More and more people around the world are using the best VPN services every day. Whether they want to bypass online censorship, increase their online privacy, unblock foreign streaming platforms, or combine everything, connection speed will always be critical for all users.
As for how it works, a VPN encrypts all data leaving your device and then decrypts it once it reaches its destination.
And while you’re unlikely to notice a huge difference when using the fastest VPN services available, the encryption process will inevitably affect your internet connection – even if it’s only a few Mbps.
At the same time, there are situations where using a VPN can actually help increase your overall online performance.
Let’s take a closer look at both scenarios.
Why a VPN can slow down your connection
We have already mentioned that the main factor that affects VPN speed is encryption. This is because the data encryption process inevitably takes time.
Every time you turn on the VPN, so does all your data it goes through one of its servers. This adds an extra step that can negatively impact your internet connection performance. However, don’t worry too much, because the decrease in speed is often imperceptible here.
Further factors that can slow down your VPN speed include:
- VPN server location. The distance between you and your chosen server is often the biggest reason for slow connection speeds. Seeing that all traffic has to go from your device through the VPN server, the connection will obviously be faster if the physical gap between them is reduced.
- VPN server load. Unless you get a dedicated IP address that only you can use (some services like NordVPN and CyberGhost offer this for an additional fee), multiple users will be connected to the same network while you are. If it becomes overloaded, a connection drop may occur. Free VPN services are more prone to this problem.
- Protocol. We have already said that encryption is the main reason why a VPN will slow down your internet speed. Then the security protocol that determines the type of encryption used is a huge defining factor here. Modern protocols like WireGuard and Lightway are much faster than older protocols like OpenVPN.
When a VPN can speed up your connection
Using a VPN does not necessarily mean a decrease in internet speed. If you choose a reliable service, remembering to choose the best server and encryption protocols according to your needs, it is unlikely that you will feel any difference compared to a normal connection.
Moreover, a VPN can sometimes even help improve your overall internet speed.
This is because once you enable it, your ISP will not be able to track your online activity. This will avoid ISP throttling or bandwidth throttling, which will ultimately speed up your internet.
Throttling is the practice where your ISP deliberately slows down your internet connection. This can be used, for example, to manage network congestion. Therefore, using a gaming VPN can help you get better performance metrics when playing online.
Internet throttling can also occur when you reach your monthly data limits, and authoritarian countries often throttling the Internet to enforce online censorship of unwanted content.
How to improve VPN speed
If your internet connection gets slower when using a VPN, there are some hacks you can use to improve your overall online performance.
However, before you start fiddling with the settings, make sure that it is your VPN that is slowing you down. That’s why we recommend starting by running some speed tests, with and without the software.
speed test (opens in a new tab) is one of the best speed testing tools out there and one of the services we use when browsing VPN. Check out our dedicated broadband speed test explanation for all the details.
Once you’ve determined that the VPN app is causing your poor connection, try these tips:
- Change the VPN server: As we said before, the VPN server you choose can have a huge impact on your connection – whether it’s distance or congestion. Switching servers may be just what you need to enjoy better performance. Don’t worry though, as all the top providers offer a huge range of international servers – our favorite provider ExpressVPN, for example, boasts over 3,000 servers in 94 countries.
- Change the encryption protocol: Since encryption is another major factor in Internet speed, changing your VPN protocol can be beneficial here as well. Just go to the settings in the VPN app and customize your choice. Among all available WireGuard is the fastest option you can choose right now.
- Enable split tunneling: Many VPN services also offer an interesting feature that can be helpful in boosting your internet speed. As the name suggests, split tunneling allows you to decide which traffic to route through an encrypted tunnel and which to skip. This practice can be very useful if your broadband speed is already quite slow to begin with.
- Restart your device: The old and easy way to troubleshoot tech, restarting your device or home router may be just what you need to spice it up. It’s possible that your hardware’s memory buffer needs to be cleared, or there are some heavy programs running in the background. Similarly, you can try the same with a VPN app.
- Please update your operating system: Sometimes the device you are using is the cause of your slow connection. Make sure your operating system is up to date. If not, updating to the latest version may help.
- Use a wired connection: A Wi-Fi connection is much more convenient, but it can also be more unstable at times. If your broadband speed isn’t the best, try switching to a wired connection instead to stabilize your internet connection.