Using a virtual private network, or VPN for short, can be a good way to protect your privacy. Most VPN users install an app or set up a profile on their computer and smartphone. While this solution secures Internet traffic on your most important devices, it might not cover your smart TV, connected printer, or game console. For this reason, it makes sense to install a VPN on your router.
In this article, you’ll learn how to set up your router with VPN functionality, providing whole-house protection.
What is a VPN router?
Many newer or more sophisticated home wireless routers have the capability to act as a VPN client. In other words, the router itself connects to the VPN provider and routes all of the network’s traffic through this connection.
While many kinds of routers don’t have the capability to become VPN clients, using your router for VPNs doesn’t involve a different kind of hardware than a normal router. If your router has the functionality built-in—or supports third-party firmware that includes it—it can work for VPN use.
How does a VPN work on your router?
Every kind of home wireless router sold today combines a few features that used to be sold separately:
- A wireless access point, or AP, creates a Wi-Fi network from an Ethernet network.
- The router forwards Internet Protocol (IP) packets to the correct destinations.
- Firewall software prevents unauthorized incoming connections from reaching internal devices.
- Router/modem combos from Internet service providers include a cable modem as well, which communicates over TV cables using a protocol called DOCSIS.
- The configuration interface or control panel, usually web-based, lets you change settings for all the other components.
When you configure your wireless router’s VPN client functionality, it establishes a connection with your VPN provider. Your router continues to run its wireless network, firewall off traffic, and connect to your ISP’s network. However, it makes sure that all of your traffic travels through the VPN tunnel instead of directly to the internet.
Pros and cons of setting up a VPN on your router
Compared to configuring a VPN on only some of your devices, setting one up on your router can be advantageous:
- Your entire home network is protected, including Internet of Things (IoT) and smart home devices. Any device that can connect to your network can connect to the VPN.
- One ramification of this is that you can access region-blocked streaming content on your streaming device that otherwise doesn’t support a VPN.
- You don’t need to set up individual devices for them to gain VPN access. Just connect to the network and you’re good to go.
- Your devices’ battery life may be better since they don’t need to keep an always-on VPN connection in the background.
However, there are also some disadvantages of router-based VPN usage:
- Fine-grained adjustments are difficult. Instead of turning off the VPN on your laptop if a site doesn’t work, you have to turn it off on your entire network.
- You can use up your VPN data allotment faster because more devices use the VPN. Depending on how your VPN plan works, this might force you to upgrade to a more expensive option.
- Your router might not support it. If you don’t have a router that includes the option or supports third-party firmware, you’ll need to buy a new one.
- Multiplayer gaming and other latency-sensitive activities are slower. With a whole-network VPN, you’ll have a hard time allowing your gaming console or PC direct access to the Internet. While modern VPNs have much better latency than in the past, your game ping times will certainly increase nonetheless.
You’ll need to balance the positives and negatives of using a VPN on your router in your particular situation. If you have a lot of devices and your router works out of the box, a router-based VPN might be a great choice. At the same time, if you have a data cap and an unsupported router, you should stick with per-device VPNs.
Installing a VPN on your router
Before you set up the VPN on your router, you’ll need to verify a few things:
- Your router must support acting as a VPN client. Check the manufacturer’s website, search Google, or look through the configuration interface to figure out if it will work.
- If it doesn’t, you’ll need to install third-party firmware. OpenWrt is a popular option with tons of useful features, including VPN support. Installing it can be an in-depth process, so set aside some time to do this.
- If your router doesn’t work with VPNs natively and doesn’t support other firmware, you’ll need to purchase a different one.
- Your router and VPN provider must support the correct protocols. If your router only speaks OpenVPN but your VPN provider doesn’t offer that option, you’ll be out of luck.
- Your VPN data cap must be high enough to support all of your devices. An entire home network can use thousands of gigabytes of data per month. Streaming video services are particularly bandwidth intensive.
The process of setting up the VPN connection on your router will differ based on its brand and configuration software. Look in your owner’s manual or on the manufacturer’s website for specific instructions. However, it will probably look something like this:
- Open your router’s configuration interface in your web browser. You can usually find it at the first IP address in your internet network. Try 10.0.0.1 and 192.168.0.1 to start; those are common options.
- If you don’t remember your admin password, you might not have set one. Sites like routerpasswords.com contain lists of default admin passwords for common home routers.
- Find the VPN option in the settings. This might be considered an advanced option.
- If your router requires third-party firmware, you’ll need to install that now. Otherwise, if OpenWrt works on your router, follow their first time installation guide.
- If you can’t find it but you’re sure that your router’s default firmware offers the option, you might need to update your router’s software.
- Choose the option for a VPN client, not a VPN server. Your router will be connecting to a separate VPN service, not hosting its own service.
- Enter the correct settings. You can usually find these options from your VPN provider. If your provider offers an OpenVPN config file, upload that instead of entering the details manually.
- Complete any necessary post-setup steps. For example, you might need to make a change to your router’s firewall configuration.
After you’re done setting everything up, make sure that common websites load on a device connected to the router like your computer or smartphone. Then, proceed to the next section, where we’ll make sure that your VPN is working.
How to check if your VPN is working on your router
To make sure that your traffic is actually exiting from your VPN and not directly to the internet, try any of the following tests:
- Search Google for “what’s my IP” and verify that the output shown is not your home IP address.
- Change your VPN location and check to see that region-blocked streaming content is now available.
- Run the traceroute command on your computer to see the “hops” your connections take before arriving at their destination. This way, you can figure out what intermediaries are between you and your destination, including your VPN.
Best VPN routers for homes
While you can purchase routers that have VPN functionality included, you might be better off getting one that has good support for third-party firmware instead. Setting up this firmware might require a little tech-savviness, but it gives you complete control over your router’s functionality.
Using a third-party firmware option gives you lots of benefits:
- Your router will get a huge set of features that the manufacturer wouldn’t normally include.
- You can install additional functionality through packages.
- You’ll be able to update your router, fixing security issues, long after the manufacturer stops supporting it.
- If you’re unwilling to do the flashing process yourself, there is even a cottage industry around providing pre-flashed routers.
Serious Wireless Power: Linksys WRT3200ACM
This fast, feature-packed router includes guaranteed support for OpenWrt and DD-WRT. You’ll get great wireless performance and functionality for years to come. However, its price tag might be a little steep to swallow for many households.
Maximum Ease of Setup: FlashRouters Netgear R6700
Unlike the previous router, which can be bought from Amazon, this model comes from a company called FlashRouters. They purchase existing products and do the potentially fiddly and time-consuming flashing process for you. As a result, you’ll get a router that comes with all of the features you want without any time investment.
If you already use a VPN, you know how useful it can be. Protecting your privacy, bypassing ISP restrictions, and accessing region-blocked content are all good uses for a VPN.
While it’s great to use a VPN on your phone or computer, you can bring the advantages to other devices by using it on your router instead. This way, your entire network reaps the benefits.
Some routers include support for VPN networking out of the box, but most require that you flash them with special firmware. You might be better off purchasing a dedicated router that’s designed for this firmware.
You may also like to read: How to open ports on a router
Should I install a VPN on my router?
It’s a tradeoff. Installing a VPN on your router routes your entire network’s traffic through the VPN. This improves your privacy in some cases, as your ISP can no longer see your traffic. However, it can also be harder to make small adjustments that way.
Yes. In recent years, router manufacturers have started to include more power user features out of the box, including VPN clients. Be careful when shopping for routers, though: some offer VPN server functionality but can’t act as clients.
Do all routers support VPNs?
No. While a number of routers support VPNs out of the box (and more work with third-party firmwares that do), many routers are incapable of using VPNs. Check your router manufacturer’s website or do a quick Google search for “<model name> vpn”.
Is it easy to set up a VPN on your router?
Depends on which router you have. If your router has built-in support for acting as a VPN client, using this feature will be just as easy as changing any other setting. On the other hand, your router might not support it without a third-party firmware. If this is the case, you’ll need to install the firmware first, which may be a challenge depending on the model.