What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and do you need one?
When you connect to web servers like the one on your screen, the web server automatically knows a few things about you: your IP address (assigned by your Internet Service provide – ISP), your regional location (based on the IP address) and the type of browser you are using (Chrome, Edge, Firefox …).
So what is a VPN and how does it fit in this picture?
Essentially to use a VPN, you subscribe for a fee to a VPN service and you install a piece of software on your device. Then you connect to a VPN server in the country of your choice, this will create an encrypted TUNNEL between you and the VPN server. You have a virtual direct connection with this server through the internet and when connecting to web servers using the VPN, your IP address will appear as the one from the VPN server and the location will be the one from the VPN server.
So when would you want to use a VPN?
In my opinion, in the vast majority of cases you will want a VPN to access services overseas not available in Australia. Typically news services and streaming services like Netflix in the US or HBO.
There are other use cases that might apply to you: escape censorship in some countries and prevent anyone from seeing which web sites you access.
Note about using a TV and VPN: if you are planning to use your TV to display content through a VPN, note that Smart TVs don’t have a VPN client (yet) and also that you won’t be able to use Chromecast or AirPlay from an Android or Apple device that is connected to a VPN since the portable device cannot “see” other local devices on the Wifi network. The only way to use your TV in this scenario is to connect it to a computer through an HDMI port and use the VPN software on the computer.
A word of caution about Netflix: Netflix is ACTIVELY combatting the use of VPNs to honour its obligations towards content providers. Since last year they are banning IP addresses suspected to use VPNs to access Netflix in other countries. The result is that banned IP addresses can only access Netflix original content. It happened to me and since I use a fixed IP address (which never changes) at home, I had to beg Netflix to unban my address and promise I won’t do it again. Trust me, just getting hold of Netflix through web chat is painful, so you don’t want to find yourself in this situation.
My advice is to stay away from any sort of free VPN as the performance is absolutely atrocious. Even the paid VPNs can become slow at times.