Accessing Hulu, BBC iPlayer and other web sites when abroad (and Skype when it’s banned)

With travellers heading further afield and some countries getting more twitchy about which sites people can access there’s a real need for many to have access to a VPN (Vitual Private Network) on their laptop, netbook or smartphone.

VPN?  What’s that all about then?  I won’t go into the technical nitty gritty but it will basically secure and encrypt your internet connection offering the following benefits :

  • More secure wifi access – don’t worry about hackers eavesdropping on your online banking passwords
  • Access to websites that are not accessible outside your home location (e.g. hulu / BBC iPlayer / Zattoo / Sky Player etc.)
  • Access to sites and services restricted by countries – e.g. China often comes to people’s minds for example blocking facebook, Google, YouTube etc. but many ex-pats in places such as UAE and Oman use VPNs to access Skype.

Note that this article is mainly geared to the ‘flashpacker’ that’s travelling with a netbook or laptop although you can use some of the services on your iPhone, Android or other device.

Ok you’re travelling and you should be soaking up the culture, but there’s the times you may want to chat to your mates, update your facebook or use Skype to stay in touch.

So how do you do it?

Generally when you select such a service you will have to select which country you want to connect to (e.g. UK if you want to access BBC iPlayer).  The more expensive services will allow you a choice of servers – e.g. UK to access iPlayer, US to access Hulu, Hong Kong if you want to bypass Chinese blocks etc.

Yes I did say the more expensive.  I’ve been pointed towards free services such as HotSpot Shield from people that have used it in China – it may service your needs but I found that it hijacked my browser searches from Google and redirected to another search so I took it straight off again, so this article only discusses paid services.

Now some of you will hear the word encryption and think about dodgy activities – these services aren’t intended for you….but if you want to stay a bit more private they will prevent sites such as google tying all your activities to you personally.

Here are three services to start your research – I’ll add more as I find out more about other services.

Banana VPN offers VPN services with servers in the UK, Canada, Germany and the USA however you have to pick which servers you would like on account setup. Services start at $14.99 USD a month to $100 a year – less than $8 a month.

ibVPN – Only uses PPTP which is suitable for most people but not as ‘invisible’ as other methods such as OpenVPN.  Prices are low from $4.95 a month to $39.90 for 6 months.  Allows access to US/UK/NL/DE servers depending on package.  Offers free accounts every week and a one day free trial.

WiTopia – extensive service with choice of servers around the world (i.e. you’re not limited to one at signup) = $39.99 to $69.99.  You need to install software for this but the online help makes it very easy.

UKiVPN – $80 annual or from $8 a month – pay a bit more and you can have a choice of servers, or stay cheap and limit it to just US/Canada/EU/UK/Aus. No software to install.

Some of the above will make you download software to run when you want to access the net via a VPN – this is generally because they offer more services – others will just ask you to make some configuration changes.

Please note that services such as BBC iPlayer should only be accessed if you have a valid UK television licence.  There are similar terms and conditions for services such as Hulu, iTunes etc which are based on your geographic area……

Do you use a VPN?  Do you have a favourite service that isn’t listed here, or use it in a way that’s not mentioned?  Please leave some comments or send some feedback and I’ll update this with more information for others.

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