Over the last ten years I’ve tried hundreds of different proxy and VPN services to use when I’m travelling. Oddly enough I started using them when I was involved in a project to roll out a VPN client to a company I was working with. During that time I was travelling a lot to various sites and mostly staying in rather dull hotels often stuck out on the edges of industrial areas with very little to do.
This was quite a while ago and the standard of hotel TV entertainment was definitely worse than it is today. Often there would be little in English beyond maybe an American news channel or some badly dubbed Hollywood film which had flopped at the box office. There was a relief and it came in the form of UK television companies starting to broadcast online headed by the wonderful BBC iPlayer. Unfortunately as you’ll all probably know, this was also the beginning of geoblocking – the process of restricting access to websites based on your geographical position. Which basically meant you could only watch the BBC online or indeed ITV abroad if you had a UK IP address.
The simplest way to bypass this was to use a VPN service to hide your location. If the server you connected to is based in the UK then you’d look like you were also in the UK and everything would work fine. Now even though I was actually installing an IBM VPN client, I wasn’t really able to use this. Streaming huge amounts of video through my employer’s new VPN servers was unlikely to go down well and probably was outside the scope of performance testing! So I started looking at other options of which there were a few.
Over the years some of the most successful VPN companies have disappeared, often due to changes in technology or the various legal threats that fly around. Many of the VPN services have been bought out by large umbrella companies and are actually owned by the same people. You might see lots of different brands and names, but many are owned by the same companies and share servers and support staff. There’s still a few companies like Identity Cloaker which still seem to be thriving, but many others have disappeared forever.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is there’s certain things to avoid when looking for a VPN service to use. One of the most important is to pick one that is discrete, never touch a company which touts itself as a TV watching service or plasters pictures of BBC logos all over it’s site. Virtually any well configured VPN will do to watch TV channels, if it advertises this functionality it instantly makes itself a target of the very sites you’re trying to access.
The other is to be careful of price, sure we all want the lowest costs but all that happens is you get overloaded servers, dreadful speeds and non-existent support. Directly related to this is the ‘free trial’, which although welcome as a new customer usually ends up flooding networks and slowing up existing customers. This is because often people sign up for free accounts and abuse them – running 24/7 and downloading or streaming constantly until they expire.
VPNS for BBC iPlayer that are Totally Free
Last year I tried a whole bunch of the free VPNs that you find all over the internet. I used an old computer before I rebuilt it, mainly because of the adware/malware that these programs tend to install on your hard drive. I think I only found two that actually worked for accessing BBC, and only then for a short time. Overall these are the issues I found with the free VPNs in accessing the BBC –
- Data Allowance – often heavily restricted when using a ‘free account’ often only enough to watch a programme or two a month.
- Speed – as far as VPNs goes – free means super slow. The amount of buffering to watch a show makes it just pointless even trying to watch anything. You’re better downloading and watching offline.
- Malware/Adware – it might be free but someone has to pay for the VPN’s server and bandwidth. Many of them install adware on your computer to recoup the cost by displaying adverts when you’re using the software (sometimes after too!)
- Security – the worse method of financing these free VPNs in my opinion are the ones which ‘share’ your internet connection to their premium users in exchange for free use. Can you imagine allowing a complete stranger to use your internet connection for their secret, private browsing. Nope nor me, I didn’t go near these and I suggest you don’t either.
- Don’t Work – nowadays it takes a lot of time and effort to keep VPNs functioning with BBC iPlayer. The number of simultaneous connections needs to be limited and IP addresses must be rotated to stop being blacklisted. The free VPNs simply don’t bother with this and who can blame them.
Honestly they’re pointless and the risks are significant to your computer and privacy. There are plenty of decent low cost VPNs that you can use to access BBC iPlayer which are much safer and actually work.
How to Watch BBC Abroad for Free – For 14 Days at Least
However I think I’ve found an exception which if you just want access for a short time is completely free. It also doesn’t have the overloading problems that other free trial solutions suffer from either.
It’s not actually a VPN service (although one is included in the subscription) but another way of watching geo-restricted content from anywhere in the world. It’s called Smart DNS and works in a very similar way to a VPN service – it certainly will unblock BBC iPlayer and other streaming services without any issues at all.
First lets see this BBC abroad free trial in action, just take a minute to watch this video.
That’s all there is too it, simply modify your DNS servers and activate your IP address and it’s ready to go. In fact it’s much easier to set up than a VPN and if you want to say watch UK TV abroad on iPad or a games console it’s a much simpler option than a VPN. After all there’s many devices now that we stream video to that won’t even support a VPN service at all.
Test this BBC iPlayer VPN Free of Charge
One of the reasons, that this free trial doesn’t seem to effect existing users relies on the way that Smart DNS works. Whereas a Virtual Private Network is essentially a tunnel between the client and the VPN server which it funnels all data through. The service based on DNS works a little bit more intelligently, firstly it only kicks in when it detects that you’re trying to access a geo-restricted site like the BBC iPlayer app. Secondly it only filters enough information to ‘fool’ the site that you’re in a different location. When you are actually streaming video the Smart DNS servers are bypassed as the connection is between you and the target website. This hugely reduces the traffic and performance hit on both your client and the servers used to hide your location.
The other impact a VPN has on speed is it adds a layer of encryption – which you won’t have with Smart DNS although this might not always be considered an advantage. Smart DNS is simply focused on bypassing restrictions on media sites, nothing else so if you’re looking for additional security and privacy then it’s not going to help.
These differences though mean that the cost and impact of a new user are much lower than that of a VPN user. Therefore offering a trial at no cost is feasible and at people can try it out or just use it for free UK TV abroad while they’re on holiday. It’s also much the better option on slower connections than a VPN, so if you’re trying to watch the BBC from Australia – it’s also worth considering first.
So what are the drawbacks of using Smart DNS then as opposed to the traditional VPN service? Well apart from the lack of security there really isn’t much although there are situations where it’s perhaps not best suited. Smart DNS services have to be configured to support a specific site so it’s fine if you want to learn how to watch BBC iPlayer in USA for instance. However if you want to access something a little less well known it would need to be set up first.
The other potential problem with Smart DNS is the fact you have to activate your IP address before it works. So on a home connection where the IP address rarely changes, this is not an issue. If you’re however using a laptop, smart phone or tablet and utilizing loads of different access points it can be a bit annoying re-activating your IP address every few minutes. The process only takes a minute, clicking a link on a web page but it can be slightly annoying if you have to do this several times a day.
Unless your IP is activated none of the services will work as the Smart DNS servers will not redirect you when required. It only takes a minute but you must do it every time you use a new IP address and only one can be configured each time.
The company is called Smart DNS Proxy and it’s definitely one of the most reliable services on the market. It also has the added advantage of being the very few which can unblock the US version of Netflix if that’s useful to you.
Anyway the free trial is currently still working which gives you 14 days out to try it out for yourself without any obligations.