VPN Servers: The More, The Merrier?
Since most VPN users subscribe to these services intending to break past geo-blocked services, the number and location of VPN servers is very important. If you want to access Netflix’s Asian catalog, for example, your VPN needs to have a stable server in the region of your choice.
Indeed, several VPN services boast of massive networks, with servers spanning in the thousands. But before you jump in, it’s important to note that a good balance must be struck between geographic availability and the number of available servers.
Think of it this way. There are some VPN services that have more than 3,000 (up to more than 5,000!) servers that are located in around 50 to 70 countries. On the other hand, there are VPN services that have fewer servers, under 2,000, but they are spread out in almost 200 countries! Which one would you choose? Mostly it’s all about your preference (better geographic availability means you have more connection options across the world), but sometimes your preference may not jive with the way you use it.
Quality Over Quantity
Let’s take the VPN service with less servers, but a bigger geographic spread. Let’s say you’re from the US, and would like to stream Netflix content from Spain. You select that country, and you’re off streaming… but in the middle of La Casa de Papel you’re running into lag. What’s happening here?
Each VPN server has a finite capacity, much like everything electronic. That means only a limited number of people can connect to one at a time. The server will then have to divide its resources among those connected to it — the more people there are, the smaller the slice of the VPN pie each has.
This is where having more servers becomes important. When VPN services detect too many users in a specific region, they spread the load over all servers they have available in the area. This results in better performance for everyone. This is also why you’ll see a lot of top VPN providers concentrating their servers on a select set of countries around the world. This isn’t a haphazard decision — it’s the fruit of research into the most-needed (and most-used) server locations.
In short, these are the VPN services that try to strike up a good balance between covering a huge geographical area, and having as many servers to support bandwidth as possible.
When is geographical availability vital?
There are, however, a few instances when having more VPN servers in geographically diverse locations is important. One of them is for downloading torrents, which is another of the most common ways to use VPNs. A wide network helps you spoof your location better, especially if you want to get out of the countries known for spying on Internet activity.
This is especially true if you’re signed up for a VPN service that allows torrenting on all of its servers. This can lull you into thinking you’re safe, even though you’re downloading content from, say, the United States. If the servers your VPN offers are all located in 14 Eyes states, then your torrent activities are still vulnerable to the prying eyes of the government. And make no mistake, some VPN services are all just restricted to 14 Eyes states and their cohorts!
This isn’t an issue for some VPN providers, which allocate specific servers only for torrent downloads. While some of them offer such P2P servers in more insecure locations, you’ll typically find servers in geographical areas out of reach of any restrictive legislation.
How We Rank
In our rankings, we strive to find that sweet spot between having as many servers as possible and having them in all the spots that matter. Of course, we also check how capable those servers are, by testing them at multiple times of the day.
Through our testing, we found that the average VPN service doesn’t need much more than a couple thousand servers to adequately provide service. Of course, the best VPN companies have much more than this, and their efficient server upkeep makes them well-oiled privacy machines. Most of the biggest players in the industry keep up with these standards, though, so the number of servers and their geographic availability aren’t really major points of contention in the upper rungs — rather, they’re just the defining factor that separates the “good” from the “great”.
Once the “great” are filtered out from the rest, it’s time for the other factors of the VPN service to come into play!