Does a VPN Slow Down Your Internet Connection? The Great Cipher Holdup

A VPN affects the quality of your connection, but there is a way to quickly fix this.

Ivan Stevanovic Image
Updated:

September 07,2022

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If the internet seems slower when you use a VPN and it takes longer for pages to load, videos to buffer, and apps to connect, you’re not imagining things. VPNs can slow down your connection speed for several reasons: the quality of the service, the distance of the server from your location, and the strength of your own connection. 

That doesn’t mean that VPNs are bad or that they should be avoided at all costs. It just means that if you’re asking “Does a VPN slow down internet speeds?”, the answer is yes. The good news is that you can take steps to mitigate the issue. In this article, we'll answer all your urgent questions.

The Truth About VPNs and Internet Speeds

Imagine your internet connection as a locomotive without additional cargo or passenger carriages. On its own, it can travel very fast, but as soon as you add anything else, it begins to slow down.

When you use a VPN, you’re essentially adding at least one more carriage to the locomotive. If you’re using a server that’s close to you, maybe that’s just one carriage worth of burden. But if it’s a server located on the other side of the world, then you may as well be adding four or five carriages.

The main reason why a VPN slows internet connections is that it has to encrypt all of your data before it can send it through the internet. This process takes time, and the more data you're sending, the longer it takes. 

However, not all VPNs are created equal. Some use more efficient encryption algorithms that take less time to process data, while others have been optimized for performance. As a result, there are a number of factors that can affect how much a VPN slows down your connection. 

In general, while you can expect any VPN to slow down the internet to some degree, we’ve compiled some tips to help you minimize this impact once you recognize it as a potential problem. 

Entering the Slow Lane

We've briefly mentioned some of the reasons why when you use a VPN, your internet speeds get affected. Let's go into detail so we can find some solutions.

VPN Server Location

Any VPN service relies on virtual and actual servers that are spread all around the world. This infrastructure allows VPN servers to successfully avoid the geo-blocking tools many streaming sites use and provide better speeds to their customers. We hear you asking: What does that have to do with the internet and VPN services? Well, the truth is that even premium VPNs have issues with servers.

The first problem is the server's range from your current location. The further your data has to travel, the slower your speeds will be. So, if you live in New York and connect to a VPN server in London, you can expect your speeds to be significantly slower than if you were connected to a different server in New York. The reason for this is that data has to travel farther and pass through more infrastructure, which leads to the VPN slowing your internet speed. 

The good news is that this is usually not a big problem. Most VPN providers have servers in a large number of locations around the world, so you can generally find a server close to you. And because VPN providers have servers in so many countries, you can always connect to a server in a different country to get around location-based restrictions. 

The second problem with servers is they have a limited throughput. This is the amount of data that can be transferred through a server in a given period of time. So, if a VPN provider employs a 1 Gbps server, the VPN internet speed will crumble, since you and thousands of other users will be sharing that bandwidth at any time.

Of course, if there are many other people using the same server as you, they’ll take up some of the bandwidth. This can lead to even slower speeds, as your data has to compete with theirs for bandwidth. 

Fortunately, most VPN providers have servers with high bandwidth capacities, or are in the process of improving their VPN servers to 20 Gbps. This throughput is more than enough to handle any server load.

Additionally, many premium VPNs allow you to select specific servers with different features. So, if you need faster internet speeds, you can usually find a server that will meet your needs and to avoid the issue of VPN slow connection.

VPN Protocol

The VPN protocol is the technology that encrypts your data as it travels from your device to the VPN server. There are a number of different encryption protocols, each with its own strength. 

The encryption strength is the amount of data that is encrypted when it passes through the VPN protocol. The stronger the encryption protocol, the slower the connection will be. 

Some protocols, such as the OpenVPN protocol, are very secure but can be slow because of the amount of encryption they apply. Other protocols, such as IKEv2, are not as secure but are much faster because they use less encryption than, say, a competing VPN that slows download speed.

However, the technology behind VPN protocols has advanced enough to produce WireGuard, the latest encryption protocol that is both secure and fast. WireGuard is available on many premium VPNs and promises to be the future of VPN technology. Its coding is simpler to execute and specifically focused on internet connection speeds.

The Lightway protocol is a new protocol from ExpressVPN. It promises high speeds while also being secure, thanks to the shortest open-source code so far. It also uses the wolfSSL cryptography library, which has a powerful encryption collection.

Fortunately, most VPNs allow you to choose the protocol that you want to use so you can tweak your VPN download speed. So, if you need fast download speeds, you can usually find a protocol that will meet your needs.

Your ISP

The internet service provider (ISP) you rely on can have a big impact on your connection speeds, both with and without a VPN. Many ISPs throttle or slow down certain types of traffic, such as video streaming or torrenting. 

Additionally, some ISPs have data caps that limit the amount of data you can use in a month. If you exceed your data cap, your ISP may throttle your speeds to save bandwidth, which will slow down the VPN connection. 

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to avoid these problems. First, make sure to choose a VPN that does not throttle your speeds or limit your data. Don’t forget security, though; some VPNs employ obfuscated servers that completely hide your VPN traffic, making it appear as normal internet traffic to internet service providers. Finding the balance between speed and security is key.

Additionally, you can try using a different ISP, or changing your plan with your current ISP. Some ISPs offer unlimited data plans that do not throttle speeds, even if you exceed your data cap.

VPN Speed Boost and Faster Connection

If you're using a service but you’re annoyed that your VPN makes the internet slow, there are a few things you can do to improve your situation. 

  • Make sure you're using a server that's close to you physically. The further away the server is, the longer it will take for your data to travel back and forth. 
  • Check the quality of your download and upload speed with a free internet speed test. Do this with and without the VPN service to see if there's a difference. Then try using a VPN to see if your speeds are slower with the VPN. If you notice that your VPN slows down internet speed significantly and the test confirms this, it may be time to find a new provider. 
  • Use the 30-day money-back guarantee that most VPNs offer to test out the service before you commit to a long-term plan. If you still have VPN speed issues, cancel your subscription on time and look for another VPN service provider.
  • Change the protocol you're using. Some protocols are faster than others, so if you're not happy with the speed you're getting, try switching to a different protocol.
  • Try connecting to a different server. Sometimes, one server will be slower than another for no apparent reason, which can explain your VPN having a slow speed. In other situations, too many people will connect to a single VPN server, which will lead to a slow internet connection for everyone involved.
  • Check your internet connection and make sure you're getting the promised speeds from your ISP. If you're on a slow or congested connection, your speed will only get worse when you introduce a VPN. 
  • If available, connect to a server with the WireGuard encryption protocol. Some VPNs allow you to select different protocols, which can impact speeds.
  • Avoid free VPNs; they are often slower than their paid counterparts because they have to ration bandwidth among their users. Additionally, free VPN providers often sell user data to make money, aside from providing you internet that’s slow after using their VPN. 
  • Be mindful of where you place your router with a WiFi connection. If the router is too far away from your device, you may get slower wireless connections.
  • Contact your VPN provider and let them know about the problem. The customer support staff may be able to help you troubleshoot the issue or connect you to a faster server.

Conclusion

VPNs are a great way to improve your online security and privacy, but they can also slow down your internet connection. If you're not getting the speeds you expect, these suggestions should give you faster speeds and a stable connection, without a VPN that slows down your connection too much.

FAQ
Does VPN affect WiFi connection?

If the router is too far away from the device, you may get slower wireless connections, regardless of whether you're using a VPN or not.

What are the pros and cons of VPN?

The pros of VPN are improved security, privacy, and flexibility, while the cons can be slower speeds and connection issues.

Which VPN is the fastest?

There is no one "fastest" VPN, but some protocols are faster than others. Additionally, the server you connect to can affect speeds. Try connecting to different servers to find the fastest connection.

How do I stop my VPN from slowing down my internet?

If your VPN is slowing down your internet, try connecting to a different server, changing the protocol you're using, or contacting your VPN provider for help.

How can I boost up my internet speed?

There are a number of things you can do to try and improve your internet speed: 

  • Check the quality of your download and upload speed using a free internet speed test with and without the VPN service to see if there's a difference. 
  • Does the VPN slow down internet speed on your device? If you notice a difference and the test confirms it, consider finding a new provider. 
  • Use the 30-day money-back guarantee that most VPNs offer to test out the service before you commit to a long-term plan. 
  • If you still have VPN speed issues, cancel your subscription on time and look for another VPN service provider.
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