The Internet is a worldwide network, but not everything on it is available to everyone. That’s particularly true for services that are locked to regions — music streaming services such as Spotify and Google Play Music All Access as well as video-on-demand platforms such as Netflix and Hulu.
Although choice is growing for South African consumers with streaming music services such as Simfy Africa and Deezer available to them, they’re still locked out of some of the market-leading products. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to unblock access through VPN, or virtual private networking, services. These VPNs make it appear to the services you want to access that your Internet connection is coming from a territory where the services are available. VPN services effectively “tunnel” your connection through another country.
TechCentral has rounded up the five VPN products we like the best. Some are easy to use, while others are a little more advanced. Either way, you won’t go wrong with any of them.
Unlocator makes use of domain name server (DNS) settings to route your Internet connection to various parts of the world. By signing up for Unlocator, you get access to the company’s DNS settings, which remove the geographic restrictions, allowing you to view region-locked content.
You can configure your smartphone or tablet (all platforms are supported and even most consoles and streaming devices), or you can configure your ADSL modem to route your traffic accordingly. We found the latter to work best. The website has detailed tutorials on how to set up its service and you’ll be able to make use of its seven-day trial to test it before you spend your hard-earned cash.
Unlocator is straightforward to use, though you may need some technology know-how to set it up. The website features detailed tutorials and does not require any user interaction to work. It costs US$5/month. Get the software…
TunnelBear is an application you can run on your desktop, smartphone or tablet and will, when switched on, route your Internet connection to the destination of your choice. Before connecting, you are able to select a country from a dropdown list. Supported countries include the US, Canada, UK, Japan, Sweden and Spain.
TunnelBear offers 500MB/month of free VPN data for new users and unlimited data streaming for $5/month. It’s also dead simple to use.
Those who want even more privacy can enable a feature called Vigilant that will keep their location and data private in the brief seconds while TunnelBear is connecting and reconnecting. The mobile application works just as well, providing access to apps like Netflix on tablets and smartphones. Get the software…
UnoTelly is one of the most popular VPN services. It supports all mobile and desktop platforms, including gaming consoles and media streaming devices such as Google’s Chromecast, the Apple TV and even some smart TVs.
The service is similar to Unlocator in that once you’ve signed up, you’re given DNS addresses to route your connection. It requires a little technology know-how, but detailed setup instructions are provided for each platform.
UnoTelly has a great feature that will allow a household to stream content from up to three different regions at the same time. Naturally, you’ll need a really good DSL connection for this to work well.
The service costs $5/month and there is an $8 plan that offers more advanced features, including better privacy. Get the software…
MediaHint has long been a favourite among TechCentral staffers. Unlike the other VPN services featured here, this one is a browser plugin and runs only on desktop computers. A version for smartphones, tablets and streaming devices is in the works, according to the developers.
Once the plugin is installed in your browser, a small on/off switch appears in the browser app tray, allowing you to activate your VPN tunnel when needed. MediaHint supports Chrome and Mozilla Firefox for now.
One of the best features of MediaHint is that you do not need to configure a country manually — you simply browse to the website you want, be it in the UK or the US, and Media Hint sorts out the rest.
The service is also one of the cheapest around. At $4/month, you can’t go wrong with MediaHint if you mainly use a PC-based browser to access international content. Get the software…
For advanced users who want more than just the run of the mill VPN service, StrongVPN offers a large number of packages, ranging from DNS-only services to more advanced and more secure and encrypted services that allow tech-savvy users to implement their VPN either via an app on the desktop or by configuring their router hardware.
StrongVPN can be set up on smartphones and tablets. Although it’s is not the cheapest, it offers the most versatile packages of any of the services we have seen to date. The DNS-only service costs $5/month, while the more versatile packages start at $7/month.
StrongVPN also allows you to add a second account for another device for $2, a nice addition for multiple family members wanting to connect to different regions. Get the software…