VPN must be the most used word currently in Uganda ever since the government enforced the new social media tax. If it was a person, it would most definitely be a celeb. It has been used so much, hearing it now is kind of annoying.
There are some citizens who paid the Over The Top (OTT/Social Media) Tax, either out of obedience, second nature or fear of being caught on the wrong side of the law and there are many others who rejected the tax and adopted the use of a VPN. There are also those who chucked their phones altogether and found new baes to pass time.
The common tale you are hearing in the corridors is that VPN apps or protocols consume data which might be worth more than the daily spend on the tax, but is it true?
Yes, using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) depending on the strength of encryption might increase data usage by more than 10%. To understand why, you have to understand how VPNs work.
How do VPNs work? The Basics
A VPN encrypts all the communication coming from and to your device so that it is hard for the network or other devices it is not intended for to read or view it. The VPN will also mask the device’s IP address making it hard to clearly know the sender or receiver.
Often, the protocol will send your communications to a secure random server somewhere around the world like in the Ukraine where it is then sent to the receiver, thus why sometimes the apps and the internet seem slow when using a VPN.
This is why it shows you are in a different country when you are access some services like Google search. Don’t be mistaken though, your telecom provider knows for sure that you are in Uganda; they just can’t tell what you are using the internet for or your IP address because the communications in and out are secure.
So, this allows you to use anything blocked by the government or your telecom. This feature comes at a price, encrypted files are bigger and are being moved back and forth which is why your data is drained very quickly. This is called “encryption overhead” and it is wise not to leave a VPN all day if it is not being used.
A random experiment has shown that using a normal VPN to access WhatsApp, Twitter and maybe Skype can max around 21 – 25Mbs per hour.
That may not be much to some, but maybe a lot to many. A random anonymous survey has shown some users know this, but don’t care. They mentioned that they would rather and quote “spend more money on a VPN and normal data than to an untrustworthy government system.”
The government is plagued by VPN access and is putting pressure on telecoms to find ways to circumvent it, but this simply can not be done effectively. Countries with advanced technology divisions like Russia, Ukraine, Syria and China have failed for several years to achieve this.
The only current option for the government seems to be to concede and regroup.
Have you experienced heavy data usage with a VPN? Feel free to leave an anonymous comment.
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Lawrence writes about tech, lifestyle, politics, business, crypto and occasionally entertainment. He writes for Spur Magazine and Newslibre while consulting with numerous international companies on strategy, community management and marketing.
He has contributed to the journalism, open source, film, youth, web, Andela and Mozilla communities.