VPN is a tool that allows you to surf the web smoothly and safely, while the data is being protected from interception and the online activity could not be tracked by third parties. Traditionally VPNs usage was associated with PCs and laptops, and “stationary” audience still forms the core of VPN users because a big screen and powerful processor are indispensable when doing work or watching movies and TV shows in cinematic quality.
Inthe past decade, as smartphones became widespread and more powerful than ever, mobile VPN usage is on a significant rise. But how exactly do these two types of VPN usage are distinct and how are they common? Let’s turn to the stats provided by Global Web Index.
In 2018 “mobile regions” (i.e. regions like the Middle East and Asia-Pacific, where consumers prefer mobile phones to PCs for prolonged use) became the key point for developing the new Mobile VPN usage trend. In the course of 2020, 17% of desktop users and 15% of mobile users have accessed a VPN on monthly bases (The Best VPN).
However, the picture changes if we look at the daily VPN usage stats. As Global Web Index points out, among VPN users who employ the service daily, 42% are mobile and only 35% are desktop users. Such dynamics could be explained the following way: while mobile users are more likely to use VPNs to stay safe when connecting to public Wi-Fi and most likely at work (four-five times a week as the numbers indicate), VPNs for desktop are used from time to time, most likely for recreational needs.
While it is undoubted that in the next decade Mobile VPN usage will take more and more of the market pie, desktop VPNs are still more popular (Desktop — 17% Mobile — 15% Tablet — 7%, as stated by TheBestVPN.com).
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VPN use: Desktop and Mobile Apps
Entertainment is the key word to describe what most VPN users want to get from this technology. According to Statista, more than half of all VPN users (54% for desktop, and 57% for mobile) use it to access “better entertainment content”. This is often the content that is not available because of, for example, Netflix regional limitations. About 30% of users are interested in maintaining their privacy while surfing the web, and slightly more, 35% are using VPNs to access social networks or news services blocked in their country, region, or even office.
It’s interesting that while 27% use a VPN to access torrents and 17% for entering the TOR Browser (to achieve complete safety), you can’t really say that all VPN users are pirates. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Recent statistics from Global Web Index shows that more than 77% of all VPN users buy digital content each month. Most of them buy music, the second most popular digital purchase, obviously, are movies and TV shows. It seems that most people use VPNs not avoid paying for content, but because they are unable to do so because of some weird local restrictions and/or unfair regional prices on content.
For example, more than 29% of all VPN users access Netflix each month (Global Web Index). Users outside of the United States are interested in watching American shows (the numbers go up in Canada, Mexico and Brazil (49%, 49% and 37% of users who access Netflix through VPN respectively). We are talking about tens of millions of people who are using a VPN just for this purpose.
That leads us to the next logical question: if movie streaming and file downloading are the primary goals for VPN users, will mobile VPN be suitable for that purpose? Or will it be the desktop version? And if so, which one, exactly?
VPNs: Desktop vs Mobile
Streaming requires speed. A lot of it. Netflix itself reminds that while, in fact, anything above 5Mbps should do well for HD streaming, if you want to stream Ultra HD quality, at least a 25 Mbps connection is required. Is the mobile VPN capable of this (let’s not discuss here the matter of watching a movie in Ultra HD quality on a phone screen)?
Speedtest suggests that mobile internet is on the rise and states the “Ultra HD” number of 25.27Mbps as an “average speed” for all of the global mobile networks. However, this is quite deceptive because of the big difference between speed-leaders and outsiders: while Norway has the fastest mobile internet at 67.34Mbps download speed, the US is not even in the TOP-20 list. The global average upload speed for mobile phones is just 10.05Mbps which is clearly not enough for Netflix Ultra HD quality.
Hereby, desktop internet connection and ia still the best option both for streaming and downloading.
Using VPN for torrenting has big benefits: you stay private with no restrictions on speed, which are sometimes imposed on torrenting by ISPs. Obviously, torrents themselves could be blocked (as illegal by many providers), and a VPN could help here too. On a computer or a laptop, you obviously could fully use the speed benefits.
Safety is another serious concern and the reason to use Desktop VPN for streaming and downloading. The technology itself will does not protect from viruses or downloading malware or ransomware (in fact, many malware threats ARE disguised as free VPN clients these days). Only antivirus software could do the work. Statista says that 89% of desktop users in US use antivirus software and 80% of laptop users have installed antivirus software.
At the same time, only 49% of smartphones and 50% of tablet owners have installed antivirus protection on their devices, while the mobile market for viruses is continuing to expand. Mobile phishing is the main entry point for viruses these days, and with torrents and darknet the probability of encountering the malware rises.
And another technological reason that makes desktop VPNs more preferable: it is common for VPNs to stop working if there are problems with Wi-Fi (like disconnection and immediate reconnection), so you’ll need to do the connection process again (Speedify). While this is tolerable behaviour on a desktop computer, this situation could be crucial if you are somewhere out there trying to catch the Wi-Fi and need to deal with a VPN reconnecting each time.
VPNs: App vs Plugin
Another thing to consider is the difference between VPN standalone application (we’ll simply call it “desktop VPN”) and the built-in browser plugin.
A desktop VPN is good in the totality of its defence: once you’re connected to a VPN server, all of your web traffic is protected without any decrease of internet connection speed. This is good both for streaming and downloading of significant amounts of data. Also, desktop VPN makes all your private affairs truly private.
Now let’s look at the “VPN extensions” for web browsers. Are they truly VPNs, by the way? VPN works at the OS level, providing the encryption of all traffic and applications. But a browser can not initiate a VPN connection by itself, it works more like a proxy. Also, it works only on the single application level: your traffic in another browser, in the messengers, or in some standalone services like game clients will not be affected by this “VPN extension”. So, yes, desktop VPN only, please.
Checklists for the ideal Desktop VPN
What should you check when choosing a VPN for your desktop pleasures? We’ll look at the two most resourceful activities, streaming and torrenting, assuming that other activities like remote work or web surfing are much less demanding on resources and therefore will work smoothly.
- Fast speeds, reliable connection, and unlimited bandwidth.
- Highest-possible level encryption
- Very big number of servers and their geographic diversity
- Good VPN must not be free
- No anti-torrenting policies in its terms of service
- No-logs policy, VPN should not disclose any personally identifiable information
- Fast speeds and unlimited bandwidth (of course)
- Shared IP addresses for additional safety