I’ve had a few emails recently basically asking how I can get a US IP address so I thought I’d put a quick post up about it. It’s actually becoming more and more common, for the simple reason that much of the best sites on the internet restrict access depending on what IP address you have. Just to make this clear – the IP address is the number assigned to your Internet device when you connect up through your ISP. It’s uniquely identifiable to you which accounts for the privacy and security risks I tend to bang on about on this site.
The IP address is also linked to a specific country however, so any website can check where you are accessing from. So just to clarify again – you might be a UK citizen connecting on a UK bought laptop, but if you’re sitting in an airport in Italy that’s where you’ll be categorized as from. So in this case you’d get blocked from the BBC Iplayer site and all it’s content as you’re considered Italian. Now this doesn’t happen with the odd site, increasingly all the best commercial sites are restricting access in this way, mainly due to licensing issues. It’s also done for economic reasons, allowing sites to operate price discrimination systems (charging more in different countries) and blocking consumers using an adjacent country to order the goods at a cheaper price (very fair huh!).
So that’s where we are – so the individual looking for a US based IP address is probably trying to watch, download or buy something from a US site like Hulu whilst physically located outside the USA. Fortunately in most circumstances there are ways around this – which I will just list below.
First the Technologies – there are two main ways of bypassing these restrictions, both of which involve masking your true IP address and presenting a different one to the web site you are visiting. You can either use a proxy or VPN server – both can hide your true IP address to some extent. They function in similar ways however the proxy server routes traffic from a specific application or software (in our case usually the browser) to the proxy server. Whereas the VPN is a secure, encrypted tunnel which routes all traffic from your computer through the remote VPN server. Both have their advantages and disadvantages – in practice a VPN is normally harder to detect by the web sites however there is normally a slight overhead on speed due to the encryption. Which one you select is normally down to your primary requirements – a VPN offers security and is required for a lot of media sites like Hulu and NBC, whilst a proxy server works best for the BBC Iplayer (although a VPN still works too!)
Finding a Server for our US IP Address
Hopefully that makes sense so let’s focus on how we can find one of these servers. Let’s imagine we want to access Hulu from somewhere in Europe – for this a proxy won’t work so we need to find ourself a VPN service. Unfortunately unlike proxies you are unlikely to find a free VPN service. Although if you work for a big company who have American offices it might be worth checking if they have a US VPN you can use occasionally. Many people forget that their connection back to work is likely to be a VPN so it’s an avenue worth investigating for many.
For anyone else you have two options – first make your own by installing a VPN server on your own US based computer (or perhaps a friend with a good internet connection). The other option is to subscribe to a VPN service and use their servers when you need them. They are fairly inexpensive now and the best ones let you access content all over the world – here’s a few checkpoints for selecting a provider to give you that American address you need.
- Ensure they have software for easy connection – best firms have custom software to make it easy to connect/switch servers
- Your subscription should provide access to multiple servers in multiple countries (not pay per country unless it’s very cheap!)
- Speed is essential especially for streaming media – try a short trial or test before subscribing for any length of time
- Watch out for recurring payments
- If you do subscribe with automatic renewal – select using something like Paypal which you can easily cancel at any time
The prices for these are falling now, but unfortunately there are a lot of awful services set up by people without the skills and resources to provide a decent infrastructure. Anyone can set up a VPN and charge people to connect but it takes skill and investment to provide the secure, high speed access people need for these sites.
I use two of these services which I can recommend – both have VPN and proxy services and are very good value.
Identity Cloaker – has proxy and VPN modes and is primarily a security product. It’s probably the best option for UK based services like the BBC as it has a lot of fast UK servers. It also has a lot of other servers included though like USA, Canada and many others.
Overplay – again a good price, simple connection software and probably the biggest international selection of VPN servers of any provider. Depends if you need Russian or Hungarian servers though. Good service though and knowledgeable staff. Easy to sign up for a month and cancel whenever through Paypal
There are lots of others, but I wouldn’t spend more than either of those two as they are probably the best in terms of speed and value. There are a couple of cheaper ones I’ve tried but their US and UK servers where overloaded and you couldn’t stream video very well.
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