One of the most important aspects of modern life is access to decently fast wifi and 4G (3G is for dinosaurs!) internet access. Sure, videos of cats on Youtube need to be streamed as quickly as possible, but as an freelancer who does all of my work on the web, my livelihood and productivity crucially depends on the quality of my internet access.
#China Internet Problems
Broadband internet in China is not particularly fast. The national average download speeds are 7.9 mbps. Compared to neighboring South Korea at a whopping 23 mbps, China seems downright turtle-ish. Prices are not particularly cheap either, though thankfully, the idea of broadband data caps has not really caught on here.
I walked into my local China Telecom and asked for the fastest broadband package they had, which turned out to be about 11 mbps (unlimited bandwidth) for about 120 RMB / month (paid a year upfront). While I am certainly not enthusiastic about the state of broadband here, 4G access is decent, if you are not on a congested network. In fact, out in the suburbs I can get over 24+ mbps on China Unicom 4G during non-peak times. Data is definitely cheaper than what I was paying in Canada — 60 RMB for 1 GB of data on China Unicom.
VPN Speed tests
However none of these mbps numbers mean anything unless I can access my Googles, Youtubes, and Twinstagrams — oh and all those censored news articles. VPN usage is essential for any foreigner living in China, and I set out to find THE fastest VPN for China. Here was my testing methodology:
- Do 3 Speedtest.net tests with the top VPN apps on OS X — average the download speed results
- Do 3 3 Speedtest.net tests with the top VPn apps on iOS (Iphone 6) — average the download speed results
Here are my results:
My benchmarks (non-VPNed download speeds) are as follows for reference:
- Desktop– 11.09 mbps
- Mobile 4G – 12.8 mbps
As you can see, the real internet in China is very slow compared to what I am paying for. The fastest VPN in my tests was ExpressVPN, but even the desktop app only reaches about 60% of full speed. I was using LA servers for desktop and Hong Kong servers for mobile — for some reason this has been the best combination in my opinion.
I should note that I was using the Stealth VPN option for Astrill (which is a paid upgrade). While the Astrill OpenWeb proxy is faster usually than VPNs, it cannot cover all your internet needs as it only works for web browsers. Apps the need the web like Spotify, Twitter, Torrents, will need an actual VPN, not a proxy.
Sometimes the internet situation in China just makes me want to rage quit all the way back across the Pacific to Canada, but I keep reminding myself that perseverance is a virtue. And so are black lungs.
Buffer on, friends.