Buying a VPN is no different from buying any product or service.
You weigh the features and benefits against the price of the subscription. Then, choose the one that offers the best value. At least, that’s the theory.
In practice, buying a VPN is a little more challenging. Virtual private networks have a range of differentiating features, each of which can hold more or less appeal, depending on what you need. What makes life even trickier is that few people really know what they need. While the often-flamboyant design of VPN websites does nothing more than hide the all-important product specifications.
This article cuts through the noise: it lays out precisely what to look for in simple terms so that when you come to buy a VPN, you’ll know what you need as well as which product offers the most value to you.
…Ready? Let’s begin.
1. The number of servers
A VPN works by creating a private, encrypted connection between the end-user and the VPN client’s central server.
Given thousands of people access a VPN at the same time, you can start to appreciate the importance of a service having as many servers as financially viable. That’s why the best providers always tell you how many servers they operate. Take ExpressVPN as an example.
The provider says it has over 3,000 servers: a tally that means the user should enjoy more bandwidth, which translates to a faster connection when using the VPN.
2. The location of the servers
If the number of servers is consideration #1, then the location isn’t far behind.
There are two main reasons to care about the location. Firstly, if a VPN server is near you, you can expect a responsive connection with very little lag time. Therefore, if you’re a gamer, proximity is of utmost importance. On the other hand, if the country you’re in blocks certain services you want to access (say UK Netflix, for example), then you don’t want the server near to you.
Quite the opposite, you’ll need a server in a different country (the UK, if we continue with the above example) to overcome these geo-restrictions — meaning streamers care more about the geography of the server than proximity.
3. Data limitations
You’ll know all about data limitations if you manage an internet connection (or own a smartphone). And while it might be standard practice for ISPs to offer unlimited data plans, VPN services are rarely so generous.
You need to check if a subscription offers enough data to cover your usage.
Plans that offer a free tier likely impose strict limits on data (free tiers are just a way to let you test the service in the hope you will then pay for it). Most VPN providers (certainly the most reliable ones) offer budget-friendly paid-for services that even small businesses can afford.
We believe it’s always worth paying for a product when your privacy is at stake. Plus, if you pay, you should get a generous data allowance as well.
4. The number of connected devices
As soon as you understand the benefits of using a VPN, you’ll want to connect every single device you own (and we suggest you do). However, bear in mind: most service providers limit the number of devices you can connect to five.
If you have a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone, that’s four already. If your teammates have the same, you’ll quickly run your allowance dry. Some VPN services don’t set limits. Others may attract you with unlimited data, but then restrict connected devices to just three.
There’s no telling which is the best service for you. Just be sure your subscription can accommodate your needs — as well as those of your colleagues.
5. Supported operating systems
As you connect more devices, the likelihood is that you’ll need support for different operating systems. Nearly every VPN has a native client supporting Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android devices.
However, you may prefer a service that connects directly to your router so that the VPN also protects any device connected to the main network. Equally, if you use Linux — or less common devices like Blackphone, Anonabox, or Boxee box — then you need to check if a VPN service is compatible with them.
6. Privacy considerations
As the name suggests, virtual private networks are private by design. Still, they’ll keep a log of some actions and store select data for a pre-defined period.
But every privacy and data collection policy will vary to some degree, so you must understand the nuance around what your service provider collects — as well as how long they store the data (ExpressVPN claims to keep no logs at all, but you can only be sure of this by checking the fine print).
And remember: VPNs are obligated by law to share any data with authorities on request, so be under no illusion that a VPN is fail-safe protection against illicit activity.
We’d place good money on most people looking at price first, features later.
It’s an understandable approach. But the reality is, the tradeoffs you make when choosing a cheaper service rarely translate into better value. The smart path forward is first to understand what you need (how? By reading steps one through six of this article). Then, you can pinpoint the plan that satisfies your precise requirements.
If you find one, take it for a test run. If you like it, we suggest opting into a longer subscription as these typically offer a significant discount. We’ve even seen VPN services offer life-time access for a very modest sum.
Provided the company doesn’t go bankrupt, and the service fits your needs, there could be some serious savings on the table.
Mid-coast Tech recommends every one of our customers uses a VPN. If you want to find the best one for your business, give us a call on 207-223-7594, and we can help you get set up in no time.