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When it comes to playing online games, the better our connection speed is, the more we can enjoy ourselves. But what type of connection is actually best for our needs in the end? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answers to a confused reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

Screenshot courtesy of Linux Screenshots (Flickr).

The Question

SuperUser reader dpiralis wants to know why a VPN-based ping is faster than a non-VPN ping:

When I play an online game without using a VPN, the ping time is around 120 ms. But when I use a VPN with a virtual location in Germany, the ping time is only 60-70 ms (which is amazing). When I use a VPN with a virtual location in Finland, the ping time is once again longer (more than 160 ms). My Internet connection is through the University of Greece.

Why would the ping time using a VPN be better than one without a VPN?

Without a VPN

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VPN With a Virtual Location in Germany

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VPN With a Virtual Location in Finland

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Why is a VPN-based ping faster than a non-VPN ping?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor peterh has the answer for us:

Although it is an uncommon situation, it is possible and there could be many answers. It is likely related to the internal structure of your network provider.

Internet service providers also need to pay for network access with different providers. In most cases, they are continuously trying to find the cheapest and best providers. Thus in most cases, they use different routing for nearby areas versus distant, remote locations. Networks for distant, remote locations are mostly through the cheapest provider while networks for local areas are mostly provided by a regional organization established by a group of local Internet service providers or by the local government.

It is normal for Internet service providers to pay for a much narrower network bandwidth from more expensive network providers, especially if you are signed up with a small Internet service provider or opted for a cheap service package. If you use a VPN, then the VPN probably connected to the faster external network used by your Internet service provider, thus the better speed. The VPN provider probably also uses a much faster network just like your Internet service provider does.

Checking the trace routes, we can get very precise information with regard to what and where the slow points in the “system” are (especially if we compare all three routes).

When looking at where the packet response times are the longest in your case (without a VPN and the VPN location in Finland), it is between 83.97.88.69 and 62.40.112.215. Checking them via an IP Who Is lookup service (What Is My IP, for example), we can see that it is where your Australian packets are arriving at England. It is probably routed through multiple sub-ocean communication cables, which are likely very expensive for your network provider to access, so it tries to cut down on the cost in that area.

What makes things a bit more funny is, in the case of your German VPN connection, that the Australia to England part of the route does not appear to do anything. It is very probable that the data connection into Germany is going through a very different route. From the Australian network configuration, there should not be any difference.

In your case, I think the reason for the difference in ping times is in Europe. The German VPN provider was willing to pay more to get better global network bandwidth as the network provider for your game server. This is the most likely reason why can it avoid the delay between Australia and England.

The Finnish VPN provider could not do that. The most likely reason, in this case, is that although Finland is a highly developed country in the region, it is probably not as well connected with the global network as Germany is (the Finnish VPN provider had to pay for a narrower bandwidth and is unable to avoid the delay between Australia and England).


Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Akemi Iwaya Akemi Iwaya
Akemi Iwaya has been part of the How-To Geek team since 2009. She has previously written under the pen name "Asian Angel" and was a Lifehacker intern before joining How-To Geek. She has been quoted as an authoritative source by ZDNet Worldwide.
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