Virtual private networks, or VPNs, have been around for a while but they still aren’t much of a mainstream service. The only ones who know about VPNs are those who are sufficiently tech-literate, and of the ones who do know, only a fraction actually use them. That’s a shame because VPNs are a fantastic bit of technology that deserve more attention.
There are many reasons to use a free VPN. The name may sound overly technical and daunting, especially if all you do is check emails and post to Facebook, but trust me – they’re surprisingly easy to use and not much of a hassle to set up. Join me as I explain the nature of VPNs, how you can benefit from them, and where to find the fastest ones for free.
Virtual Private Networks 101
Simply put, a network is a group of computers that are interconnected in such a way that they can communicate with one another. A private network is a network where access is limited – in most cases, it just means that the network can’t be found on the public Internet.
A virtual private network, then, is a private network that has been extended onto the public Internet, allowing users to connect to that private network from outside of that private network. This is often accomplished by setting up a connection point on the actual private network that relays information from the outsiders, to the network, and back to the outsiders.
How is this useful, anyway?
- In a business environment, VPNs can be used for telecommuting by allowing employees to “remote in” from home and remain as part of the network.
- Users can redirect their Internet traffic through VPNs, which provides an added layer of privacy and anonymity. It’s similar to the concept of proxy networks, but VPNs offer many more features than simple web proxies do.
- When set up properly, VPNs can be used to access region-blocked web content. The website will see that your connection is coming from the VPN’s location instead of your own, but the VPN will forward the data to you.
- VPNs can be used by gamers to simulate a local area network over the public Internet.
If you want to learn more about free VPNs, check out Dave’s overview of VPN tunnels.
Speed Test Methodology
Before testing any of the VPN speeds, I’m going to establish my baseline speeds:
- Download: 22.17 Mbps
- Latency: 16 milliseconds
All tests are performed using SpeedTest, a service that I’ve always found to be reliable and accurate. All tests are conducted on the New York, New York, US servers on SpeedTest and each VPN will be tested three times throughout the day and then averaged for their final results.
What should you look for? If all you care about is web browsing, then your main concern should be a low latency. If you want to stream videos or download big files, then a high download speed is what you want.
HotSpot Shield is a pretty well-known VPN service and it has some good metrics but comes with its own set of flaws – mainly that the free version is supported by ads which can quickly grow annoying depending on how badly you hate spontaneous ads. It’s good at improving your Internet privacy and protection against malware, though, and the speeds are commendable.
- Download: 6.53 + 6.31 + 6.36 = 6.40 Mbps
- Latency: 90 + 89 + 91 = 90 milliseconds
Available on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
Note: For a better idea of what this VPN service can do for you, check out our overview of HotSpot Shield.
With Private Tunnel, you can connect to VPN servers in the US, UK, Switzerland, Canada, and Amsterdam. The pricing for Private Tunnel is a bit unconventional: you start off with 100 MB of traffic and purchase blocks of data when you run out of data. No monthly fees – it’s all pay-as-you-go. Depending on why you need a VPN, this could be a very economical choice.
- Download: 20.91 + 20.92 + 20.53 = 20.79 Mbps
- Latency: 63 + 62 + 63 = 63 milliseconds
Available on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
OkayFreedom is a free VPN service that’s more focused on privacy and freedom (as the name would suggest) and will encrypt your connection and unblock sites that are beyond your access. You can select from between American, British, French, German, or Swiss locations. Unfortunately, the free version limits you to 500 MB of traffic per month, though you can raise that to 1 GB if you refer others to the service.
- Download: 20.86 + 20.44 + 20.95 = 20.75 Mbps
- Latency: 69 + 72 + 73 = 71 milliseconds
Available on Windows only.
CyberGhost is a VPN service that we’ve covered before. They do good work and they provide a free version of their VPN service that offers great bang for the buck: approximately 1950 GB of monthly traffic with bandwidth speed supposedly capped at 1 Mbps. Plus, they have over 200 servers in 19 different countries for wide availability.
- Download: 20.60 + 20.62 + 20.60 = 20.61 Mbps
- Latency: 36 + 36 + 37 = 36 milliseconds
The CyberGhost client is only available on Windows, but it’s possible to utilize a CyberGhost account using another VPN protocol outside of the official client.
JustFreeVPN is a free VPN service based on PPTP and all of your data is encrypted. Their VPN servers are hosted in the US, UK, and Canada, but there isn’t any choice of where in those countries you can connect.
- Download: 1.44 + 0.45 + 0.28 = 0.72 Mbps
- Latency: 119 + 82 + 137 = 113 milliseconds
Note: Setup is a bit more complicated since JustFreeVPN doesn’t have their own client, but fortunately they have some easy-to-follow instructions.
My absolute favorite out of the list would be CyberGhost because it has lots of freedom, flexibility, and performance. OkayFreedom would be my second pick if you can handle the monthly traffic limit, with HotSpot Shield being my third pick if you can handle the ads.
With the services described above, you should be able to enjoy the benefits of VPN without having to fork over a single cent, but if you plan on traffic-heavy activity (torrent downloads, Netflix binges, etc.) you may want to look into paid VPN alternatives.
Image Credit: VPN Mouse Via Shutterstock