Understanding VPN Speed: Factors, Implications, and Solutions


Today, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are essential for ensuring online privacy and security. However, one common concern for VPN users is the potential impact on internet speed. Read on to explore the factors influencing VPN speed and the relationship between VPNs, latency and internet speed. By understanding these aspects, organizations can make informed decisions about optimizing their VPN experience.

What is a VPN and How Does it Work?

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, creates a secure and encrypted connection between a user’s device and the Internet. It’s a middleman, routing the user’s Internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel to a VPN server. This process masks the user’s IP address and encrypts their data for enhanced privacy and security.

What is Internet Latency?

Internet latency is tech-talk for the delay or lag in data transmission between a user’s device and a server. It is influenced by several factors, including physical distance, network congestion, and routing efficiency. Latency is measured in milliseconds (ms) and is a critical factor in determining the overall speed of Internet connections.

How to Measure Internet Speed

Measuring Internet speed is essential to understand the performance of your connection. Organizations can follow these steps to accurately and efficiently measure Internet speed:

1. Choose a reliable speed test tool: Select a trustworthy online speed test tool such as Ookla’s Speedtest.net, Fast.com, or Google’s Speed Test. These tools provide accurate results and are widely used.

2. Close unnecessary applications: It’s important to close any bandwidth-intensive applications or downloads running in the background. This is to ensure a more accurate measurement of your internet speed.

3. Connect directly to your modem/router: For the most accurate results, you’ll want to connect your device directly to the modem or router using an Ethernet cable. This is in order to eliminate potential interference from Wi-Fi signals.

4. Disable VPN or other network services: Temporarily disable any VPNs or other network services you might have running. This will allow you to measure your internet speed without any potential impact from these services.

5. Run the speed test: Visit your selected speed test tool’s website and click on the “Start” or “Go” button to initiate the test. Wait for the test to complete, usually within a minute or two.

6. Analyze the results: The speed test tool will provide you with three primary measurements: 

  • Download speed: refers to how quickly data is received from the internet.
  • Upload speed: measures the rate at which data is sent. 
  • Ping or latency: represents the time it takes for a signal to travel from your device to a server and back. 

Now that you know how to run a speed test. Let’s get into ideal internet speeds. 

Ideal Internet Speeds

Essentially, speeds should vary based on specific use cases. Here are some examples of ideal speeds for different situations:

  • Web browsing and general internet use: Aim for a download speed of at least 10 Mbps for smooth web browsing.
  • Streaming videos in HD: A download speed of 5-10 Mbps is recommended for HD video streaming without buffering.
  • Video conferencing: A download speed of at least 3-5 Mbps is necessary, along with a low ping if you want to ensure clear and uninterrupted video calls.
  • Work from home: You’ll need a download speed of 10-25 Mbps and an upload speed of 5-10 Mbps for remote work tasks involving file uploads, downloads, and video conferencing.

It’s important to remember that ideal speed ranges can vary depending on specific requirements, the number of connected devices, and the activities being performed simultaneously.

The Relationship Between VPNs and Latency

Hardware/legacy VPNs can introduce latency due to several factors, including increased travel time, server load, and encryption processes. Here’s how:

  • Increased travel time: when using a hardware or legacy VPN, data travels from the 

user’s device to the VPN server before reaching the desired destination. This

extra distance can lead to increased latency.

  • Increased server load: The hardware or legacy VPN server acts as an intermediary, handling data encryption and decryption. As more users connect to the server, its processing capacity may be overloaded, resulting in slower speeds.
  • Increased time due to encryption: Encryption is a vital security feature of VPNs. However, the process of encrypting and decrypting data adds an overhead that can contribute to increased latency.

Factors that Influence VPN Speed

When it comes to VPN speed, several factors come into play. Understanding these factors can help organizations optimize their VPN experience and ensure a balance between privacy, security, and internet speed. 

Routing: The efficiency and reliability of the chosen VPN provider’s routing infrastructure significantly affect VPN speed. Well-optimized routing can minimize latency and ensure smooth data transmission.

Network setup: The organization’s local network setup, including the router and network hardware, can impact VPN performance. Outdated or misconfigured equipment will probably hinder speed.

Encryption strength: Strong encryption protocols provide robust security but can also increase processing time and latency. Organizations should try to balance security and speed based on their specific needs.

Internet speed: The underlying internet connection speed, provided by an organization’s Internet Service Provider (ISP), affects VPN performance. A faster internet connection generally leads to better VPN speeds.

VPN protocol: Different VPN protocols have varying performance characteristics. For instance, OpenVPN offers robust security but may be slower than faster protocols like WireGuard or IKEv2.

Server location and bandwidth: The physical distance between the organization’s office and the VPN server influences latency. Choosing a server closer to the user’s physical location and ensuring sufficient server bandwidth can enhance VPN speed.

CPU and RAM power: The hardware resources of the user’s device and the VPN server impact VPN performance. Higher CPU and RAM capabilities allow for faster encryption and decryption processes.

IPsec vs. SSL VPNs

IPsec and SSL are two commonly used VPN protocols, each with distinct performance characteristics:

  • IPsec VPNs provide secure connections at the network layer but can be more resource-intensive
  • SSL VPNs operate at the application layer, allowing for greater flexibility and ease of use, but they may introduce additional latency due to the overhead of encryption and decryption.

Do VPNs Ever Improve Internet Speed?

While VPNs are primarily designed to enhance security and privacy rather than boost internet speed, there are situations where they can have a positive impact. Namely:

  • ISP throttling: Internet Service Providers sometimes engage in throttling, intentionally slowing down certain types of Internet traffic. By using a VPN, users and organizations can mask their online activities and bypass ISP throttling, potentially leading to improved speeds.
  • Peering agreements: VPNs can improve internet speed by leveraging peering agreements. Peering allows ISPs to directly connect their networks, bypassing congestion points in the internet backbone. VPN providers with well-established peering relationships can offer faster and more stable connections.

Faster Alternatives to VPNs

As we learned above, VPNs are great for security but not ideal for speed. In some user cases, alternative solutions may offer faster speeds or better performance for specific use cases. Such solutions include:

  • Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA): ZTNA is an evolving approach that provides secure access to applications without relying on traditional VPN architectures. By implementing granular access controls and micro-segmentation, ZTNA solutions can deliver improved performance and reduce the overhead associated with legacy VPNs.
  • SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network): SD-WAN combines multiple network connections, such as MPLS, broadband, and LTE, to optimize performance and reliability. By leveraging intelligent traffic routing, SD-WAN can prioritize critical applications and ensure faster and more efficient data transmission.

Unlock the Power of Perimeter 81’s Cloud VPN

Understanding VPN speed and its impact on internet performance is critical for optimizing user experience. While VPNs may introduce latency due to increased travel time, server load, and encryption processes, there are ways to mitigate these effects. Factors such as routing, network setup, encryption strength, internet speed, VPN protocol, server location, and hardware resources all play a role in VPN speed.

Although VPNs are not specifically designed to enhance internet speed, they can bypass ISP throttling and leverage peering agreements to potentially improve performance. Finally, alternative solutions like ZTNA and SD-WAN offer faster speeds and more efficient network access for specific use cases.

Ultimately, users should evaluate their specific needs, consider the trade-offs between security and speed, choose a VPN provider that offers optimal performance based on their requirements, or choose an alternative solution that solves traditional hardware/legacy VPN challenges. By making informed choices and implementing best practices, users can strike a balance between privacy, security, and internet speed in their VPN usage.

Want a cloud VPN that beats all the rest and can secure all of your infrastructure? Book a demo today!