VPNs are great privacy tools, and connecting to one on your router means that your whole network is protected without any extra steps. However, doing so comes with a number of drawbacks that may make you think twice before setting it up.
Upsides of Using a VPN Router
To understand the pros and cons of using one, it’s probably best to go over what a VPN router is, namely a WiFi router with VPN software installed on it. It’s that simple. Instead of having to connect each device on a network to the VPN separately, you just install it on the router, and every device that connects to the router will automatically use the VPN connection.
This is great for a number of reasons. One of the most important is that it gets around the restrictions most VPNs place on the number of devices that can be active at the same time per account, called simultaneous connections. For example, ExpressVPN only lets you have five simultaneous connections, and NordVPN sets the limit at six.
Note that this is about active devices. You can have VPN clients installed on as many devices as you wish—you can just only have the VPN switched on a set number of times, hence the “simultaneous” part.
Running your VPN on the router, though, counts as just one connection. This means you can get past the restrictions on simultaneous connections, which is great if you’re going to have more devices using the VPN than your provider allows. Think of families where everybody owns both a smartphone and a laptop—or even offices that want to keep their traffic protected.
Use a VPN On Any Device
VPN routers are also great because using one means you can have any device use a VPN. Some devices, like most smart TVs and streaming boxes, for example, can’t install VPN software or are limited in which VPN providers support them. (Amazon’s Fire TV does support VPN software.) Routing all traffic through a VPN router means you get past these restrictions, so even the most exotic of your devices can access the internet securely.
Always On, Always Protected
Another big reason to use a VPN router is that they’re always on. If you use a client or app on your devices, you either need to switch it on manually every time or set it to launch automatically when the device starts.
You won’t need to do any of that with a VPN router, it’s always running. It’s great for people who are forgetful or who worry about whether the other people on the network remember to use the VPN when browsing. In these cases, VPN routers are about peace of mind as much as anything else.
Downsides of Using a VPN Router
These are three massive pros to using a VPN router. However, there are also a number of small cons that, in some cases, may make the upside not seem worth it. One big issue is that having a whole network protected at the same time also means the whole network will experience the slowdowns associated with VPNs.
There’s no way around it: a VPN will slow down your connection, and there’s nothing you can do about it; at best, you can limit the damage. While some dodgy VPN providers will claim their VPN can speed up their connection, it’s impossible outside of a very specific set of circumstances.
This slowdown won’t be too much of a deal if you connect to a nearby server or if you have a high base speed—and most connections these days usually do. Still, though, it’s something to keep in mind, especially for households or businesses on slower connections.
The second issue is that streaming is going to get tricky via any router that has a VPN installed. Streaming services aren’t a fan of VPN use and will block you if they detect it, and they’re really good at detecting it.
Normally when you use a VPN for Netflix and get detected, you just switch to a different server until you find one that works. However, on a VPN router, that’s a lot trickier since you can’t just access them on a whim. While it won’t be an issue for most businesses or households that get their entertainment another way, serial bingers may want to think again about using a VPN router.
The last reasons not to use a VPN router have to do with the actual router: you need a bit of technical knowledge to set one up, and you also need to have a bit of extra cash to buy one.
Though it’s not much more difficult than configuring a router, not everybody likes getting into the guts of their tech. If that’s you, then maybe VPN routers aren’t your thing.
On top of that, not all routers are suitable for VPN use. You need routers that have all the necessary firmware to accommodate VPN software. Some VPN providers even offer so-called pre-flashed routers tailored to their own software. However, in most cases, these types of routers are more expensive than the average wireless router.
To get an idea of what’s out there, you can look at our selection of the best WiFi routers. Many of them are great for use with VPNs, including our overall winner the Asus AX6000 (RT-AX88U) and the VPN-friendly Linksys WRT3200ACM. Both are great, but they may be more expensive than your average router. However, if the downsides don’t deter you, VPN routers are an excellent investment.