VPN usage soars as coronavirus spreads

Jan Youngren
Jan Youngren | Security researcher
Last updated: December 1, 2020
VPN popularity grows in Italy

In these trying times, it’s not only hand sanitizer that gets used more often. The VPN industry is also feeling a boost. After all, more people are working from home or abroad because of the coronavirus pandemic. These are situations where VPNs are useful to access internal company networks or simply to bypass geo-blocking and stream something on Netflix.

However, we wanted to see numbers backing up such claims, so we analyzed recent data provided by Google Trends and contacted some of the major VPN providers to ask about the change in demand for their services. Here’s what they had to say.

Changes in VPN usage are real

Of nine major VPN companies that responded to our questions, eight have confirmed a significant increase in usage, sales, or both. It varies between a 10% and 50% global increase over the latter weeks, but the numbers in specific countries are even more staggering.

A rise in VPN usage is following the coronavirus from country to country

We’ve checked how popular the search term “VPN” was in Google Trends during the last 14 days (March 7–20). Then we compared its growth in different countries with the previous period (February 22–March 6). As expected, the highest growth in popularity was among European countries.

Global VPN popularity growth in March

Portugal, Italy, and Spain saw the biggest surge, amounting to approximately +50%. Germany, France, and Belgium were not far behind, scoring in the 40s. In the meantime, the UK stood out of the European crowd with less than a 30% increase.

Moving to North America, the US and Canada were almost even, with 36% and 35% growth, respectively. Even Australia  wasn’t able to escape the dire consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and had a solid +22% increase.

We also checked Google Trends data from the past 90 days to determine when each country saw interest in the “VPN” search term peak. Save for Italy, all countries showed the most interest in VPNs last week (March 14–20). This is not surprising because many European countries declared a national quarantine around that time. Italy was the first to take such measures, hence the country’s interest in VPNs started to increase earlier – around the 9th of March.

Surfshark VPN gave us some impressive country-level numbers. During last month, usage among customers increased three times in Turkey and two times in Italy, Germany, and Portugal.

NordVPN has shared some impressive numbers from its business solution NordVPN Teams, which saw quadruple or higher user growth in Canada, Austria, and the Netherlands. Not far behind were France, Denmark, and Belgium, soaring more than +180%.

For Hola VPN, growth has doubled in the US, Russia, Italy, Spain, and Turkey (when counting daily installs). HideMyAss VPN reported an overall mid-double digit increase, with numbers in Italy almost doubling over last week. Finally, VyprVPN has confirmed an increase in Germany and Turbo VPN reports growth in the US as well as the whole EU market.

VPNs are ready for the surge in usage

It’s not surprising to see a platform or service crash after a sudden spike in user numbers. However, VPNs seem to be ready for a double or even triple increase in usage. None have reported any type of issues that could be related to the coronavirus pandemic.

NordVPN has told us they’re adding new servers constantly to keep up with the demand, while Hola VPN said that their unique P2P technology allows them to avoid any interruptions. It remains to be seen if these promises will stand – after all, it’s not clear how much more the coronavirus will spread.

VPN prices shouldn’t go up

When the demand rises, so does the price. At least that’s what my Economics professor once told me. However, with VPNs, the game is trickier: the competition can easily intercept your clients by simply keeping their prices intact. That’s what VPN providers seem to be choosing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Private Internet Access assured us there aren’t “any pricing changes on the horizon.” VyprVPN has made pricing changes earlier this year, but those were related to the introduction of a new 2-year plan and not the coronavirus. Turbo VPN joined the other two, telling us that the only reason the prices may change slightly is to “provide the best user experience.”

So if the prices aren’t going up, are there any chances they might go down in the near future? Hola VPN sees this as a possibility, saying they “might go with some special promotion.” In the meantime, Surfshark VPN has offered free six-month subscriptions to businesses with up to 10 employees.

The coronavirus effect on China and beyond

A crackdown of VPNs has followed every major political event in China, such as the National People’s Congress meeting or the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The coronavirus has had a similar effect as Chinese authorities decided to hamper VPN usage in January to control the spread of information.

The VPN providers we interviewed had something to say about this. Private Internet Access condemned the actions of the Chinese government that limit the freedom of the internet. In the meantime, to help its users in China, VyprVPN has updated its proprietary Chameleon protocol built especially for use in countries with limited internet freedom.

PrivateVPN gave a particularly insightful answer, pointing out that while the number of customers in China has increased, so did the number of refund requests due to slow speeds. However, the most likely cause of this slowdown is the global network overload, especially in Europe. PrivateVPN also reminded us that Netflix has already reduced its video quality to SD for the upcoming 30 days in Europe (which means that streaming in HD or 4K is possible only with a VPN).

SMBs see the need for business VPN solutions

Personal VPNs are a good way to protect your connection and access geo-blocked content, but remote workers have different needs. For them, having a secure tunnel to access company resources is key.

Big corporations have mostly taken care of such needs, though they also have struggled with an unprecedented demand for remote access. LogMeIn, a well-known name on the remote work market, has promised to provide non-profits with their services for free. Therefore, it’s the SMBs that might find themselves with no way to organize and manage their remote workforce.

Only a few consumer VPN providers have their business versions. One of them, VyprVPN, reported a recent boost both in terms of new users and current users adding extra seats for their accounts. There is also HMA VPN for Business: while focused on SMBs, this service has all the best features of its B2C counterpart.

Then there is Windscribe with its ScribeForce Teams. It includes all Pro features of the B2C client, adding centralized billing, team management from a single panel, and shared static IPs. Also, as mentioned above, Surfshark VPN is giving away six-month subscriptions to companies with 10 or fewer employees.

Finally, there’s NordVPN Teams, which saw a 165% usage spike and an almost 600% increase in overall sales since March 11.

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  1. Dimitri70

    I’d say Atlas VPN is also a worthy mention here. They don’t collect any logs and they are free to use. It’s a great option for setting up a lot of connections on spare devices, however the downside is that they only support iOS and Android clients, so you’d still have to find a solution for PC

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