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Does a VPN Work On Mobile Data?

May 25, 2024


VPN (Virtual Private Networks) are a great tool for keeping you safe and anonymous on the go.


For many people, VPNs are a godsend – but can you use them while on mobile data? And how much data do they eat up anyway? Well, we’re here to let you know all about it.



Does My VPN Work While Using Mobile Data?


The short answer is yes, your VPN can work while using mobile data!


Mobile data is not a distinct form of the internet. It’s simply a different method of transmitting data, similar to fiber optic wire or Wi-Fi. Sure, mobile carriers typically track every megabyte of data usage and charge you a hefty fee for it, but it’s all the same internet. Consider it similar to Wi-Fi, but with more range.


Regardless if you’re using Wi-Fi or a cellular network to access the internet, your VPN will continue to encrypt your internet traffic.



Can VPN Give Me Unlimited Data?


hand holding an iphone

While some VPNs don’t cap your bandwidth, they still can’t give you unlimited data.


Unlimited data sounds great! You can browse the internet without having to worry about how much data you’re using… right?


Sadly, VPNs can’t give you that.


Even if you use a VPN, your ISP will still be able to keep an eye on your mobile data usage. This means that a VPN won’t enable you to get around data limits or in other words, give you unlimited mobile data.


In fact, using a VPN will make you use even more data because the traffic is encrypted and each packet has a greater amount of overhead. Regardless of what you’re doing, your ISP simply counts data throughput in bits (raw traffic).


We’ll get into what overheads are and how VPNs can increase your data usage in the next section.



Do VPNs Use More Data?


If you frequently use your phone or tablet to access the internet, you most likely use a data plan to browse the web, watch videos, and send emails. However, these data plans have data caps. Going over the data cap will result in additional fees or even worse, sluggish online performance.


VPNs are said to use more data on average than a typical phone would. This can be pretty inconvenient especially if you’re on a tight budget or you don’t want your browsing experience to be ruined by slow speeds.


Luckily, some VPN providers offer pretty reasonable rates. For instance, one of the best iPhone VPNs and Android VPNs, namely, ExpressVPN claims that their VPN never caps your internet usage, which translates to very minimal usage rates.


How exactly does a VPN consume more mobile data?


VPNs will always increase your data usage. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. This is all because of something called ‘encryption overhead’ and here is how it works.


How VPN consume mobile data

Your data usage increases because of encryption overhead.


  1. Your data is encrypted, which involves scrambling the contents, chopping it up into packages, and finishing it off with a data description so your VPN can know what type of data it is.
  2. This data is then routed through a VPN server.
  3. After going through a VPN server, that data is decrypted. Decryption involves reconstructing the original chunks and forwarding this data to a service or website.
  4. This process is repeated as data is sent back to your device.


Nevertheless, even without a VPN, your data is divided into packages and sent over the internet. The main difference is that a VPN connection repacks it to protect you, and the server can reconstruct the data structure after the data description thanks to the encryption overhead. Depending on the VPN protocol being used, the overhead may vary greatly. The overhead for more secure protocols is typically higher.



So, How Can I Reduce My VPN’s Data Usage?


As you already know by now, VPNs tend to use a lot more data. Luckily, there are some ways that you can reduce your VPN’s data usage, such as:


1. Connecting to the Closest Server


When in doubt about which server to pick, choose the one that is closest to you because your data will need less bandwidth and less space to travel there.


Of course, you’ll need to connect to a server in the country where you’re trying to access geo-blocked content. So, just take note that you’ll inevitably use more cellular data the further away the server is.


2. Utilizing split tunneling


split tunneling

Split tunneling basically divides your traffic so you can have faster internet speeds.


By enabling users to send some of their traffic to the VPN and some directly to open networks, split tunneling reduces bandwidth consumption, increases speeds, and decreases the amount of data used.


Split tunneling is generally very easy to enable. Simply select split tunneling in your VPN’s settings to get started. You can then pick which specific apps or URLs you want to route through a VPN tunnel.


Read more in our article on VPN split tunneling and how it works.


3. Choosing a protocol that uses fewer data


Picking the right VPN protocol is one way to control how much mobile data a VPN uses. Below is a table that shows how much mobile data your device uses for specific VPN protocols, as well as the level of security that each protocol offers. You ideally want to aim for a low level of data usage with the highest level of security.


VPN Protocol Data Usage Level of Security
128-bit PPTP Low Low
128-bit L2TP/IPSec Low Low
128-bit OpenVPN Low Moderate
128-bit Stealth OpenVPN High Moderate
256-bit L2TP/IPSec Moderate High
256-bit OpenVPN Moderate High
256-bit Stealth OpenVPN High High


4. Using a VPN only when you need it


Every time you use the internet, you don’t necessarily need to be connected to a VPN. So, you can simply reserve it for situations like connecting to public Wi-Fi, unblocking geo-restricted content, or logging into work accounts.


5. Avoiding free VPNs


Given that you don’t have to dig into your pockets or spend any of your hard-earned money, free VPNs are a very tempting choice.


Sadly, there’s usually a drawback. Numerous free VPNs have been linked to malicious hacks, con artists, and data breaches – exactly what they claimed to shield you from! They usually don’t provide any airtight security features to protect you either.


What’s more, they’re often loaded with ads that consume a ton of mobile data, making them very impractical for any user.



What Are The Best VPNs For Mobile Data?


NordVPN app in laptop

You don’t have to worry about high data usage with the best VPNs out there.


A lot of the best VPNs are great for when you’re using mobile data. Here are our top picks that are awesome when it comes to security features, number of servers, connection speed, price, and VPN protocols:


  • ExpressVPN
    Our top VPN for cellular networks, ExpressVPN is a premium option that costs a little more, but offers unbeatable reliability and security features.
  • NordVPN
    NordVPN is well-known for its quick speeds and cutting-edge security measures. They also have 5,000+ servers and a risk-free 30-day money-back guarantee.
  • Surfshark
    The best inexpensive VPN for mobile browsing. Surfshark excels at bypassing online limitations, and provides a wide range of privacy tools to boot. They also support more than 90 locations right now.
  • Atlas VPN
    With plenty of strong security features, this great VPN offers servers that are optimized for streaming. What’s great is that Atlas VPN can secure any number of devices too.



VPNs for Mobile Data Are Handy, But Keep An Eye On Usage


When traveling, it’s best to use a VPN on mobile data, especially if you want to browse privately and access blocked websites. But, since all of your internet traffic is encrypted using strong data encryption, using one does involve additional data usage.


Nevertheless, even though there’s no workaround to data limits, it’s still a good idea to use a VPN on a cellular connection for security, privacy, and bypassing censorship.


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