We’ve recently seen a bit of problems with the Sprint HTC One M9 and an issue where certain connections are just completely dropped. A quick fix while the carrier works to resolve the issue is to minimize TCP/UDP connections the tower makes, and that can be done easily with a VPN service.
If you’re unfamiliar with what a VPN is, think of it as a server somewhere on the internet that does all the work for your phone from that location. In an office setting a VPN brings you into the office, and in an internet setting a VPN brings your connection to that location.
VPNs are generally used for privacy, bypassing weird local movie streaming laws, and rampant piracy. For people with carrier data drop issues you can use it as a quick bandaid as opposed to hundreds of connections your phone is now making two or three to the tower.
If you’re not terribly concerned with absolute privacy, you can use a free VPN service like BetterNET. Their business model claims they don’t intrude on your browsing experience, but they make money when they get you to install an app. While this is probably all on the up and up, a business model with such a slim margin of profit makes me a little wary.
Betternet can be installed and running with a quick app download from Google Play. It’s free, works for most, currently running four out of five stars after 53K reviews and doesn’t require you to do anything other than install and run.
If you’re paranoid, or want the most advertised and endorsed by people who stand to lose a lot if the local officials ever figure out what they’re doing, there’s Private Internet Access. PIA is a pay service that’s about $3.33 a month, and can be paid for with random gift cards. You can choose where your VPN exits you, so if you want to watch some UK-restricted shows your internet connection can pop out over there.
Betternet requires no signups or personally identifying information. PIA as I recall asks for an email address to mail some login info to, but all the info is on the screen / you could give a fake address if you’re particularly concerned.
Almost any VPN you choose these days will be a pretty simple app install. You click it, you’re now maintaining one connection that your carrier sees, and all the other connections are tunneling through your VPN.
In theory at this point you can pretty much go wild and there’s nothing your carrier can see that you’re doing other than moving data back and forth to a VPN. That’s a big “in theory” as many torrent users have found out when the VPN drops connection and suddenly they were transmitting data free and clear over the carrier.
It should be noted that while your traffic is encrypted between you and the VPN service, at the point the VPN service is pulling the data for you they know what you’re doing. While it’s pretty darn hard for a no-logging VPN service to trace back to you it’s not impossible. Anyone who tells you that you’re completely secure on one of these things is probably trying to sell you something.
I’ll point out I have Private Internet Access for work. We use it to verify several things from around the world (Is our website available from England? Check! Is the movie we produced streaming from Lifetime in Canada? Check! Is that really our movie on The Pirate Bay? Unfortunately check).
There are plenty of free and pay services out there, but as we’re using PIA I mention it is the pay service. Feel free to comment below with what people should be using for a free or pay VPN as I hold no crazy allegiance to anything mentioned here.
In case you’re wondering why your phone would be making lots of connections through a tower or faulty firmware – you’ve got a DNS connection to resolve a website name, a data connection to pull each HTML page, connections for each image on the page, connections to trackers, scripts, elements, connections to a back end service that makes sure you’re not surfing into a phishing attack, etc etc etc. This is all while your phone is doing stuff like checking mail, checking in, syncing photos, etc.