So, What Is a VPN Router?
Sometimes, installing a VPN at the router level can be a hassle because it may require some technical skills. For most people, a better alternative to setting up their VPN at the router level is to use a VPN router. As with a traditional router, a VPN router is a wireless internet router that enables network communication and core packet routing services within a VPN environment.
This way, all your devices will connect to the internet through a secure tunnel at all times. In other words, you will avoid the hassle of launching a VPN before visiting a site, app, or service. While it might involve a bit more upfront work, a VPN router is much more comprehensive.
Perhaps what makes VPN routers attractive to many people is that they automatically encrypt and protect all the devices that connect to them, including communication that goes through these devices.
So, if you fancy the convenience and security of network-wide encrypted traffic, then there is no better way than to set up your VPN at the router level.
Selecting a VPN Router
If you believe a VPN router is what you need to secure your entire network, then it is time to shop for the right router. There are two main factors that you have to take into account: the cost and selecting the right router. You will also have to consider whether to buy a pre-flashed router or an unflashed model.
Just like any other gadgets, the cost of VPN routers varies wildly, depending on your budget and needs. There are options for hardcore techies and users with advanced needs. You will also find the most basic models with inferior features.
VPN routers, being more advanced than standard Wi-Fi, are slightly expensive. With that said, you can get a VPN router for as little as $130. The high-end models can cost you $500 or even more. Be that as it may, the option you should choose is the one that matches the demands and the size of your network.
Selecting the right router is the trickiest part. An increasing number of routers on the market today support VPNs. Unfortunately, most of them only work as a server. Likewise, some companies that sell routers with built-in VPN servers hardly offer any support.
Pre-Flashed or Unflashed VPN Router
The difference between unflashed and pre-flashed routers is that the former will require you to set up the VPN on it. A pre-flashed router already has a VPN installed on it. This type of routers will usually cost you more, which is justified given that it takes out all the work out of your hands. With a pre-flashed router, what you need to do is plug it in and go.
Going for the unflashed option may save you money, but you will need to put in some work. It might require some technical know-how, but that is not a big deal since you can follow the instructions that come with it to set it up. You can also seek support from relevant forums. The main advantage of buying an unflashed router is that it allows you to choose a VPN of your choice. This option may be ideal for you if you already have an active VPN subscription.
Specs to Look for in a VPN Router
Before you even think of shopping for a router, understand the exact specifications that fit your needs. Here are essential specs that you have to consider:
- Wireless Frequency – Modern routers with a pre-flashed VPN will let you choose between 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. The difference between these two routers is that 5GHz offers faster speeds over shorter ranges, while 2.4GHz offers slower speeds over long distances. But expect the 2.4 frequency to be slower because of overcrowding.
- Wi-Fi Standard – Nowadays, every router comes with an intuitive, indecipherable Wi-Fi standard, which usually begins with 802.11. The meaning of the codename 802.11 is still unclear, but you shouldn’t be concerned since what matters is the letter that comes after it. Newer models will have a letter n, meaning they can support a top speed of 300Mbps. You should be careful not to choose the older versions, which usually have a letter b or g. The problem with these routers is that they can’t support the latest speeds. Actually, what you should look for is a router that supports 802.11ac, which can sustain transfer speeds of up to 1.3Gbps.
- Speed – Besides analyzing the router frequency and standard, you should also check if it states maximum speed. Your aim should be to choose a faster router within your budget.
- Ports – Despite being wireless, most routers come with a USB port or two. Wired connections usually offer the most convenient and reliable speeds. So, the more ports a router has, the better.
Configuring Your VPN at the Router Level
1. Comprehensive Home Security
Every device that connects to your home router is automatically covered. You do not need additional setup whenever users introduce new devices on the network. It will even cover your guests who ask for your Wi-Fi password. So, if anyone uses your home connection and forgets to activate their VPNs, it won’t matter. Your VPN router will protect their online activities.
2. Always-On Security
With your devices connected through your VPN router, you will always remain secure. As long as the router is working, you will be part of the VPN tunnel. So, if one of your devices perform automatic communication updates without your knowledge, those communications will be secured. In other words, your privacy will be protected, even when you are sleeping.
3. Protect More Devices
When you connect your laptop, desktop, and smartphone over your VPN router, they will technically count as one device. So, you can enjoy a VPN service on all your devices without having to disconnect some of them to make room for new equipment. However, you shouldn’t abuse this feature as your connection stability and speed may suffer.
4. Protect Devices That Don’t Support VPN
Besides supporting multiple machines at once, a VPN router enables you to bring onboard devices that don’t support proxies or VPN coverage on their own. As you may already know, there are several devices that are not compatible with VPNs. Home media systems are just one example of such devices. For instance, it is not possible to install a VPN on your Apple TV, but that doesn’t matter because your VPN is connected at the router level.
The Downside of VPN Routers
There are several advantages of using a VPN router for your connections, but it doesn’t come without a few downsides. While a VPN router may act as a catch-all solution to online security and privacy, it does come at a cost.
The most striking disadvantage of setting up a VPN router is that it may limit users who use their VPN primarily to access geo-blocked content. Some content streaming services like Netflix outright block VPNs, without analyzing the source of traffic. Moreover, VPN routers make it hard for you to change your location.
Another downside of using a VPN at the router level is that some routers may lack the power to run complicated and more secure protocols. Some of them may also block incoming connections. Typically, a VPN restricts unauthorized incoming connections. While you may have an easier time initiating connections from your devices, you may remain unreachable from the outside if you are using less-sophisticated or outdated devices.
Besides inflexibility and the high cost of VPNs, they may also affect your connection speed. Even if you are using a high-end router fitted with a high-speed VPN, you may experience some slowdowns. You will lose a portion of your entire bandwidth to compensate for the overhead of operating the encrypted VPN tunnel. The overhead will probably take up about 10 percent of your total bandwidth capacity, thus slowing down your internet speed. Setting up a VPN router may also involve a bit of more work upfront.
With that said, if you are considering securing your entire network to protect your personal information or avoid government monitoring and censorship, the tradeoff is more than worth it.
Tips for Using a VPN Router
Avoid Double Coverage
With your VPN working at the router level, you may forget and turn on the VPN on your device. What it means is that the VPN on your device will encrypt your traffic, which will also pass through the encrypted tunnel on your VPN router. While using both VPNs can offer robust protection, some VPNs may not support a double VPN setting, and for a good reason. To reduce cases of instability and speed reductions, choose one method.
Set Up a Separate Router
If you have the means, you may need to set up a second router with no VPN. This way, you can choose when to use the VPN on your device, and when to connect through your VPN router, thus avoiding slowdowns.
Bookmark Your Router Settings Page
Changing the settings on your router every time can be inconvenient. You can make it easier by bookmarking the address.