If you read our deep dive into whether VPN consumes more data, you know the answer is: usually, yes. But knowing doesn’t mean complying, especially on a limited Internet plan. Remember, it matters how much data is consumed when you hide your IP with a VPN. And, we’re excited to tell you, you can shrink VPN data use to a level you’re happy with. Even better, it typically doesn’t mean sacrificing your privacy, only clever use of the way VPN works. With encouragement out of the way, let’s show you how to reduce VPN data usage.
Does a VPN use data?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a VPN uses data. And this data usage is directly proportional to the strength of a VPN. Typically, it is believed that a VPN might increase your data consumption by 10 to 15% if it is from a decent provider. Since the VPN also functions on cellular data, this extra usage might be unacceptable to a few people. And no matter the necessity, people would strive to figure out ways to reduce their consumption, as discussed later in the article.
How much data is used?
As stated above, a VPN uses data somewhere in the range of 10 to 15%. This depends on the level of encryption and protocol used. Typically, 128-bit encryption uses less data as compared to a 256-bit solution. However, it is also equally weak. On the other hand, there are some protocols, such as Stealth OpenVPN, that use lots of data, whereas PPTP doesn’t.
Why does a VPN increase data usage?
VPNs encrypt your data and use protocols to tunnel said data to a remote server that forwards your traffic to the selected VPN. Doing so not only increases the distance your data travels but also increases the amount of data in transit. Hence, it takes up more resources. First, the VPN has to encapsulate your data packets into encrypted headers, and then those packets are received by the VPN server and decrypted. All this requires resources that increase your data consumption.
Methods to Reduce VPN Data Usage
1. Don’t keep VPN enabled at all times
An obvious solution to VPN data usage reduction while also being the one people consciously avoid. It’s clear why which is why we taught you how to make a VPN always ON. However, there are times when disabling a VPN is worth it. It’s up to you to decide when, but generally, whenever you’re not using your device(s) is a good starting point. Apps, especially your browser, can run a lot of background processes, and it adds up over time. You can also turn VPN off when doing things over LAN (Local Area Connection), using a private search engine, or using a reputable HTTPS website.
Here is a table showing the data usage when VPN is enabled or disabled –
|VPN Enabled||VPN Disabled|
|1. Data Encryption||Increases data usage||No impact on data usage|
|2. VPN Tunnel Overhead||Increases data usage||No impact on data usage|
|3. Routing Distance||Increases data usage||No impact on data usage|
|4. Web Content Compression||No impact on data usage||No impact on data usage|
|5. Server Load||Increases data usage||No impact on data usage|
|6. Local Network Traffic||No impact on data usage||No impact on data usage|
|7. Background Processes||No impact on data usage||No impact on data usage|
|8. Connection Drops||May lead to increased data usage||No impact on data usage|
|9. Mobile Data Saver||No impact on data usage||No impact on data usage|
|10. Streaming Services||May increase data usage||No impact on data usage|
2. Connect to the closest VPN server
The easiest way to reduce VPN data usage is to use a feature present in almost all VPN apps that connect you to the fastest server with the lowest latency. Because the physical distance is short, besides increasing VPN speed, less data has to travel between the VPN server and your device. If this feature is missing or you want to configure a VPN on Windows or Mac, request settings for a VPN server in your city. If that’s impossible, one in your country is the next best thing.
3. Enable split tunneling
Split tunneling is becoming an industry standard, and most VPN apps nowadays come with it integrated. It might be named differently, such as Whitelister on Surfshark, SplitBear (as mentioned in our TunnelBear VPN review), or Smart VPN (evident from our review of Hotspot Shield VPN). It allows you to choose which apps use your real Internet connection, and which remain in the VPN tunnel. So, you can bypass a VPN block in some apps while simultaneously using the public Internet for apps where privacy and security aren’t compromised. When used alongside method 6, split tunneling can lower the VPN data usage considerably.
4. Enable data compression
We’ll be upfront. Your VPN provider might not offer this feature at all. Some do, as seen in our CyberGhost VPN review. You can also enable the built-in ad, tracker, and malware blocker that most VPN apps have – either alongside compression or instead of it. Less displayed web content, especially pesky video ads and large ad banners, can dwindle VPN data usage.
5. Change your security protocol
When we discussed data consumption, we hinted at choosing the security protocol to minimize VPN data usage. Generally, the protocols with the lowest number of security features will use fewer data. Here’s a list of some common protocols and our recommendations:
- PPTP. Outdated and has the lowest level of encryption but uses the least amount of data. Not recommended.
- L2TP/IPSec. Moderate data usage and strong encryption. Slowly going out of use due to rumors NSA can break it.
- IKEv2/IPSec. A safer alternative to L2TP with similar data consumption.
- OpenVPN TCP/UDP. Widely accepted choice for having a balance between VPN speed, security, and data usage. Recommended.
- WireGuard. New security protocol. Has a low encryption overhead and provides the perfect balance between data consumption and high VPN speed and levels of privacy and security. Strongly Recommended.
- Stealth OpenVPN. Great for circumventing VPN blocks due to increased security, but has higher VPN data consumption than OpenVPN.
- SSTP. Super strong encryption and thus significantly increased data usage.
6. Disable or reduce the encryption level
Once again, this isn’t available with every VPN. Most VPN providers stick to an industry-standard, AES 256-bit encryption algorithm. However, some VPNs allow you to tone down the encryption level to 128-bit or 192-bit, an example being TorGuard. Other VPNs allow you to disable encryption altogether, provided you’re using OpenVPN protocol. An example is a VPN provider we reviewed, Private Internet Access. This brings the most significant decrease in VPN data usage.
7. Look for VPN providers who supply DNS servers
DNS (Domain Name System) servers provided by your VPN service are a great way to hide VPN use, which we mentioned in our StrongVPN review. They are also an effective tool to minimize VPN data usage since the DNS server might be closer to the VPN server. If that isn’t available, opt for publicly available ones such as Google Public DNS, OpenDNS, or Cloudflare.
8. Use unmetered Internet whenever possible
If your ISP measures your bandwidth and data usage, this is an obvious way to turn down the use of VPN data. If that’s not possible, any Internet connection other than yours should suffice. By this, we mean public Wi-Fi, hotspots, and even someone’s wired connection if you’re on a desktop or laptop.
9. Don’t use a free VPN
These aren’t instructions to reduce VPN data usage, more like suggestions. Yes, you can get a free VPN, and there is quality free VPN software, but it comes with problems. You can’t choose a security protocol or the nearest VPN server, let alone a server that isn’t overcrowded, wasting more data. Free VPNs also avoid providing their DNS servers, and some even display intrusive ads to recoup the operation costs. The more malicious ones use your device as an exit node for VPN and thus steal your bandwidth. The only ”beneficial” thing to data usage is that some don’t offer encryption. This, when you think about it, isn’t a good thing.