Normal speed vs. VPN speed
Before you start worrying about your speed when you use a VPN, you should learn your real internet speed. Technically, it’s the speed outlined in your internet service provider’s (ISP) data plan. You can use an internet speed test like Ookla to find out your actual speed.
Note that your internet speed may not always be the same. While some of it depends on network congestion, you may also face internet throttling. Throttling occurs when an ISP decides to limit the speeds on some ways of using the internet.
Online gaming, video streaming, BitTorrent protocols all take a lot of bandwidth. ISPs are tempted to throttle them to have a freer network and service more users without investing in infrastructure. We have outlined the ways you can check if your internet is throttled in another article.
You might see a drop in internet speed when connecting via a VPN. Why?
To make your connection really Private, VPNs use encryption protocols. The encryption takes up a bit of bandwidth. The fancier the encryption protocol, the more bandwidth is needed. Premium VPNs like Surfshark use AES 256-bit encryption – the gold standard in the VPN industry.
Aside from these security measures, a lot is riding on the servers themselves. First, there’s the geographical separation. The further away your chosen VPN server is, the more significant the loss of bandwidth will be as it will take more time for the information to travel. That’s why Surfshark automatically connects to the fastest server, which most often turns out to be the closest one as well (either in your country or in the geographically closest one).
Another thing to consider is the server capacity. If you’re connecting to a popular VPN server (maybe you’re trying to watch the latest Netflix series on launch and so is everyone else), the server load is higher, which slows down your connection.
Oh, and a funny tidbit: remember how we mentioned internet throttling? Well, if your ISP does “traffic shaping,” then a VPN can actually make your internet faster. For the ISP to selectively throttle your internet, it has to know what you’re doing online.
When a VPN encrypts your traffic, it shields it from ISP’s scans. That way, you may actually experience a speed increase when using services your ISP is throttling.
How to see if a VPN is slowing down your internet
Running a test on how a VPN impacts your internet speed is as easy (or easier) as pie and takes less time.
- First of all, you should get on an internet speed test website. Everybody uses Ookla, and so can you. Run the first test without a VPN. This is your baseline speed, and it’s unlikely to get any faster.
- Now, connect to a VPN server. If you have an app like Surfshark, let it automatically connect to the closest server. Unsurprisingly, this will likely be the nearest server to you geographically.
- Now rerun the test. You should notice some loss of speed, though it should be barely noticeable.
- You can now run a few more experiments. Connect to VPN servers that are further and further away. You should notice a pattern where the remoteness of a server causes more speed drops.
As a more fun thing, you can now try to see if your ISP is throttling your internet.
- First off, try using Netflix’s Fast.com test without a VPN. Then switch the VPN on and see if there’s a difference.
- Want to see if your ISP is blocking other services? Download the free Wehe speed test app, which can run a variety of tests. A university-sponsored project, it helps them with their research into net neutrality violations.
How to avoid VPN internet slowdowns
There are some ways to avoid VPN slowing down your internet too much. Try them out for the best user experience.
Switch server location
This one is the easiest way to do it. Try to connect to the server closest to you geographically or try several other nearby servers.
Try a different protocol
Most VPN apps can operate on different encryption protocols, which use different approaches to encryption. For example, OpenVPN is very willing to sacrifice resources to increase security. You can switch to IKEv2 to increase speed without compromising security.
Mess with OpenVPN
If you’re using the OpenVPN protocol, your VPN app can allow you to switch between TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) or UDP (User Datagram Protocol). Surfshark definitely allows you to do that, so try it out and see which one allows for faster internet speed.
Not all VPN clients support this feature, but it allows you to connect via TWO VPN servers. And even though they may be located in two different countries, it may, in some cases, increase your internet speed.
Reboot your device
Your PC/phone/tablet or whatever other thing you’re using a VPN on may be having a software issue. Try restarting it.
Restart your router
There are reasons why it’s OK to restart software from time to time. Try doing that with your router.
Ditch some software
Some security software – like firewalls and anti-virus programs – may be slowing down the connection with their security measures. If you know that your VPN provides adequate protection from such threats, you may turn those programs off.
Wi-Fi is convenient. You can take your device wherever you want, and you’ll still get an online connection. However, a Wi-Fi connection has to share multiple channels, which makes it slower. In fact, your internet would be faster if you used a wire. So if it’s an option, think about taking it.
For a more in-depth look into these methods, we recommend reading the Surfshark guide on how to boost VPN speed.
VPNs and internet speed: a summary
The question of whether VPN slows down your internet connection is a natural one. The drop shouldn’t be significant – and in some cases, you may even experience a boost.
If you want to speed up a VPN connection, there are several things you can do. Premium VPN clients offer many options. For those who want to experiment with servers, switch protocols, and experience Multihop, we recommend Surfshark.