If you are new to the idea of virtual private networks (VPN), one of the questions that may be floating around in your mind is ‘does a VPN use data?‘
The short answer is yes. Contrary to popular opinion, your VPN does use data and may not be of help in circumventing your Internet Service Provider's (ISP) data allowance.
The percentage of your data cap that will be used up by your VPN depends on the kind of encryption protocol you are using.
Another thing you should know is that using a VPN may slow down your Internet speed slightly. However, it can have the opposite effect in some cases. To truly appreciate how your VPN interacts with your data, it is essential to know how it works.
What is the Purpose of a VPN?
A VPN essentially creates a secure connection between your computer and a server. To do this, it redirects your Internet connection through a service. So, when you search for something online, the result from the Internet passes through your VPN which encrypts the data and transfers it to your computer.
While the data is encrypted, it still passes through your ISP. Although the data is encrypted, your ISP can check its size and keep track of your Internet consumption.
There are many benefits of using a VPN, primarily they are great for:
One of the key advantages of using a VPN is that your privacy is secured and it hides your data usage.
Hackers, your ISP, and even the government would not be able to snoop on your online activities.
2. Bypass Geo-Restrictions
Another benefit of using a VPN is that it masks your IP address and allows you to access online content that may be blocked from people in your current geographical location.
Why Your VPN Uses Data
Your ISP is your source of Internet. All data to and from your computer flows through your ISP. You need a connection to the Internet from your ISP to be able to access your VPN.
Once a secure connection has been established between your computer and the VPN, all the data exchanged through that pathway is encrypted. This data still passes through your ISP, but it is unreadable.
Let's look at this in more simple terms. Imagine there is a walled city (the Internet), and you need to exchange some messages with people in the city.
So, you hire a courier service (your ISP). In addition to the courier, you hire a locksmith (VPN) to travel along. Now, the job of the locksmith is to collect all your messages and lock them up in a box.
The courier is responsible for getting the locksmith into the city, and all the latter does is collect your information, lock them up, and works with the former to transport them back to you.
In much the same way, your VPN does not initiate the contact between your computer and the Internet but instead relies on your ISP to function.
Your VPN will take up a certain percentage of your Internet data to work properly; just like a courier would demand extra payment to transport the locksmith into the city.
Depending on the type of encryption protocol you are using, your VPN could take up between 5% to 20% of your data cap.
VPN protocols like OpenVPN (256-bit) have a higher encryption overhead than other protocols like PPTP (128-bit). Both protocols are very effective. For the average Internet user, PPTP (128-bit) can provide sufficient security. If you want tighter security, you can go for OpenVPN (256-bit). However, it comes at a price.
Will a VPN Affect Your Internet Speed?
A VPN is likely to affect the speed of your Internet. Due to the encryption and transfer of data over long distances, using a VPN can slow down your Internet speed.
However, the benefit of using a VPN far outweighs the potential of experiencing a slow connection. In reality, the effect of a VPN on your Internet connection is not so obvious. Depending on the speed of your connection, you may not even notice any difference.
Also, if your location is not very far from that of your VPN server, the speed is faster. This is why experts suggest that Internet users pick a VPN that has servers all over the world.
In some cases, rather than slowing your Internet connection, a VPN may allow you to enjoy a better speed.
Some ISPs perform what is known as ‘traffic shaping.' This involves downgrading the Internet speed of users to fit a desired traffic profile. This is usually done for video streaming platforms like YouTube. Some ISPs automatically downgrade the quality of YouTube videos.
However, you can avoid this if you use a VPN. Since the VPN encrypts your data, your ISP will not be able to detect when you are watching YouTube or browsing the Internet, so your Internet speed remains consistent, and you will get high-quality videos.
Can a VPN Allow You Evade Your ISP Data Cap?
While a VPN can mask the content of your Internet traffic from prying eyes, it is unlikely to be of help in getting around your ISP data cap. As indicated above, your VPN depends on your ISP to connect to the Internet. It is not responsible for giving you Internet connection. So, ultimately your ISP has control over your connectivity.
Although your Internet data is encrypted, your ISP can still measure the amount of data you are consuming. This means that your ISP can easily enforce a data cap.
You may have come across people claiming to have been able to go around their ISP data cap by using a VPN. While this may be possible, it is illegal. If such loopholes still exist today, you can be sure that ISPs are actively working to block them. Therefore, it is not advisable to even attempt to use them.
Now we know that your VPN consumes a small percentage of your Internet data package. However, the effect is not usually as noticeable as it is made out to be. Also, the encryption protocol you are using and your distance from your server all play a role to determine the effect your VPN will have on your Internet speed.
If you are looking to get a VPN, this is no reason to shy away. As indicated above, VPNs can be very useful in protecting your privacy online. Internet security is more crucial than ever today given the rampant hacking and data hijacking we have seen in recent years. Just watch a season of 24 or the movie Blackhat and you will see some serious threats!