A VPN works by creating an encrypted connection between your device and a private VPN server. This connection is known as the VPN tunnel.
VPNs create an encrypted tunnel between your device and a remote server.
By encrypting your data and sending it through a tunnel, the VPN prevents internet service providers (ISPs), governments, and hackers from spying on your online activity.
Once your traffic reaches the VPN server, it is decrypted and sent on to the website or app you’re using. This has the effect of hiding your IP address because the connection looks like it’s coming from the VPN server’s location, and not your location.
In short, a VPN encrypts your traffic data and replaces your IP address with the IP address of the server you’re connected to.
LEARN MORE: For a more technical look at VPNs, read our full guide to how VPNs work or take an in-depth look at the different VPN protocols.
VPN apps are available on desktops, smartphones, and basically any device you can think of.
Mobile VPNs work on both WiFi and cellular data (e.g. 4G), but you will need an existing internet connection for the service to connect. (In other words, you can’t use a VPN without the internet.)
Once connected, all of your phone’s internet activity will be encrypted and routed through the VPN server. Your IP address will also be protected.
Two things to be aware of with mobile VPNs are:
- VPNs only protect data sent over the internet. This means that standard voice calls and SMS text messages are not encrypted. Use WiFi-based calling and messaging services, such as WhatsApp or iMessage, to keep your communications secure.
- Mobile VPNs use data. It’s sometimes reported that using a mobile VPN will let you bypass your phone contract’s data limit. This is not true. In fact, our research has shown that a VPN uses 4-20% more data than not using a VPN, so you’ll reach your data limit sooner. Read more about this in our guide to VPN data use.