Having a slow-to-crawl VPN can be frustrating at best, and especially when you don't know why. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to determine what has blocked your service.
Think of your VPN connection as an encrypted tunnel, connecting your device to the VPN server in order to secure each data packet passing through it. The tunnel is made up of encryption protocols and standards, and you should expect a slight loss of speed when connecting to your VPN due to these additional security steps.
However, the keyword lightweight. You should not experience more than 10-20% loss compared to your standard connection.
How do you know if your VPN is slow?
To identify the cause of a slow VPN, put it under the microscope with the following tests:
Test your speed with VPN disabled
In some cases, a VPN will not be to blame. It is best to check if your Internet connection is slowing you down.
It's pretty easy to find out – just log out of your VPN and run an ISP speed test. You can do this through your ISP's website or elsewhere online – Ofcom, Which, and OOKLA all offer free and painless services that allow you to measure your speed with one click.
Performing this test ensures that you get basic Internet speed with no potential limitation of the VPN. So, if your speed results seem suspicious, the problem is with your ISP.
Restart your router
The old faithful! This is also a useful step, as your router may slow down over time due to memory leaks and software problems. Just unplug the router completely, wait about 20 seconds before plugging it back in, then let it reboot.
It is also worth restarting your devices. Laptops and phones can get tired (like all of us) when they run out of memory.
Try a wired connection
Although it may seem a bit backwards given the ubiquity of WiFi in our daily life, opting for a wired connection can solve many problems that are an integral part of WiFi.
Using a wired Ethernet connection will bypass wireless interference
Wi-Fi connections can be notoriously disrupted by other devices in the house – this even includes our kitchen appliances now – and they also rely on a shared channel to transport data to and from your devices. This can slow down your connection speeds and reduce severe latency.
Using a wired connection removes these interference factors by giving your PC or laptop a barrier-free connection. All you need is an Ethernet enabled device and a network cable plugged directly into your router. If you do not have an Ethernet port on your device, you may be able to use a USB-C to Ethernet adapter.
Check your apps
Streaming services, games, torrents, and even background applications can strain your system's resources. Closing anything that is running unnecessarily in the background can free up additional bandwidth. To see what you have running, simply open the task manager on your device or equivalent.
How to speed up your slow VPN
If you have discovered, after following the above steps, that your VPN is really the culprit, there is still a lot to do to speed up your service.
Choose a server closer to your current location
If you choose a VPN server further away from you, your data will have to travel that distance. This will slow down your connection and, in turn, slow down your download and upload speeds, causing an unpleasant ping.
Typically, your VPN provider will allow you to choose from multiple servers around the world – so take advantage of the functionality! Just select a closer server and run another speed test.
It is possible to use a local server while experiencing a slowdown in speed. It may take a little server hopping to find one without problems in its network path.
A server that experiences high demand or has severe bandwidth limitations can also affect your speeds. In this case, consult a less congested server, even if it is further away, to see if it helps.
Change VPN protocol
So, remember how a VPN provides an encrypted tunnel for your data packets? Well, a The VPN protocol determines how this tunnel is formed and how to navigate between your device and the VPN server.
Your VPN provider will connect to a server using a specific protocol, but you can change it if you are looking to improve your performance. It may take trial and error to find your ideal configuration, so be prepared to experiment and test your speeds repeatedly.
There are several protocols available, and for further review, be sure to consult our guide. For now, it is important to know that they are not all winners:
- PPTP is relatively easy to configure and can be found on almost all platforms, but is incredibly insecure after being compromised by the NSA.
- L2TP / IPSec is another easily integrated and compatible alternative that offers more in terms of security but it has its own risks, being rather easy to block and coming up with its own NSA problems.
- VPNOnlineFree is the benchmark for most commercial services, since its connection is difficult to locate and block. This is open source code, no serious threats to its user base were detected during a recent audit, and most platforms can support it using software third.
You can change your protocol by going to your VPN settings and then selecting the option to set your preferred or default protocol.
Try split tunneling
If you imagine that your VPN tunnel encrypts all of your data packets as they pass between your device and the VPN server, split tunneling allows you to choose and choose exactly what data goes through the VPN and which is not encrypted via the ISP.
This method can be particularly useful if your VPN is having trouble meeting your bandwidth requests. By siphoning off some of your insensitive traffic through the divided tunnel, you will reduce the demand on your VPN and you will see an increase in your speed.
Fortunately, most VPNs that offer this feature will walk you through the setup – and if you're interested in how fractional tunneling can be useful, we covered that, as well.
Do you still have problems?
If you've tried all of the above steps and are still experiencing slow download speeds through your VPN, it may be time to consider switching VPN providers. Not all VPNs are created equal when it comes to their server network, and some providers have the resources to offer more robust Tier 1 servers that can handle more traffic and faster speeds.
To see which providers offer the best speeds, check out our fastest VPN providers page, where we do daily speed checks on all the major VPN services.