Last year has been a big year for top VPN services, with notable changes in software and industry.
We’ve seen nearly billions of dollars being traded, massive advancements in the underlying technology, and changes in the way external services interact with VPNs that have deeply affected a number of providers and what them do. customers can expect.
Here, we’ll outline what happened to the VPN industry in 2021, and – more importantly – what 2022 might hold for the cybersecurity world.
WireGuard and proprietary protocols
One of the biggest disclosures of 2021 was the widespread adoption of the relatively new WireGuard protocol. Although the protocol has been in development for a few years and has been in use since 2019, last year larger and more established VPNs like Surfshark, ProtonVPN, and IPVanish offer support, making WireGuard compatibility the norm rather than an exception.
That means connection speeds have skyrocketed, with leading providers recording well over 800Mbps on a 1Gbps line in our testing. This has left vendors only supporting older protocols like OpenVPN and IKEv2 in the dust, and these incredible speeds are now expected by reviewers and users.
However, WireGuard isn’t the only way for vendors to achieve lightning-fast speeds. Proprietary protocols aren’t new, but specifically ExpressVPN developed and released its Lightway protocol and, shortly thereafter, made it fully open source. Lightway offers very good connection speeds (but not quite the best in its class), as well as very stable mobile connections, demonstrating ExpressVPN’s position as an innovator in the field.
As for ExpressVPN, 2021 saw the biggest acquisition in VPN history – the purchase of the VPN by Kape Technologies for a whopping $ 936 million. This follows Kape’s acquisition of Private Internet Access in late 2020 and CyberGhost some time earlier, showing that the Anglo-Israeli company is seeking to consolidate its leadership position in the industry.
This has caused quite a stir in the cybersecurity community, with some journalists and users claiming it will impact ExpressVPN’s autonomy and privacy – and it hasn’t been influenced by history in the least somewhat. controversial Kape. To learn more, read our full article on acquiring ExpressVPN.
However, ExpressVPN wasn’t the only VPN to be purchased in 2021. Atlas VPN’s favorite free VPN was sucked in by giant NordVPN, and in our recent Atlas VPN review, we immediately saw improvements in its service.
Netflix and streaming
Beyond staying private online, one of the most common reasons to download a VPN is to access geo-blocked streaming content on sites like Netflix and BBC iPlayer. This is almost always fought in one way or another by the streaming provider in question, but in mid-2021 Netflix took it a step further.
VPNs escape geoblocks by using national IP addresses in the country of your choice where certain content is accessible, and before Netflix’s changes, all it would do was block access to content if that IP was linked. to a VPN. After the change, however, it emerged that once Netflix identified an IP address tied to the VPN, the streaming giant blocked access to a large swath of neighboring IP addresses.
Despite the collateral damage, this technique has been incredibly effective in stopping VPN use, and we have seen many previously trusted services collapse. In our initial investigation, we found that few providers could cope with the change, and while a number of providers have since been successful in finding ways around Netflix blocks (namely ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN), many do not. still aren’t the Netflix VPNs they used to be.
What can we expect in 2022?
So 2021 has certainly been a busy year for the VPN industry, and we don’t expect things to end in 2022. Here are our top predictions on what we’ll see in the year ahead.
We can’t be sure what new innovations we’ll see in 2022, but what we can be pretty sure of is that one vendor or another is working on something shiny and new right now. Our money is on ExpressVPN – with massive financial backing from Kape, there is a lot of money to be spent on exciting projects and cutting edge research.
If we had our say, it would be something along the lines of improving the consistency of Netflix unblocking. While many top VPNs have pretty much sewn-in personal privacy, there is still work to be done in terms of unblocking.
No more acquisitions!
Kape surely can’t buy another one VPN? Well, we wouldn’t let them go. However, another thing to consider could be that NordVPN is starting to spend some money. Its acquisition of Atlas VPN added a decent free option to its list, and we certainly wouldn’t be surprised if it targeted a rival paid VPN to solidify its place as an industry leader.
A real surprise would be that NordVPN bought itself. Even if we think it is quite unlikely, anything can happen …
Holistic cybersecurity solutions
One trend that is starting to gain awareness is that cybersecurity service providers are starting to offer a more comprehensive offering. So, for example, IPVanish and StrongVPN have long partnered with cloud storage provider SugarSync, and ExpressVPN offers a similar option with provider BackBlaze.
However, NordVPN went even further. If you really want to anchor yourself in the Nord ecosystem, the company offers the classic NordVPN, the NordLocker storage system, the NordPass password manager and the NordLayer professional VPN offer. If Nord develops an antivirus like its rival Private Internet Access, it could be the first true one-stop-shop for cybersecurity.
It also goes the other way. Antivirus giants Bitdefender, Avira, and Avast all offer their own VPNs, and while these are usually fairly lightweight, white-labeled versions of an established independent VPN, they are easy to access and appealing to. occasional users.
So the trend is there, and we expect more and more vendors to start developing complete internet security suites, even if only to keep their customers away from the competition.
Limits of use lifted
Another trend we expect is that VPN providers are starting to lift or increase the usage limits they place on paying customers. While almost all premium VPNs allow unlimited data transfer, almost all limit the number of devices you can use the VPN on simultaneously.
However, providers are increasingly generous with these limits. For example, ProtonVPN increased the limit on its Plus plan from five to ten, VyprVPN now offers 30, and IPVanish and Surfshark have unlimited policies. Considering that one of our few complaints about ExpressVPN is that it only allows five simultaneous connections, we wouldn’t be surprised if providers at all levels start increasing or even removing these limits.
Quality rather than quantity
However, the same cannot be said for the number of servers. In this area, VPNs seem to put less emphasis on large numbers and more on the quality of their servers.
For example, PureVPN drastically reduced their number of servers in order to get rid of all of their virtual servers. Now every server it runs is physically located in the country it serves, which is more secure and reliable.
Another example is private internet access. At one point in 2021, we’ve seen the number of servers soar to a slightly ridiculous 33,000 – around 25,000 more than its closest rival – but in recent months we’ve seen that shrink to around 15,000, still heavy but more manageable. We wouldn’t be surprised to see that number deflate even more, and the fact that none of our top 4 providers offer more than 5,000 servers per room shows that the quality of a VPN’s servers is far more important than the quality of a VPN’s servers. quantity.
How does 2022 look?
With VPNs becoming more and more mainstream, we can only expect providers to meet the needs of the masses more by offering faster connections, easier to use apps, full suites of features and, in the end. together, better value for money.
We don’t have a predictive orb to ponder, so we can’t guarantee anything will happen. But what’s for sure is that the VPN hype isn’t over yet, and if you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, there’s still time to get on board before it leaves. .