Opera’s free VPN is a popular solution among people who want a bit of privacy. The VPN is incredibly simple to use, only requiring a simple download of the Opera browser for your computer or Android device. Unfortunately, it’s not always the fastest VPN in the world. Opera VPN can be glacially slow at times, delivering web pages at a crawl and offering internet speeds too slow for activities like watching videos.
If you’re trying to get good internet speeds while protecting your privacy, here’s a complete rundown on everything you need to know about Opera, Opera’s VPN, and VPNs in general. Learn why Opera VPN isn’t always the best choice, how it stacks up to the competition, and what you can do to make it faster.
The History of Opera
These days, most people think of Google Chrome when they need to browse the web. Many years ago, however, this wasn’t always the case. Opera was originally released as a web browser in 1995, 7 years before Firefox’s first release and 13 years before Google Chrome became available. In the early days of the internet, before Google changed the monetization landscape, Opera was supported by displaying ads inside the browser itself. Users could purchase a license to remove those ads and browse the web ad-free.
Opera never gained a huge amount of popularity, although it had its share of pros and cons compared to other web browsers. In 2013, the developers of Opera (whose company is called Opera) decided to switch out the engine of their browser. Instead of using their hand-coded, proprietary system to display the contents of web pages, they began to use Google’s open-source Chromium engine. In other words, since 2013, Opera has essentially been a slightly different version of Chrome.
Opera has historically attempted to attract users by building convenient features directly into their browser. Opera was one of the first web browsers to include a pop-up blocker, a button to return to recently closed pages, tabs, and private browsing. These days, it offers features like social media and messaging integration, cryptocurrency support, and a built-in VPN, giving users many innovative ways to use their web browser.
About Opera VPN
Opera’s free VPN is a somewhat controversial topic among security experts. While it offers some degree of privacy and anonymity. it’s not a “real” VPN. Instead, it’s a TLS-encrypted proxy service that offers a lot less security and fewer options than a full VPN.
Opera (the company) was also purchased by a Chinese game developer, which has caused many experts to raise concerns about Opera’s handling of user data. While the company claims to not store VPN user data to protect your privacy, pursuing a legal claim against Opera’s parent company in the event of a data breach might prove to be a difficult task.
In order to better understand this, let’s first go over what Opera VPN is. Opera VPN is a toggle in the Opera web browser that takes all of your web traffic, encrypts it, and sends it to an Opera server instead of the website you’re trying to visit.
That Opera server then retransmits your web traffic to the appropriate destination. The site you’re trying to view then sends its response (the content of the pages you’re trying to view) back to the Opera server, which encrypts it and retransmits it to your device.
As mentioned above, Opera VPN is not a true VPN. The key point here is that Opera does not increase the security or privacy of your other apps in any way. While a real VPN would allow you to use an e-mail app, update your phone, or launch an instant messaging service through the VPN server,
Opera only routes your web traffic through its proxy. This means that if the stuff you’re trying to keep private isn’t done via a web browser, Opera VPN isn’t right for you. It’s more secure than most proxies, as Opera does encrypt its traffic, but it’s not a comprehensive solution for all of your internet privacy needs.
Opera uses an encryption protocol called TLS, which is the same standard used for HTTPS encryption. Since TLS is widely used, any vulnerability in this encryption protocol will likely be quickly discovered and fixed. In theory, the AES-256 encryption used by Opera is effectively uncrackable without the key, but zero-day exploits may surface that cause your browser data to be theoretically vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack. Again, however, TLS is very widely used and it’s unlikely that a would-be attacker would go after Opera VPN browser traffic instead of attempting to hack a more lucrative target.
Critics of Opera VPN are keen to point out that this encryption standard can easily be applied to other browsers. Downloading an extension like HTTPS Everywhere or simply limiting your web browsing to sites that use HTTPS gives you a similar level of security against some types of snooping.
With HTTPS Everywhere, your ISP and network administrator won’t be able to view the content of sites you visit. They’ll still be able to see where you’re directing your browser, however, enabling them to get a pretty good idea of your web history. Opera VPN adds an extra layer of security by obfuscating which sites you visit, keeping your history hidden. Using a DNS over HTTPS service can further limit what your ISP is able to see.
Why is Opera VPN Slow?
For many years, users of Opera VPN have reported issues with their connections. While many of these connection issues are the result of the users’ connections, CDN outages, and other common internet problems, part of the reason why Opera VPN is slow is that Opera VPN is not a particularly fast VPN.
Testing suggests that it offers very competitive latency when compared to other free VPNs, but there’s a great deal of variance in the server you’re assigned to and you’ll be subject to very steep bandwidth limitations. At the end of the day, you’re using a free service that reroutes your internet communications. Being slow comes with the territory.
Understanding Internet Speed
First, let’s briefly define some terms. Latency is the word used to describe the amount of time it takes for information to travel between two computers. This measurement is also sometimes called ping. Latency doesn’t affect download speeds very much, however. That measurement is described by bandwidth, which is the amount of information that can flow between two computers during a short timeframe.
Latency affects how quickly a page will start to load, while bandwidth affects how quickly high-definition images will load and how often videos will buffer.
How Fast is Opera VPN?
Under good conditions, Opera VPN doesn’t increase your latency very much. Connecting to a local server without a lot of traffic can result in a latency increase of less than 50 ms, which is quite good. Web servers that are located on the other end of the US might have a ping of 50 ms or more already. This means that if you’re just using Opera VPN to hide your web traffic and not to spoof a different location, it’s quite responsive.
Unfortunately, this pattern of behavior isn’t consistent. Not only will changing to a long-distance server massively increase your latency, but even the servers with good latency won’t always stay that way. It’s not entirely clear exactly why this is, but given that Opera VPN is free it’s likely that Opera’s servers are prone to being overloaded. When too many users attempt to connect to the same server, it gets bogged down, doesn’t respond quickly, and aggressively throttles bandwidth to ensure that everyone can at least load something.
As far as numbers go, “bad” Opera VPN servers are known to increase your latency by 500 ms or more. This means that it’ll be a full half second before your pages even start loading, and that’s before we start talking about bandwidth.
Opera VPN’s bandwidth follows a similar trend. On a local, unused server, you might be able to download files at over 400 Mbps – if your internet allows that in the first place. On a remote, overloaded server, you might get less than 1 Mbps of download speed.
This is not enough to browse the web on some modern websites, so you should do your best to avoid connecting to these servers. Again, these issues are definitely a combination of both chance and distance. Try to stick to close servers, and if you’re having trouble, try the next closest option and see what happens.
There’s a big log of historical user reports from people who have tried to use Opera VPN to connect to one country and received an IP address halfway across the world. While the backend of Opera’s VPN isn’t a public thing, it’s very likely that Opera’s engineers have been working hard to fix these issues over the years.
Still, there’s a chance that the reason that your internet is slow with Opera VPN is that you’re not using the proxy server you think you are. If you’re experiencing issues, try checking your IP and seeing what country your internet traffic is being routed through. If you get a Vietnamese IP and you expect to be using a US server, you’ve found the source of the problem.
If this happens, try switching servers and seeing what happens. Switching back again might fix the issue, but Opera VPN is usually pretty sticky when it comes to the server you’re connected to. This means that if a server is acting up, you’ll want to wait a few hours before trying to use that server again.
Between having to cater to multiple users and having to route traffic around the globe. Opera VPN might be dramatically limiting the amount of bandwidth that your client is able to receive. If you’re just loading simple websites with lots of text, this might not be an issue. If you’re trying to load high-definition images or videos, stream music, or otherwise perform bandwidth-intensive activities with your browser, you’ll start to notice problems quickly.
If you think this is happening to you, you’ll want to run a quick speedtest. Look at the download speed and compare it to your normal rate. A speed of 100 Mbps isn’t that high by modern standards, but it’s totally acceptable for doing normal web browsing or watching HD videos. A speed of 10 Mbps will get you into trouble if you’re after high-definition multimedia entertainment. Anything less than 5 Mbps and you may start to have problems on otherwise innocuous websites.
To fix this, try switching servers to see if the problem goes away. This won’t always solve the issue, but it’ll definitely give you another data point to consider. If this doesn’t fix the problem, try the rest of the troubleshooting steps below or consider using a different VPN.
Free VPNs Never Give Great Performance
While Opera VPN is a very neat service, it’s still a free service that takes your internet information and adds an extra layer of encryption and makes your packets travel to a remote server before they can be delivered to your device. Adding this layer of encryption and this extra hop isn’t free, especially if you want it done fast.
Opera has to operate a server, connect that server to the internet with enough bandwidth to do all of its users’ web browsing, and then retransmit all of the information that those users request. This means that it spends a colossal amount of money on the mere act of providing internet to each server.
On top of that, the server has to decrypt the information being sent by users and encrypt the information it receives from websites before sending it out to users. The server has to spend time doing cryptographic calculations to keep your information secure.
TLS is actually very performance friendly (which is probably why Opera uses it), but it’s still an extra operation that has to be performed. The server has to have enough memory and processing power to handle all of this encryption, store data as its being streamed in, and properly route all of the traffic it receives.
This is not an impossible problem. Modern servers, software, and IT professionals can easily work together to overcome all of the hurdles involved in this task. Doing so is expensive, however, and that cost scales up rapidly when you add more and more users.
Opera VPN is a free service. This means that Opera (the company) is much less likely to splurge on the project and rent bigger servers with plenty of extra power and bandwidth. Instead, the company almost certainly employs a cheaper solution that’s not well-suited for a large number of users. When too many people connect, the server starts to slow down and limit bandwidth to try to give everyone a fair shake at loading their websites through the VPN.
Paid VPNs, by contrast, use the money they get via subscription fees to ensure that your connection is routed to a server with plenty of power on an absolutely amazing connection. Unlike Opera, when these VPNs grow, they get more money from their customers, allowing them to purchase more servers and scale up their operations. You’ll basically always get a very good connection from a paid VPN, which makes sense – it’s what they sell.
How to Speed Up Opera VPN
Unfortunately, the issues listed above are beyond your control. Switching server locations can sometimes do the trick and speed up Opera VPN, but it’s not a magic bullet. If that doesn’t work, here are some troubleshooting tips to try.
Fix Local Connection Issues
Sometimes, the issue isn’t with Opera VPN. Opera VPN communicates with remote web hosts for you, but you still need a good connection to Opera VPN’s proxy server to download the files it fetches. This means that if you’re having trouble with your internet connection, Opera VPN will run slowly.
To diagnose this, try opening up a different browser and loading some websites. Ideally, you’ll load up the exact same sites you’re looking at with Opera, but if you can’t do this, try to find a similar category of websites to view. If the websites load fine, you’ll want to do a quick speedtest in your normal browser. Should you pass this test with flying colors, the issue likely isn’t your local connection.
If, on the other hand, the website loads slowly or the speedtest reports slow internet speeds, your problem isn’t with Opera VPN. You’ll want to run through a basic troubleshooting checklist to fix your internet speeds.
Make sure you’re on the right network, ensure that you’re in a location with a good signal, check to see if anyone else on the network is downloading big files or experiencing issues, and consider restarting network equipment like your modem and router. These steps won’t always work, but they’re a good first step when it comes to fixing issues with your internet connection.
Check The Website
These days, many websites are hosted with the help of third-party CDNs, or content delivery networks. Sites use these CDNs to store the information needed to display their pages on fast, reliable servers with good internet connections. Unfortunately, even the best CDN doesn’t have 100% uptime. It’s surprisingly common for a big service provider like Cloudflare or Amazon to begin experiencing issues, causing a whole slew of sites across the internet to have issues loading.
The worst part about this is that so many sites use each big cloud provider that a CDN outage can seem like an issue with your internet at first. The first dozen sites you think of checking might all use Cloudflare. This is why it’s important to check the exact same websites with both Opera VPN and your normal web browser. If one site loads poorly with both, but you can still get good connections to other sites, you’re probably viewing the effects of a CDN outage. Your best solution will be to wait.
Use A Different VPN
Unfortunately, if the issues aren’t on your end or the website’s end, there’s very little you can do to fix Opera VPN being slow other than changing the server location. Your best bet in this instance is to choose a different VPN.
The Best Free VPNs
There’s no such thing as a free lunch. In the VPN world, “free” almost always comes at the cost of speed, privacy, and security. Remember that a VPN receives all of your browsing data when you use it to surf the web. This means that several companies host VPNs for the primary purpose of harvesting your data in an incredibly invasive fashion, Opera VPN is among the best options when it comes to truly free, somewhat secure web browsing.
The best way to get a free VPN is to utilize a 30-day trial with a paid service provider. Many big-name VPNs, including NordVPN, offer 30-day trials, while companies like Surfshark and ExpressVPN offer 30-day money-back guarantees. By bouncing between these options, you can get well over a year of service without having to pay for anything.
Alternately, a handful of services provide a very limited form of their paid VPN for free. ProtonVPN and TunnelBear are probably the most recognizable of these options, giving you the ability to use one device on a limited selection of servers without paying for anything. It’s about as close as you can get to having the benefits of a paid VPN without actually having to pay for anything.
If privacy is a big concern, you’ll probably want to pay for a good VPN. VPNs are not particularly expensive. Many of the best providers on the market have plans for under $6 a month with lots of options, great speeds, and robust protections in place to keep your data private.
The Best Paid VPNs
- ExpressVPN – My top choice when you simply want the best VPN that money can buy.
- NordVPN – My top budget pick which offers great performance at a low price.
If you’re willing to pay for a VPN, you’ve got a plethora of great options to choose from. ExpressVPN is the best VPN I have ever tested for all around performance. They also get independently audited and can show reports of their data privacy practices.
NordVPN is another option that works well and offer servers in many different countries. While not quite as fast as ExpressVPN. NordVPN will work well enough for many people and is slightly less expensive. NordVPN advertises that it does not keep logs.
The final option that I recommend checking out is Surfshark VPN, a lower cost option. Surfshark is great for anyone who only needs a VPN from time to time but want the advantages that come with using a paid VPN service.
These options are far from the only good paid VPN services available today. Different VPNs will offer different packages of latency, bandwidth, server selection, interface, and cost. Before choosing a VPN to use for sensitive activities, it’s always a good idea to look for a third-party security audit of your top contenders, make sure you know what they do with your data, and make sure you know where their company is located.
No matter what they say on their website, every VPN is subject to local laws and can be subpoenaed or raided by the authorities, causing the information they collect to be exposed to law enforcement agencies. Even if you’re not the target of the raid, law enforcement agencies might not store the data they collect as securely as your VPN.
Opera VPN is one of the better free VPN options out there. That said, free VPNs in general are just not usually very fast. There are ways to try and make Opera VPN faster, however they only go so far.
If you want good VPN performance you will want to use a paid VPN option such as ExpressVPN or Surfshark VPN. However, for occasional use Opera VPN may be good enough if you can live with the slower speeds.