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What Is A VPN Router?

What Is A VPN Router?

Updated: 08-18-2021

If you're hearing about a VPN router for the first time, I'll explain all you need to know. A router is a device that receives and analyses data packets between computer networks. People use routers to connect to the internet; the device then distributes the internet connection to other devices in a particular environment, such as a household, office, institution, etc. 

A Virtual Private Network (VPN), on the other hand, is the technology used to create an encrypted connection over the internet that hides your identity and data so that governments, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), or hackers can't see what you're doing on the internet.

As a person who uses VPN frequently, I know how frustrating it is to keep connecting one device at a time to a VPN network. Luckily for me, the process may be frustrating but not difficult because I am an IT graduate. But what about other people who value their privacy but can’t connect to a VPN network manually every time? This article answers all these questions.

Now that you know the meaning of VPN and router, now let's discuss a VPN router in detail.

 A VPN router is a physical device that has VPN technology directly installed into it. A VPN router firmware can handle VPN connections without you having to install the VPN technology manually. This is done by a manufacturer who embeds software instructions into the router and alters how it operates.

Therefore, when you buy a VPN router, all your connected devices receive continuous VPN network access immediately after your router receives internet access. Standard or regular Wi-Fi routers cannot connect directly to a VPN network unless you download individual software and initiate a VPN connection.

Differences Between a Standard Router and a VPN Router

Regular routers allow VPN traffic to pass through but can’t perform any VPN operation on their own. A VPN router has in-built VPN technology and can directly establish VPN connections on its own for each device connected.

A regular router needs a software installation to initiate a VPN connection, while a VPN router needs no software installation as the firmware itself can handle VPN connections.

A VPN router has VPN protection at all times, unlike a regular VPN which you may need to start each software client on your devices whenever you need VPN protection.

Why Would You Need a VPN Router?

Below are several reasons why you would need a VPN router:

Network-Wide Protection

A VPN router assures complete protection of all devices connected to the Wi-Fi network. It guards the entire network, analyzes all incoming traffic, and watches all outbound traffic.

It also protects your devices from malware or hacking since all your traffic goes through an encrypted tunnel.

Protection Against Wi-Fi Poaching

Wi-Fi poaching refers to when someone within your Wi-Fi range decides to access your Wi-Fi and use your bandwidth without your permission. A VPN router adds another layer of protection that prevents unauthorized users from accessing your Wi-Fi network. This technology prevents potential poachers from stealing your personal information, infecting your network with viruses, or committing any malicious activities.

Secures to Non-Native Devices

Non-native devices are devices that do not support VPN technology but can be connected to the internet. These devices include but are not limited to Televisions, PlayStations, etc. You can use a VPN router to secure non-native devices and block prying eyes from spying on what you do.

What Can a VPN Router Do for You?

Here’s an overview of what to expect from a VPN router:

Provide Unlimited Connections

You can connect unlimited devices to a VPN router without worrying about performance. You can even share your encrypted connection with friends and family, something known as account sharing.

Allow for Better Platform Flexibility

Some devices are made in such a way that they don’t support VPNs. You can circumvent this setting by using a VPN router on this type of device. By connecting the devices to a VPN router, it automatically encrypts traffic running through the devices. Some VPN network providers have started offering VPN support to non-native devices, but VPN routers are always the better option.

One Login Required

Once you login into your VPN router, you do not need to log in again for as long as you want. This is because only one login session is required after you set up the VPN router. Therefore, you won't be bothered by the frustration of forgetting passwords and having to perform password resets. Even if multiple devices connect to the VPN network, you only need to provide the login credentials once.

24/7 VPN Connection Available

VPN routers ensure you stay connected to a VPN network all the time as long as the router is up and running. You’re guaranteed secure access to central network resources and data safeguarded from hacker sniffing, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Cons of VPN Routers

While VPN routers may come with so many advantages, they also have their downside as explained below.

VPN Routers Can Be Expensive

Compared to regular routers, VPN routers are relatively expensive. Most basic ISP routers are VPN incompatible. Therefore, you'll have to purchase a new pre-configured VPN router if you need one.

Moreover, your ISP router might be VPN compatible, but it isn't that easy to find the correct firmware to flash it. However, you can reduce the cost by configuring your own VPN router, a technique you'll discover later in this article.

More Connected Devices Can Mean a Drop in Performance

VPN routers allow for unlimited connections, which can lead to slow internet speeds or an overall drop in VPN performance. Your VPN performance is heavily dependent on the server load. Server load is the number of processes waiting in line to access your web host's computer processor.

If you have many devices connected simultaneously, the server load will also be high. When that happens, the best thing to do is suspend a few devices to obtain a normal server load. If that doesn't work for you, you need to select a good server and VPN service provider, and you won't experience slow internet speeds.

Less Server Flexibility

Less server flexibility is a major downside of using VPN routers. With a regular VPN client, changing from one server to another is a no-brainer.

You only need to open your VPN app and click on your preferred server location, and the servers will switch instantaneously.

However, when it comes to VPN routers, the process is a bit complicated. First of all, you're limited to the server you used while configuring the router, and it's impossible to change servers in just a couple of clicks. You’ll have to switch servers using the router interface or buy a VPN router that allows you to have more than one server.

When Do You Need a VPN Router?

To have a clearer understanding of when a VPN router comes in handy, here's a great example:

Mike is an ardent internet user with many devices connected to the internet. To protect his sensitive data from prying eyes, he definitely needs a VPN. Mike finds a good VPN service provider from the internet, downloads it, and signs up.

But the problem is Mike has many devices; 2 smartphones, a smart TV, tablet, laptop, and desktop computer - all connected to the internet. He has no option but to download the VPN applications to every device he owns, which is very frustrating. After downloading the applications, he also has to double-check that the VPN service is running on all the devices.

But if Mike acquires a VPN router, he won't have to install a VPN application to all his internet-enabled devices. All he needs to do is turn on his VPN router, and he'll continue browsing anonymously on all of his devices. Moreover, he'll still have VPN protection on all his non-native devices, such as Smart TV and Game Console.

In such a situation, the best thing for Mike to do is buy a VPN router that connects all the devices to a VPN network simultaneously. Having a VPN router also means that he won't have to double-check if the VPN service runs every time.

If you have less tech-savvy people using your Wi-Fi network in your household, you need a VPN router that will protect them from hackers without them having to do anything on their devices. A VPN router hides your IP address as well as all devices connect to your Wi-Fi network.

It is also easy to connect a VPN router with Internet of Things (IoT) devices. IoT devices such as smart TVs, Alexa, Roomba, or Chromecast can communicate easily with each other if they're on the same Wi-Fi network. For instance, if you command Alexa to turn Hulu on your TV connected to another network, she will not fulfill your request because of the difference between the two networks. However, with a VPN router, Alexa will do as instructed because the devices will be on the same VPN network.

When using standard routers or conventional VPN applications, it is necessary to connect and ensure your VPN is ON before browsing the web. However, with a VPN router, you don't have to worry about connecting to a VPN service before starting to browse. As long as the VPN router is working, you can browse safely.

Most standard VPN applications have a maximum number of devices that one user can connect to. However, with a VPN service, you don't have to worry about the number of devices connected to your VPN network. VPN routers support an unlimited number of devices that can connect to the VPN router.

Another reason why you need a VPN router is to defeat censorship. To bypass censorship, which can be in the form of geo-restricted content, you need a VPN router. Governments or other prying eyes cannot locate you if you're using a VPN router to bypass geo-restricted content.

How To Get a VPN Router?

To get a VPN router, you have to buy a router with built-in VPN support or pre-configure your own router if it allows for flashing. VPN routers currently come in three types:

  • VPN compatible routers.
  • Manually-flashed VPN routers.
  •  Pre-configured routers.

VPN-Compatible Routers

A VPN-compatible router is a router with integrated VPN support. You don’t need to waste time doing router setups or pay an extra configuration fee. All you need to do is configure the VPN server and input your login info.

This kind of router either has intuitive firmware and OpenVPN support. However, OpenVPN is one of the most secure VPN-compatible thanks to its robust and highly flexible service.

OpenVPN is more secure than intuitive VPN firmware because it supports SSL and TLS custom security protocols. SSL and TLS are protocols used to secure internet communication by authenticating and encrypting data between devices in a computer network.

Before buying a VPN-compatible router, check if it supports the OpenVPN protocol for best results.

How To Tell if Your Router Is VPN Compatible

Not all routers are VPN compatible; to find out if your router is VPN compatible, check the manual that came with the router. If you can't locate your manual or weren't given one when you bought the router, you can check online to find out more about compatibility.

To do this, simply visit your preferred search engine, and search “the name of your router + VPN compatibility." Also, note that most internet service provider routers do not support VPN connections.

Pre-Configured VPN Routers

A pre-configured VPN router is an out-of-the-box router and the most expensive type of VPN router. If you buy a pre-configured router, you'll need to pay for setup and configuration. Even so, a pre-configured router is worth every penny because of its ease of use and exceptional performance.

Also, for a pre-configured VPN router, you'll have to choose your preferred VPN service.

The only downside with pre-configured VPN routers is that they're costly, and you may have a rough time trying to find a reputable vendor. If you do find one, you may also have to pay for shipping costs, and there's no guarantee that the vendor will accept the return of a faulty router.

Manually-Flashed VPN Routers

This is the cheapest method of acquiring a VPN router. All you need to do is upgrade your current router by flashing it. However, this method requires some technical skills before proceeding.

If you're not an expert, I'd advise you to consider the other options that I've mentioned above. If you're confident enough to perform the setup but don't know where to start, try finding helpful guides online.

Take note that your router must support advanced firmware to become a VPN router successfully. In simple terms, its existing operating system must be able to handle VPN connections. DD-WRT and Tomato are the most popular advanced firmware technology that you can use to flash on your router.

DD-WRT

DD-WRT is a Linux-based open-source firmware that works with various WLAN routers such as D-Link and TP-Link. Installation may be a bit complicated since different versions of the firmware require different installation steps.

You first need to check if your router is compatible with DD-WRT firmware by visiting the DD-WRT database and typing your router's model number. The database will let you know whether it's compatible with your router. If your router is compatible, then you may continue with the installation.

Tomato

On the other hand, Tomato is a custom firmware made for routers with Broadcom chipsets; it works with a limited number of routers. The main advantage of Tomato firmware is that it works best with OpenVPN and does allow for two servers to run at the same time. It has a more user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) and a wireless survey page to enable users to select the best wireless network channel. If you prefer using 2 VPN servers at the same time, I recommend Tomato firmware.

Other VPN Router Firmware

Sabai OS

Sabai OS is a consumer-focused VPN router firmware based on Tomato firmware. It is an easy-to-use VPN router operating system that requires no expert knowledge to set up. With Sabai OS, you can easily configure devices connected to the VPN network using a feature called Gateway. Sabai OS pre-configured VPN routers are among the most trusted VPN routers in the market today.

pfSense

pfSense is an open-source software that is easily configurable and with loads of great features.

So Which Router Firmware Is the Best?

Well, that depends on the features you need for your manually-flashed VPN router. If it's about connectivity alone, then I'd advise you to go for Tomato firmware. If you prefer repeater modes, then I'd recommend you go for DD-WRT. Repeater modes boost your Wi-Fi network coverage.

Whatever your preference, both router firmware offer plenty of benefits.

The Best VPN Services for Your Router

VPN routers cannot operate without VPN services; hence you have to select the best VPN service provider to guarantee enhanced protection and privacy. Most VPNs in the market today claim to be fast, reliable, and efficient, but it's up to you to select a VPN service that suits your needs. That depends on what you do on the internet, be it normal browsing, video streaming, or gaming. Below are some of the best VPN providers in the market today.

ExpressVPN

It’s easy to set up your VPN router using ExpressVPN, and in most cases, you won't need to flash the VPN router. You can configure it manually on various router brands using step-by-step tutorials provided by the company.

Express VPN is a leading provider of pre-flashed routers which support DD-WRT and Tomato firmware. Additionally, this VPN doesn't keep user logs, and you can use it to unlock geo-blocked content on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, among others.

All their servers support peer-to-peer activity, which makes it suitable for torrenting. Torrenting refers to the sharing of files through a decentralized network called BitTorrent.

Lastly, Express VPN also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee to users, which gives you the much-needed time to explore its features.

NordVPN

NordVPN is one of the few VPN service providers that have no dedicated VPN router app. Even so, it is still one of the easiest VPNs to set up manually. It has about 5460 servers globally, and it keeps no user logs.

NordVPN is regularly updated and uses military-grade AES-256 encryption to protect traffic flowing through its servers, guaranteeing users' top-notch security.

When it comes to router configurations, NordVPN supports various VPN router firmware such as DD-WRT, Tomato, OpenWRT, pfSense, among others. They offer tutorials with instructions on how to set up the VPN routers manually with no much hassle.

SaferVPN

This VPN service is among the best VPN services to use with pre-configured routers. SaferVPN has prepared more than 20 manual guides on how to set up different router firmware. It has great speed, strong encryption, and cheap long-term plans.

To recap, a VPN router is a routing device modified to connect to a VPN service directly. With a VPN router up and running, you can connect non-native internet-connected devices such as Smart TVs, streaming devices, gaming consoles, and IoT devices to a VPN network.

You don’t even need to worry about browsing with no VPN protection since VPN routers automatically connect you to a VPN service once you turn them ON. Moreover, this kind of router secures multiple devices simultaneously.

No more confusing menus and settings or installing numerous apps on your internet-enabled devices, all you need to do is turn on the VPN router and browse the internet securely. Also, you can easily defeat censorship by unblocking sites that are otherwise censored in your own country.

But not all routers can turn into a VPN router. You need to find out if your specific router model is VPN compatible before turning it into a VPN router. If it's not compatible, you'll have to buy a pre-configured VPN router even though they're relatively more expensive than regular routers.

Another downside is that the process of switching servers when using a VPN router is a bit complicated unless you're using a VPN router that can run two servers simultaneously.

It's no secret that VPN routers come with so many benefits. After acquiring one, you'll also need a reliable VPN service provider to complete the equation. Enjoy browsing anonymously and say goodbye to passwords by purchasing a VPN router today!

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