I recently went abroad to Cyprus and got a chance to try using a VPN service “on the road”. I had my Android and Linux devices with mixed results. Please continue reading to find out more.
I had used my new Acer Aspire One (AOD) with a fresh copy of Ubuntu 11.04 installed a week prior to going out. I had pre-configured the OS with the standard VPN end point with the generic WiTopia address (pptp.witopia.net) and also a London end point (pptp.lon.witopia.net).
I only used the netbook at the hotel which had a very good wireless coverage all the way from the room to the lobby. The fastest speed I saw was 65kbps down which was fairly good. On average I was seeing around 20-60kbps. Most of the time the generic address worked and took me to an American server (mostly in San Francisco). There were a few times which needed multiple attempts or reconnect after a disconnect but generally it was reliable to use.
I tried to connect to the London server first at all times but 99% of the time it failed. I was pushed for time so I did not do more than few attempts and eventually giving up to use the generic server so I am not sure why it would not work.
There were a few open and free Wifi hot spots when I was going around town and a lot of them did not work with the VPN. The service would just not connect to any of the servers I had preconfigued on my phone and when it did it too slow or it seemed like there was no connectivity. I was using a HTC Desire running Cyanogenmod 7.0.3 with a baseband version 32.49.00.32U_5.11.05.27. The ROM was using Android 2.3.3. Even though the VPN did not work I had encountered a lot of UI issues including:
Whilst there are apps to facilitate searching for wireless networks such as Wifi Analyser but it required another software for me to connect from within the app!
Speed through the VPN varied but there was a noticeable but negligible drop in speed as expected because I could only get onto a server in the US. Whilst it was a shame the UK server did not work, it still works a treat when I need to get some US streaming and well worth it when it works. As mentioned above a lot of the short comings are due to the software rather than the service.
I still like WiTopia as a service but the practicality of it made it less valuable. Whilst it worked well on stable and fast connections it was less usable on slower connections which is what most free and open hotspots were like. If I had more time to watch streaming media I would consider it as invaluable but I don’t. I also don’t travel as much as I’d like to so again it makes the price for the service harder to swallow.
I still have over half a year left and I shall see if I use it again between now and when it expires. I still have one trip abroad in the process of planning. As for using it on the phone, I would more or less completely rule it out.