Once upon a time, a VPN (Virtual private network) was pretty much the same wherever you got it from. The luckiest people were those who worked for big multinationals who had access to a network of corporate VPN servers across the world. Sometimes these were essential of course, for maintaining some sort of confidentiality in countries where Governments actively monitored internet traffic and data.

Nowadays though VPN services are common place largely due to the increased concerns about privacy online and the growth of region locked websites. Just like DVDs a few years ago, websites are placing restrictions on who can access them – these are largely based on the physical location of the user. The VPN changes this because websites are not able to detect a well configured VPN and they only see the IP address of the actual server not the originator. Which means that if you have access to a VPN service with multiple servers in different countries then you can effectively bypass any block based on region.

These services are common place now and for a few dollars a month you can effectively get access to a global network of VPN servers in different countries. However the game is changing slightly as some of the big media sites are becoming better at spotting these services and blocking their use. Although nobody has yet figured out how to detect an actual VPN connection (if configured securely), the IP addresses of these VPN servers are easier to identify. IP addresses can generally be split up into two distinct sections, commercial and residential.

  • Commercial IP addresses – are assigned from data centers and re-sellers. These are for services like websites and commercial servers which are used for these commercial VPN and proxy services.
  • Residential IP addresses – are assigned from ISPs. When you connect through to your internet provider your computer or device will be assigned a residential IP address when connected.

The first category are now starting to be used to detect and block VPN services and it is surprisingly effective.  In fact arguably the biggest content provider Netflix now blocks about 95% of VPN services from connecting to it’s service simply by detecting whether a commercial or residential IP address is being used.  Although there is still an option and a method to bypass this Netflix VPN block and a couple of providers have implemented residential IP addresses into their networks.    They use technology to relay connections destined for services like Netflix through a residential IP address instead of a commercial one which bypassed the blocks.

It’s a bit early to see if these measures will be necessary for other media channels, for example to watch BBC iPlayer in Ireland is still relatively straight forward using any of these VPN services which are available.  The main problem with using residential IP addresses is simply the cost, they are much more expensive than commercial IP addresses and this may end up making the cost of the VPNs more expensive.