Geographically restricted web services turn up at a seemingly alarming rate. For example, if you are outside of the US you cannot watch programming from Hulu, listen to Pandora or stream Netflix, to name a few examples.
Moreover, up until very recently, US residents could not access the Spotify music service, and still cannot access a host of UK or European only services, such as BBC iPlayer film & TV programming for example, or many of the channels on LiveStation.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could just run a free program on your desktop that could give you access to any US or UK restricted service, no matter where in the world you happened to be located? TunnelBear (for PC or Mac) is exactly such a program.
TunnelBear is a consumer Virtual Private Network (VPN) that enables you to access the internet via a US or UK source. It encrypts your communication, granting a layer of security if using the internet from public places. It will also allow you to use blocked websites in your workplace.
There is a catch though: the free version allows for only 500 megs of bandwidth per month, although that is easily instantly increased to 1.5 gigs in return for a single user tweet.
PROS: Here’s why I love this app:
- It works: even in situations where proxies fail (e.g. Hulu defeats proxies, even paid proxies, but TunnelBear delivers it like a charm).
- It is fast: unlike the free version of HotSpotShield, for example, which I’ve used in the past and suffers from a very high degree of variability.
- US and UK: both. What more could you possibly need?
- Ease of use: at a press of a single button. Literally.
- Paid version is reasonably priced: at $4.99 for unlimited traffic (note: I put this in here because I just did a little price comparison research – I am in no way affiliated with the program).
- Add a gig a month: in theory, you could add 1 gig to your traffic allotment every month by tweeting Tunnelbar. Note that this can be done until they decide to end the “promotion”
- Traffic restricted at 500 megs monthly: although upgradable to 1.5 gigs if you do a tweet that they request, and then one gig every month after (see ‘add a gig a month’ above).
- No documentation on usage with iPhones/Smartphones: I know for a fact that the free version of HotSpotShield will run on my iPhone, but didn’t find anything in TunnelBear’s website on similar usage.
Differences between free and paid versions: paid version provides unlimited traffic and 256 bit encryption instead of 128 bit.
The verdict: a nice little app; VPN for dummies. Works remarkably well to give access to geo restricted sites and blocked sites (e.g. at work or other places), as well as protection and data encryption in public places like internet cafes etc.
But the real test of this will be whether the services will become slower, less reliable, or more restricted (traffic wise or in other ways) once their user base grows etc. Also, a free iPhone app would be a great addition.
Overall, however, I like this software quite a bit.
[Thanks go to reader Panzer for letting me know about this software]
Compatibility: WIndows XP, Vista, Windows 7; Mac OSX 10.6 or greater
Go to the program home page to download the latest version (approx. 12.5 megs).