Does using a VPN consume more data?

vpn split tunneling

Yes, it does but not by a big margin.

With online security becoming a day-to-day need, for whichever reasons one may have, people would natuarally want to stay safe while using the Internet – and that’s when the VPN comes in as a solution. But when it comes to this Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology, data usage is one of the most misunderstood notions, and many people have unsolved misconceptions about it.

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How a VPN works

We’ve digested the operation of a VPN before, and you can check it out. But technically you should know that a VPN is a Wide Area Network (WAN) that involves two end devices – a client and server. It allows you to securely access a private network and share data remotely through public networks, while protecting your data all the time you are online.

It encrypts all data transferred between your device and the server. You can be guaranteed that no third party can explore any further on the data passed between the client and the server.

What does it do and how?

A user first connects to the public internet through an Internet Service Provider (ISP), then initiates a VPN connection with a VPN server using client software. The client software on the server establishes the secure connection, grants the user remote access to the internal network.

While on the internet, the VPN server sends/receives data in form of websites, videos, and files on your behalf, fetching it for you from the web; encrypting it and sending it back to you in a secure form.

Read About: What Exactly is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and Why You Still Need One

Data consumption, Speed reduction

As seen earlier, the data flows between your computer and the VPN server, but still uses the internet connection and through the servers of your internet service provider first. Your ISP isn’t able to read any of your data, but is able to calculate your usage, unless you use public Wi-Fi.

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We’ve also seen that data through a VPN goes through intensive encryption. And like it takes more fuel to drive an armored vehicle and it takes more data to send and receive encrypted data. This is precisely because encrypted files take up more space than unencrypted files do. While a VPN encrypts all traffic to protect them from online threats, this increases your data usage by around 10 percent, in something referred to as encryption overhead.

What does this imply? If you use a better VPN with stronger encryption, you are likely to use more data, and when a VPN uses up more data than normal, it also affects speed. The stronger the encryption, the more it will take to load files.

Related Article: How Telecom Companies measure and bill data MBs

VPN Protocols

There are various VPN protocols, and each uses a different encryption algorithm, which has a slight impact on encryption overhead. A protocol in this case is the framework of data transmission and encryption used by your VPN provider. Most VPNs offer access to several protocols including PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, and OpenVPN.

PPTP (128-bit encryption) is a very lightweight encryption protocol which is fast but vulnerable. It is best suited for low-security uses that need fast speeds. Unblocking American Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, or BBC iPlayer would be good examples of acceptable usage for PPTP.

L2TP/IPsec (256-bit) uses very strong encryption, but is generally a slower protocol. OpenVPN will almost always be faster when using the same encryption strength. As a result, most users will opt for OpenVPN instead.

OpenVPN is the most popular VPN protocol because of it’s flexibility, ease of implementation, and Open Source roots. It is also the easiest protocol to build a desktop VPN app around. It allows multiple encryption strengths but commonly uses either 128-bit or 256-bit encryption algorithms.

Knowing the VPN protocol you are using

Finding out which protocols your VPN uses is a boring subject that doesn’t really interest many except computer geeks and security specialists. All you can know is that IPsec is typically used for LAN-to-LAN (site to site), while PPTP is used for remote teleworker such as when connecting with windows clients.

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You can look into the device on which you are using the VPN, in the set up area, to determine the exact protocol you are running. You can also determine what you are using if you have a way to sniff the traffic that is going out to the internet: IPSEC uses upd 500 for and the ‘esp (50)’ protocol, while PPTP uses tcp port 1723 and the ‘gre (47)’ protocol.

Why You still need VPN

  • Online privacy has come at the forefront due to recent politically-charged developments in Uganda. Much as the consumption of information – state-sanctioned or otherwise – has become an issue of contention, the freedom to choose what information to consume – whether gospel truth or hearsay –  remains a private affair and VPNs guarantee that you it stays that way.
  • Certain websites are blocked in both offices and schools for good reason. It creates a distraction-free environment conducive to work in. But if you don’t buy that reason and believe your reasons trump their reasons, you might as well have your VPN on hand. Go ahead and access your Facebook account. Get no work done that day. It’s only your precious time you’re wasting, no?
  • At times you might come across that YouTube video clip you’re dying to watch only to be informed that said video clip isn’t available in your region. Perhaps it’s that TV show on Hulu you can’t find anywhere else. What to do, you ask? I am glad you asked. With a VPN activated, you will be anywhere in the world with a click of a mouse. Go ahead. Try it out.
  • Perhaps the most important aspect to installing VPNs is the security bonus of having one. Your online activity will be secured from prying eyes and trust me there are lots of Peeping Toms interested in finding out what you do online. Lots of people have stuff to hide most of which might not be sinister but sensitive enough to attract the attention of others. A VPN will save you a whole lot of grief. Hackers are not a myth. They do exist and they can be immunised against.


If you want to get a layer of security when connecting to the Internet over an unprotected public network that can otherwise compromise sensitive data, VPNs come in handy.

Not withstanding, you’ll end up paying as much as 15% more to use a VPN than without one; but for most people, this is a small price to pay for internet security.


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