Wondering does a VPN increase data consumption after you began using a VPN? First, we commend you for your decision, you’ve taken a step to secure your privacy online. Unfortunately, answering how much cellular data does a VPN use isn’t a straightforward question because it depends. But before we break that down, just know that your ISP can still track data usage even during VPN use. To clarify, they cannot see what you’re doing nor gander at your browsing history but have an accurate measure of the bandwidth you’ve spent. Now, let’s answer, “do VPN consume more data?”
Is more data consumed with a VPN?
Yes, data consumption with a VPN is increased by between 5% and 20%. If you’ve read our article about how a VPN works, you know that packets that go through a VPN tunnel are encrypted. That encryption overhead is responsible for increased data consumption with a VPN. Quick reminder: data is divided into packets, which consist of the data (payload), and the “IP header” which contains information about the packet.
A VPN has to shield both in a separate packet (VPN header), which adds information about the source and destination, as well as data tied to the encryption. So, more packets have to be split up due to the packet size limit, and consequently, more data is transmitted.
Does encryption level affect VPN data usage?
Yes, the level of encryption determines how much more data a VPN consumes. To give you an example, we’ll take AES-256, the most commonly used encryption algorithm. You’ll typically see VPN providers using 256-bit encryption, which is a healthy medium. However, most VPN providers allow you to tone it down to 128-bit or 192-bit and thus trade a little bit of security for an increase in VPN speed and data usage reduction. In contrast, you can increase this to 2048-bit, as is evident from PrivateVPN’s offer. This decreases speed further, makes your VPN consume more data, but ups the security significantly.
VPN Protocols that use the least data
Users should know that depending on the VPN protocol used, their VPN might consume different levels of data. Some protocols use next to nothing, while others add an impressive burden to your data pack. However, in the case of VPNs, using less data is not always safer. You have to find the perfect balance of protection versus data use according to your specific needs. Given below is a list of different VPN protocols and how much data they use:
- 128-bit PPTP – The protocol that uses the least amount of data is undoubtedly PPTP, but it is also the least secure. This protocol is only recommended when you want speed without security or privacy.
- 128-bit L2TP/IPSec – Again, this protocol is similar to the previous one as it consumes next to no additional data. However, it also doesn’t provide better security.
- 128-bit OpenVPN – This protocol is also similar to the previous ones in that it offers little security but is decently fast.
- 128-bit Stealth OpenVPN – However, this one is more secure than the first three, and it also uses more data, albeit not that much.
- 256-bit L2TP/IPSec – This protocol is better at security and has decent speed too. But it uses more data than others.
- 256-bit OpenVPN – Now, this protocol is the perfect blend of security and speed, and the data it consumes is a satisfactory trade-off.
- 256-bit Stealth OpenVPN -It is the most secure protocol, and it uses data accordingly. But it is not that fast.
Can I reduce VPN data usage in other ways?
Yes, there are other ways to decrease VPN data consumption. Some of them are changing your security protocol, enabling compression, minimizing VPN use, and enabling split tunneling. This topic deserves a separate guide, so stay tuned.
How to reduce VPN data usage?
You can always try the following tips to reduce your VPN data usage:
- Try Split Tunneling – Split tunneling is a VPN feature that lets you decide which apps should route their internet traffic via a VPN. Using split tunneling will prevent your system from routing your data traffic through a VPN, thereby consuming less data.
- Try to pause your VPN – You don’t have to keep your VPN active all the time. If you are not undertaking sensitive tasks, it makes sense to pause your VPN periodically.
- Try an unmetered internet connection – Using a VPN on a metered connection can raise your data costs. If you are on an unlimited plan, you can safely use a VPN without worrying about data. Choose broadband or Wi-Fi networks for VPN use.
Does VPN give unlimited data?
No. That’s a common misconception because VPN providers advertise unlimited bandwidth and unlimited data usage. This is strictly related to the VPN use, however. So, both the “hard“ and “soft“ data caps set by the ISP remain. To remind you, a “hard“ data cap is when your ISP puts a monthly limit, and you can no longer use the Internet past that point unless you pay. A “soft“ data cap is when your ISP allows full speed up to some point, then imposes a greatly reduced speed until you pay for restoration to the maximum speed.
Can VPN still help with ISP data limits?
Yes, but only in special cases, when VPN circumvents the “soft“ data limit tied to a specific activity. Let’s say ISP puts a limit on streaming, torrenting, or gaming after you spend the initial 10 GB of data. By hiding your IP with a VPN, you make it so that ISP doesn’t know what you’re doing and can’t limit your speed. This won’t work if they limit all activities with a “soft“ cap, since they can track your data usage nonetheless.
Important. This can backfire, especially if you make a VPN always ON. For example, if have unlimited data for social media apps and use them with a VPN, you prevent the ISP from detecting that type of traffic. This can lead to a hefty bill at the end of the month.