Whether you use a VPN to unblock geo-restricted content while traveling or want to hide your online activity from casual snoopers, you probably know how frustrating it can be when the internet connection drops out. You enter the network settings page of your router and try to establish a WiFi connection. Nothing happens. For a few minutes you think there’s no hope, but then you try one last thing…
…switch to a different WiFi channel. Now, magically, you can connect to the internet and are able to browse the web, stream videos, and download files. Why is this? You’re probably using a VPN with shared IPs (static IPs), which are allocated to devices on the network according to how they connect. When you switch to a different WiFi channel, the VPN sees that you’re no longer connected to the originally assigned IP and gives you a new one. In most cases, this will be the same for everyone on the network, so when the internet connection drops, everyone else will be able to use it too.
As you can probably guess, while this trick works for solving internet connectivity issues while on the move, it doesn’t necessarily prevent them. If you use the internet with a public WiFi hotspot at a coffee shop, you’re effectively sharing the IP address of the person who set up the hotspot with everyone else in the vicinity. If anyone else uses the same router and tries to connect to the internet at the same time as you, they’ll get the same shared IP and be able to do so too. This isn’t always the case, however, and you need to make sure that the person behind the hotspot doesn’t block any specific IPs or expose any security vulnerabilities in their setup.
Finding the Root of The Problem
If you’re experiencing internet connectivity issues on your network, it’s a good idea to first try and isolate the problem. In the case of the problem we just described, you’d want to investigate the WiFi hotspot and determine whether or not it’s safe to use.
In most cases, this will be an easy task. The hotspot will either be set up by an ISP (Internet Service Provider) employee or a community manager at a coffee shop or hotel. In either case, you’re going to have their name and email address (or phone number if you’re contacting them via phone).
If you have their name and number, it’s usually a good idea to call them to discuss the issue. They’ll be able to give you more information about how or why their network is acting up. In the case of the problem we described above, calling the ISP to ask whether or not they’re blocking FTP traffic is a good start. This will give you an idea of whether or not contacting the person manually will be effective in fixing the issue. In this particular case, it was. You don’t necessarily need their permission to access their network settings, but it’s a good idea to ask.
Avoiding The Internet While On The Move
Many people use a VPN to access content that’s restricted to certain networks or regions. If you’ve ever tried to access a website while traveling, you’ll know how frustrating this can be. You connect to the network and try to load the page…
…and nothing happens. No matter how long you wait or how much you try and trick the browser into thinking it’s in a different location, the content remains inaccessible. You can’t use the VPN to access blocked websites while traveling, because the moment you load a page that’s restricted to a certain area/network, the VPN drops you right back to the sign-in page. Inevitably, you’ll hit this point several times before you successfully load the website you tried to access. If you did this frequently while traveling, you’d soon find yourself unable to access the internet at all while abroad.
As a general rule, it’s best to avoid using the internet while on the move. There are a number of different VPNs that work on a paid basis. Some of these include a kill switch that prevents your device from being connected to the internet when you’re abroad and a privacy feature that prevents third-parties from accessing your personal information. If you do decide to use a VPN, make sure to consider these two things before you travel.
Shared IPs and Subnet Masks
One of the main differences between using a VPN and connecting to the internet directly through a WiFi hotspot is the IP address that’s assigned to your device when you connect. With a VPN, your IP is usually assigned by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and is usually different every time you connect. In the case of a WiFi hotspot, your IP is usually the same whenever you connect to it. While this might sound like a good thing, it can cause several problems. For one thing, if a large number of devices are connecting to a single IP address, it can slow down your internet connection significantly. Additionally, shared IPs are usually not assigned to devices which are used for personal use only. If you’re not sure what a shared IP is or how it can affect your internet connection, it’s a good idea to look it up on wikipedia or other online sources.
FTP Versus HTTP
Something else to consider when using a VPN is how you want to access the internet. Do you want to use FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to download files or HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) for browsing the web? In most cases you’ll want to use HTTP, as it’s usually faster and more reliable than FTP. If you use FTP with a VPN, your connection will likely be slow and filled with errors. Additionally, some websites and services restrict which protocols they allow, so if you try to use an IP that’s not on their whitelist, you’ll either get an error message or be automatically blocked. You can find a whitelist of acceptable protocols here.
More Ways To Access the Internet
In some cases, establishing a WiFi connection isn’t the only way to access the internet while on the move. Some VPNs offer an Android app or website that you can use to connect to servers and gain access to the content they offer. You can usually set up these apps to automatically connect to the VPN whenever you open them, so you don’t have to think about it. Additionally, some VPNs offer a self-destruct option in case you forget your password, so you don’t have to worry about hackers stealing your personal information. Finally, make sure you read the fine print before you sign up for anything. Weighing all the pros and cons, it’s usually best to avoid using the internet while on the move if you can.