This is something I’ve actually been able to test recently, since the internet at the place I’ve been staying at has slowed right down to really poor speeds of only around 0.6 Mbps. But can you still use a VPN even at such slow internet/Wi-Fi speeds? Does a VPN still work with a really slow connection?
Also, the current content online when I searched this question is not even relevant, instead displaying articles about whether a VPN slows down your internet (hint – they usually do a little bit, but that’s not the question being asked in this case). Here, we want to know whether you can still use a VPN when your internet/Wi-Fi speed is already slow to begin with.
Therefore I’ll produce a quick post directly answering this specific question based on my own recent experience being able to test it myself. Here’s a bottom line summary answer:
You can still use a VPN even with slow internet speeds of less than 1 Mbps, but expect more server connection/IP errors than usual, plus a lot of slow loading pages and video buffering. It may also be difficult to make online payments when using a VPN on a connection that is already slow.
In other words, yes, you can use a VPN when you already have slow Wi-Fi/internet, but it’s not always going to be a smooth experience and you might have to mess about for longer than usual finding a usual server, plus waiting for pages and videos to load properly.
Let’s look at some of the issues you may encounter, plus some things you can do to still give yourself the best chance of using a VPN on a connection that’s quite slow even without the VPN being enabled.
Some Problems You May Encounter Using a VPN On A Slow Connection
Here’s some issues I’ve personally encountered using a VPN on a very slow Wi-Fi connection. Bottom line – I could still use the VPN, but there was a bit more messing and waiting around than usual sometimes to finally get it to work and provide a usable connection.
1. Server connection problems – Because the Wi-Fi connection is so weak, you can expect to get a lot more than normal connection errors when trying to connect to servers. I got a lot of “cannot detect IP” errors, where I had to disconnect and try another server instead. If you manage to connect, it will often take a lot longer than normal as well, up to 20-30 seconds, plus you might have to try a few different servers to finally get it work. In the end, I always got a connection in the end, but it sometimes took several minutes of trying instead of a few seconds. Just a bit more cumbersome than normal.
2. Browsing problems – Once you do establish a VPN connection, also expect more general issues browsing than normal as well, such as slow loading pages, difficulty streaming and buffering of videos. Again, everything just takes longer than it normally would on a faster connection, and is exacerbated by having a VPN enabled, which usually shaves even more speed off the (already limited) connection. It’s not unusable – even on a connection speed of less than 1 Mbps, I still managed to get it to work with a VPN enabled – but it’s just not as smooth or quick as normal.
3. YouTube – The good news is that YouTube does still work even on speeds of less than 1 Mbps because of it’s advanced optimization features, and for me, it still worked even with a VPN enabled and a connection speed of around 0.6 Mbps. Just expect slower loading videos, lower resolution (180p, 360p or 480p) and a little bit of buffering, but not so much on YouTube (they auto-adjust video quality to match the available bandwidth on your connection). My experience on YouTube was actually still surprisingly good, even with a VPN. Videos were occasionally buffering, but not by as much as I expected.
4. Transaction Problems – This was a real pain for me. Sometimes I couldn’t even make online payments, because the bandwidth required to load up those “payment verification” or “one time password” interfaces just wasn’t there, so I wasn’t able to verify them and the bank kept declining transactions. This can be the case even without using a VPN when your connection is very slow, but is even worse if you do try it with the VPN turned on, even though this is best practice for online security. In these cases, you may have to just use a faster network instead. I ended up having to ask a neighbor to use his network instead temporarily, or you might have to use a public Wi-Fi network like in a library/cafe/hotel etc, just to get the payment completed (but always use a VPN when making transactions on public Wi-Fi).
Overall, it’s not unusable when trying to keep a VPN enabled on an already slow Wi-Fi/internet connection, but you can expect some inconveniences for sure.
Also, as an absolute baseline minimum, I would recommend having speeds of at least 0.5 Mbps to make using a VPN even feasable. I just about managed, but with some difficulties, on a 0.6 Mbps connection. Much lower than that, I think you’re really going to struggle.
Best Practices For Using A VPN On A Slow Connection
If you want to continue using a VPN, but your internet speed is already slow to begin with, here are some suggestions for giving yourself the best chance of optimizing your connection and making it work:
Use Ethernet – If possible, plug into the router with ethernet instead of using Wi-Fi. This will allow you to extract the maximum possible out of the already limited connection, versus using Wi-Fi, which almost always shaves off speed and will be even slower with a VPN enabled as well.
Maximize Wi-Fi Signal – If you do have to keep using Wi-Fi, move as close as possible to the router/access point to get the best possible speeds.
Servers – Always try to pick a server close to your actual, real physical location, to give the best possible speeds. Avoid picking servers a long way away, because you’re often going to struggle to even connect and browse properly if your speed is already slow even without a VPN enabled. If you don’t like messing around with login verification that accessing accounts from a new location usually entails, one way around this is to log in to emails etc. from your normal location, then change to a faster VPN server once logged in.
Change VPN Protocol – Most Premium VPNs offer you the chance to switch between different protocols, some of which offer greater security and others of which offer greater speed. If you’re on a slow connection, consider switching to a faster protocol like PPTP or Wireguard versus other protocols like OpenVPN which place more emphasis on security.
Split Tunneling – Some VPNs also offer a split tunneling feature, whereby you can have have some connections/apps/browsers on a VPN connection, but leave others unprotected for faster speeds. That way you can save VPN connections for really important stuff like logging into accounts, transactions etc, but leave other things like YouTube unprotected to avoid losing vital connection speed. NordVPN, ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access are some reputable providers that offer Split Tunneling.
Avoid Free VPNs – As well often being unsafe if they’re one of those hybrid “proxy” VPNs or browser add-ons, free VPN servers also tend to be slower and more congested than Premium ones, which will make using them on an already slow Wi-Fi connection even more difficult. ProtonVPN‘s free version might be an exception, but in general, you need a Premium VPN to extract the most possible speed out of a connection that’s slow to begin with.
Recommended VPNs For Use With Slow Internet Connections
If you want the best possible experience using a VPN on an internet service that’s already slow, you’re best off going for a top level, recognized brand that has been around a while and has optimized and refined their interface and settings to accommodate different connection types and qualities.
The main suggestions would be:
- NordVPN – Split Tunneling, known for good speeds, lots of protocols to choose from.
- ExpressVPN – Again known for good speed, excellent global server choice, Split Tunneling offered.
- Private Internet Access (PIA) – Fast speeds, loads of servers, quick connection times, Split Tunneling, super cheap price. Would be my pick in this instance.
- VyprVPN – A Swiss based provider that has always made server speed one of their priorities. I liked using their program and never had an issue regardless of connection quality.