Testing VPN Speeds

Speed may not be the single most important factor in a VPN service, but it’s absolutely one of the most visible. Generally, a slow VPN is a bad VPN, though it’s common knowledge that in general all VPNs chip off your Internet speed. The only question is by how much, and whether that’s enough to affect your day-to-day browsing habits.

Before we dive in, if you’re looking for ways to speed up your VPN speeds, you can check out this handy article!


First off, what is speed?

Internet speed should be easy to measure, right? After all, it’s just in Mb/s and easily viewable if you go to one of the many speed test sites.

But if you open another tab right now and check your speed with any of the famous speed test sites (say, Ookla’s SpeedTest or Netflix’s Fast.com), you might be seeing different numbers register. This is because internet speed is a very relative measure, defined by several factors.

So as not to burden you with complicated explanations, here’s a simple analogy. Imagine your data is a parcel traveling from one destination to another. The farther the destination, the longer it takes to arrive. Each site that you visit — yes, even the speed measurement sites — are all different destinations on the map. Since your computer is in just one place, trying to send out anything to these destinations would invariably result in different measures of time.

Almost everything on the Internet is served through Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), servers which house the data that are then delivered to you. So when the parcel you send reaches these servers, they then in turn send out something (which will all take different lengths of time to reach you). The more robust and more efficient these servers are, the faster you will receive their delivery. Of course, the closer they are to you, the faster it will be as well.

By this analogy, if you are looking for a reliable speed test, you need to look for one with a robust and efficient CDN server. Such a server will reflect the most accurate measure of your Internet speed, because external factors such as the distance your signal has to travel and the efficiency of the CDN do not impact the measure as much.

Of course, Netflix is known for its massive and well-oiled CDN. The service has to dish out terabytes of content everyday, to its subscribers around the world. Since their Fast.com service piggybacks on their established CND, the latter is pretty much a reliable measure of your Internet speed.


Here come VPN servers

Now let’s talk shop. Using the same analogy we have earlier of the parcel and its destination, you can liken VPNs to pit stops that your parcel has to go through before reaching its destination. These pit stops can be far away from your location, and also far away from the destination server. That means the parcel will take longer to arrive.

In simpler terms, depending on the server you choose for your VPN connection and the servers of the site you connect to (and of course, your own ISP’s internet speed), a VPN can have anywhere from negligible to drastic impact on your browsing speed. Not all VPN servers — even from the same service — are alike. Then there’s also the question of how much traffic these servers have to route (the more, the slower) and how many people are using them at once. The last measure, of course changes, throughout the day, so it’s safe to say that there’s no single point in time (and no single server in a service) that can accurately measure a VPN company’s speed.

This said, you can’t just sample a VPN provider, take a speed measure, and list it down as representative of that service. You need to take a more thorough, more comprehensive approach.

Kind of like what we do when testing VPN speeds.


How we test VPN speed

To get the most representative speed reading for a VPN service, we average readings taken throughout different points of the day, across all 24 hours. Each reading entails loading a predetermined set of websites (whose servers are known to be spread across the world), repeated for each available server that the VPN service offers.

These readings are then compared to the base internet speed readings (i.e., without VPN) recorded at the same points in time, for the same sets of websites. This is done to discount any measurement errors caused by a slow base internet speed (like VPNs, base internet speed also changes depending on how much data is going through the wires at once).

From this, we can get a stable and accurate measure of a VPN provider’s impact on your browsing speed. The smaller the impact, the faster the VPN service is, and the higher we score it in the “speed” category in our tests.

Remember, though, that speed is never everything. When a VPN server receives your data, part of the delay you experience comes from the encryption process your connection goes through before the signal reaches the destination. The same encryption happens once content is delivered from the destination server back to you, through the VPN. Some VPN providers are fast just because they coat your data only in a thin layer of encryption. Some VPN providers are slow, because they armor your connection up in industry-standard encryption, the kind used by banks.
Of course, which type of VPN you prefer will depend largely on your needs.Regardless of your preferences, you’re sure to find a VPN provider that hits the sweet spot in our reviews.