both consumers and enterprises to securely access corporate networks. While you can set up an MPLS at home, most of the time it’s used by small and medium businesses to create a private network.
  • Cost. MPLS solutions are typically more expensive than a VPN, as you’ll have to pay for your data every month. Internet service providers can set up the whole MPLS infrastructure and maintain it for you, but this obviously increases the cost.

    Even high-quality VPNs are much cheaper. For example, you can buy a NordVPN subscription for just a couple of dollars a month.

The final verdict

Comparing an MLPS network and a VPN doesn’t give us a clear winner: really, it’s apples and oranges. These are different technologies, serving different purposes.

Their only similarity is that they both create a private network. For those looking to enhance their digital wellbeing and secure themselves at home or at work, however, a VPN is a better option.

NordVPN also offers services for businesses, allowing you to protect your whole team with a VPN and guarantee secure access to corporate networks.

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