A VPN these days is a must as we know it. The recent growth of VPN use has been pronounced across the globe, particularly in developed economies in the UK and the US.
On these shores, some 44% of UK Internet users (62.86 million people as of December 2021) have used a VPN at some point when online, while 41% of Brits use this type of private network at least once a week.
It’s also clear that VPN use is particularly popular among younger people and smartphone users, with 52% of VPN customers utilizing an iOS device to browse securely online. With this in mind, we’ve created a detailed guide to help you use VPNs effectively on your smartphone (regardless of your chosen operating system).
First Up – What is a VPN?
But how exactly does a VPN work?
Well, it effectively creates a virtual encrypted tunnel between two servers, presenting any data sent from a protected device as a random and completely indecipherable string of code.
In addition to encrypting your content, a VPN also masks the sender’s unique IP address and real-time location, making this information invisible to anyone else who may be on the network (including the manager).
Typically, VPNs are used to hide your geographical location and access restricted content libraries available through streaming platforms like Netflix. The content available through this type of platform will vary from one jurisdiction to another, thanks largely to licensing agreements and any associated restrictions that are in place.
With a VPN, however, you can mask your precise location and access content without such restrictions, allowing you to enjoy the full Netflix library wherever you may be in the world.
OK, But Why Do I Need a VPN on my Android or iOS Device?
Typically, VPNs are synonymous with PC and laptop usage, but as we’ve already touched on, they’re increasingly popular among Android and iOS owners. This also applies to the streaming of content and live broadcasts, with mobile fast becoming our go-to channel for accessing our favorite shows.
This trend is prevalent in both the UK and the US, with 71% of streaming viewers stateside now regularly accessing content on at least two devices (primarily smartphones and CTV). Both devices are considerably more popular than PCs for streaming content in the digital age, so Android and iOS users are increasingly likely to use a VPN to enjoy unrestricted content libraries from across the globe.
This is certainly true among travelers, who are even more likely to stream content through their smartphone of choice when heading overseas. Depending on where you’re traveling, however, you’ll find various restrictions in place, from complete blocks on social media sites like Instagram or Facebook to reduced Netflix libraries with a distinct absence of your favorite shows.
Interestingly, there are other benefits of installing the best VPN for your Android or iOS device.
After all, the ability of VPNs to encrypt any data that’s sent out over a network makes it incredibly difficult for hackers to intercept such information, while the mere practice of hiding your IP address and locations makes you less vulnerable to malware and DDoS (Delivery of Service) attacks.
When you consider the prevalence of tasks such as mobile banking (approximately 50% of adults in the UK regularly use this service and 68% do so on an occasional basis), the need to send out personal information securely and protect login information on smartphones is more pressing than ever before.
This is especially true when connecting to public Internet connections through your smartphone when out and about.
While on the move, for example, you may find that 4G or even 5G connections may be inconsistent or patchy in certain locations. You can negate this by logging into a public Wi-Fi access point at a local coffee shop or retail outlet, but this type of connection is inherently insecure and vulnerable to the machinations of hackers.
Hackers can certainly create familiar-sounding access points on such networks, through which they can monitor your activity and access potentially sensitive information once you’ve logged in with your smartphone.
Installing a VPN can establish a secure and private connection on a public network, however, meaning that even people who gain access to the network will be unable to view your activity or capture login details and passwords.
On a similar note, a mobile VPN safeguards your privacy and prevents your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from viewing your online activity. The same principle applies to other websites and services that tend to track browsing habits, such as Google and Facebook.
In simple terms, a VPN ensures that you’re constantly accessing websites in private browsing mode, as nobody else active on your network can see what you’re doing or access the content that you’re sharing.
At this stage, it should be noted that while VPNs create relative security and anonymity when using a mobile web browser or app, it doesn’t prevent website cookies from tracking you and your browsing activity.
However, the capacity of the best Android or iOS VPNs to connect with a vast choice of foreign servers and hide your IP address can feed false information to tracking cookies, creating an additional layer of anonymity when online.
Choosing a VPN Provider for Your Mobile – The Key Considerations
If you do decide to install a reputable VPN on your smartphone, the question that remains is how to choose from the huge range of service providers available in the contemporary marketplace?
The good news is that there are several criteria on which you can base your decision, and we’ve outlined some of these in greater detail below. So, let’s get into it!
- Is the VPN Connection Secure: This is a basic consideration, but it’s important to ensure that your VPN service provider offers a secure encryption method and strong protocol. In general terms, a secure VPN should utilize 256-bit encryption and OpenVPN protocol (which works on all major operating systems and is particularly effective when bypassing firewalls). Other popular protocols include WireGuard and IKEv2, and checking this information will help you to make an informed decision.
- Does the Provide Offer Good Coverage: There are instances where a VPN can increase latency and slow your Internet connection, especially when providers don’t have broad coverage or multiple server locations. So, you’ll need to prioritize VPN service providers like Surfshark, which currently has over 3,200 servers located in 65 countries across the globe. This way, you can access the benefits of a VPN and maintain a consistent connection even when traveling.
- Is There Flexible Pricing Available?: This is another key consideration, both in terms of the total cost of subscription and the range of payment options provided. After all, you won’t necessarily need to use a VPN all of the time, so you’ll want to consider service providers that offer variable payment plans that cover different time frames. Similarly, you should note that the average VPN subscription costs around $3 per month, so keep this in mind when comparing the market’s prices.
- Does the VPN Provider Log Your Activity: If your primary goal for using a VPN is privacy, you should bear in mind that some service providers keep logs of your activity. This is incredibly counterintuitive, so we’d recommend checking the privacy policies of individual products and reviewing these in detail to see their approach to tracking and usage. This way, you’ll be able to identify a level of privacy that you’re completely comfortable with.
Setting Up a VPN on Your Smartphone
Once you’ve identified a viable service provider, the next step is to establish the VPN connection on your iPhone or Android handset.
There are two primary ways to do this, the most popular of which is the most accessible and known for being incredibly user-friendly. To do this, you’ll simply need to purchase a native iteration of the app in the Google Play or Apple store before downloading it and following the individual setup instructions.
Most reputable VPN providers feature native apps on both iOS and Android, while they also simplify the process of saving installation preferences and maintaining (and updating) the applications over time.
The second option is to set up a VPN manually on your smartphone, with this considerably more time-consuming and reliant on you having some kind of knowledge and industry understanding.
However, it also affords you much greater control over your online experience when using a VPN, particularly in terms of the fundamental settings, the scope for customization, and the ability to select your preferred protocol. Below, we’ve listed some of the most popular and secure protocols available, including the aforementioned OpenVPN option:
- OpenVPN: As we’ve already touched on, this highly configurable, open-source platform is compatible with 256-bit encryption and incredibly effective when bypassing firewalls. It’s also ideal when working with either Android or iOS operating systems, even though it isn’t natively supported on any particular platform. However, the latter point means that you’ll have to install the platform on your smartphone through a third party (which requires additional expertise and knowledge).
- WireGuard: WireGuard is another highly popular and secure VPN protocol and one that only supports UDP (User Datagram Protocol). However, it benefits from incredibly high-speed cryptographic primitives and deep integration with an underlying OS kernel, which translates into high speeds and relatively low overheads. WireGuard delivers higher speeds than those associated with OpenVPN, so you should keep this in mind if it’s a key priority.
- IKEv2: This protocol deserves to be referenced in conjunction with the first two protocols, as it’s similarly popular and boasts impressive speed and security. It’s also particularly compatible with mobile usage, as it can seamlessly shift from one connection type to another (like mobile Internet to Wi-Fi) without compromising security or performance. However, IKEv2 isn’t as widely supported as the first two protocols on our list, while it also lacks standalone encryption and must be installed alongside the IPSec protocol.
- IPSec (and L2TP): While IPSec can be deployed as a standalone protocol, it’s commonly used in conjunction with Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol (L2TP). When combined, these protocols create an easy-to-install and secure option that’s supported natively across a broad range of operating systems including Android and iOS. However, its use of a single port (UDP port 500) makes it easier to block by robust firewalls, making it a less popular and viable option than OpenVPN.
- PPTP: This refers to the ‘Point-to-Point Tunnelling’ protocol, which is supported by the vast majority of operating systems and was first developed by Microsoft during the 90s. While the protocol is still considered to be one of the quickest on the list, it’s also one of the least secure in an age of mobile devices and operating systems. Because of this, it’s no longer natively supported by iOS, so it’s not an ideal choice if security is your main priority when surfing online.
The Bottom Line
As we can see, there are various options and protocols to suit the different priorities of smartphone users, whether you want a fast VPN connection or one that offers native operating system support or increased security.
Regardless of your eventual choice, however, there’s no doubt that a mobile VPN is an increasingly valuable tool in an age where smartphones have become a functional and often indispensable part of our everyday lives.
Make no mistake; a VPN can help to secure your most private datasets and make you less vulnerable to certain malware and DDoS attacks. It also helps you to maintain your privacy online, especially when browsing on the move and logging into public networks.
It’s also incredibly easy to install and use a mobile VPN on both iOS and Android platforms, so you can take steps to protect yourself even if you’re not the most tech-savvy individual.