SwitchVPN is a company based in India and immediately draws attention to the high level of OpenVPN encryption it uses, and also its support for the ultra-secure SSTP VPN protocol. The service as far as testing works just fine, but as we shall see, confusing and contradictory advertising and policy claims on the website make it very difficult to understand what it is you are purchasing, or the actual level of anonymity actually afforded. In our opinion these problems, combined with the high cost to low feature ratio of the lower cost pricing plans, relegate SwitchVPN to a niche position.
Pricing & Features
SwitchVPN offers 3 pricing plans, all of which provide access to its 1Gbps backbone network and unrestricted bandwidth.
Lite ($5.95 p/m)
The most basic package only allows use of PPTP and L2TP VPN protocols, and access to servers in one of 5 countries (US, UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Canada). Note that unlike most other VPN providers, SwitchVPN plans only include access to servers in one country, and do not allow you to change between them, a fact very poorly explained on the website. If users want to use the service for P2P file sharing they can do so, but only if they subscribe to servers in the Netherlands.
This is quite limited, and while the price is also quite modest, there are other VPN providers out there offering OpenVPN and access to servers in many different countries for a similar or lower cost.
Advanced ($7.95 p/m)
Almost identical to the Lite package, the Advanced plan allows use of the OpenVPN protocol.
Combo Pro ($14.95 p/m)
This package builds upon the Advanced plan, offering access to servers in one of 16 countries (USA, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Latvia, Luxemburg, Switzerland, France, Italy, Romania). Although it is far from clear when looking at the website, this plan does allow you to access servers in all 16 countries. Interestingly, in addition to this the Combo Pro plan adds support for the SSTP VPN protocol (more on which later).
On all plans it is normally only possible to connect simultaneously using one device, but an extra simultaneous connection can purchased for $1.99.
There is also a 7 day money back guarantee on all packages, but this only applies if SwitchVPN fail to get you connected to their service, not if you are unhappy with the speed of the service or cannot get your favorite applications to work with it. It is therefore most definitely not a try before you buy type offer.
Website & Customer support
The website is very professional looking, and sports a very stylish HTML 5 animation on the home page. There is a reasonable amount of information about the services SwitchVPN has on offer, and a general FAQ that covers most of the important questions customers are likely to want to know. There is also a Forum, but with only 3 posts it looks like a bit of a white elephant.
Customer support is available through a ticket based email system and live chat. We asked a number of questions about the service via the live chat, and received answers more or less immediately that were helpful and friendly.
Privacy and Security
On the other hand, the level of OpenVPN encryption provided by SwitchVPN is very impressive. At between 1024-bit and 2048-bit, it is considerably better than the 128-bit encryption offered by many VPN providers (or even the 256-bit encryption we normally approve of).
Furthermore, SwitchVPN offer SSTP encryption with its Combo Pro plan, which is unusual enough to be noteworthy. SSTP is a Microsoft proprietary VPN protocol that uses port 443, the same port used by Secure Socket Layer transmissions. Although only available to users of Windows Vista SP 1, Windows 7 and Windows 8, it has the great advantage of working through almost all proxies and firewalls, and is the only protocol that will work in countries which block VPN technology, such as China. In addition to this this, thanks to its use of SSL, authentication certificates and 2048-bit encryption, it is usually considered at least as, if not more secure than the best OpenVPN encryption. In short, SSTP works in most situations where VPN would normally be blocked, and does so with a very high level of security.
Although its TOS states that SwitchVPN does not require users’ email addresses, a great deal of personal information (including email address) is in fact required before the sign up process will let you proceed.
We decided to test out the Lite plan, and within seconds of signing up received and an email with a link to download SwitchVPN’s new one-click PPTP and L2TP application for Windows.
What is not explained adequately on the website is that you are limited to using just the servers in the country whose plan you choose. If you want to P2P fileshare, make sure you choose the Netherlands!
The VPN client installed easily enough, and proved to be a very basic piece of software. One particularly annoying aspect of it was that we had to search through a long list of servers in other countries before we could find the 3 UK ones that we were allowed to join (a sore point in itself).
The Advanced options cover the most important user settings, but not much more.
A System Tray icon allows easy access to the VPN client, but unfortunately does not alert you as to whether the connection is active or not.
A quick check on whatsmyipaddress.com confirmed that our true IP was hidden.
We connected using L2TP/IP Sec to a London server using our 10 megabyte UK broadband connection.
These results are quite good, but not as good as some we have seen. In theory L2TP/IP Sec connections should be a little faster than when using OpenVPN as there is less decryption that needs to be done, but that is not particularity evident here. This however a small niggle, and the results are fine.
SwitchVPN provides detailed guides for manually setting up various VPN protocols in Windows, OSX, Android, iOS, Linux and DD-WRT. They do not provide their own OpenVPN clients, instead relying on third party software (such as the generic open source OpenVPN client). This is fine, but it lacks a certain polish.
- Open VPN encryption is of the super-strong 1024-bit to 2048-bit variety
- SSTP is available (for a price)
- Speedtest.net result were quite good
- Very good customer support
We weren’t so sure about
- The PPTP / L2TP widows works but is very basic, and there are dedicated OpenVPN or OSX clients
- You only gain access to servers in one country (on most plans), a problem that is compounded by the fact that this is not made clear before sign-up
- A lot of personal information required during sign-up