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What is a VPN?

Get to know the trick behind accessing UK TV iPlayer sites abroad

A UK based 'virtual private network' is the key to watching UK TV online.

In general, most people wouldn't have heard of a VPN or know what they are for. They may sound complex and technical but in actual fact, all a VPN is, is a set of computers connected via a network in a secure and private way; as opposed to regular networks which can be open and insecure.

The secure aspect of the network is based on encryption and communications taking place over secure socket layers. A network of this nature offers many benefits.

Most notably, it enables a computer to send and receive data across shared or public networks as though it were directly connected to the private network, whilst benefiting from the functionality, security and management policies of the private network This is done through establishing a virtual point-to-point connection via the use of dedicated connections, encryption, or a combination of the two.

How does this technology benefit me?

Many companies use virtual private networks to allow their staff to access sensitive company information and send and receive data whilst on the move, outside the office. With the recent advent of cloud computing, VPN's in corporate environments are not as vital as before but they still have a huge part to play in securing sensitive information.

What more, they offer a great way of accessing localized content for the user especially if outside of the country and this includes online iPlayer websites that are coded to detect your geographical location via your IP address and determine if you are eligible to watch the content on offer.

So what do I need a VPN for?

Anyone who is based outside of the UK will know that is is practically impossible to watch UK TV on BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD, and Demand 5 because the minute you try to log on and watch the content on offer, you get the dreaded "This content is not available in your location" message and you are stuck!

So the answer is to access the internet by connecting to a UK based VPN. The UK part is obviously vital because once you are logged on the secure VPN, your computer is then assigned a UK based IP address.

Once you have your newly assigned IP, you will then find that accessing video content on the likes of BBC iPlayer suddenly becomes possible as the host site believes you are now watching their content from within the UK. This simple but ingenious route offers a quick and low-cost way for British ex-pats to access UK TV abroad without having to break the bank!

Are there alternatives to using a VPN?

Right now, there are no fail-safe alternatives to using a VPN if you want to access online UK TV websites. There are some companies that offer proxy services however, they are prone to many flaws and a proxy server will undoubtedly offer an inferior connection speed and tend to be unreliable, with lost connections occurring at regular intervals

Can I watch every channel on UK TV with a VPN?

Naturally, with a VPN you are limited to the channels that are either streamed live or offered via on-demand. Nowadays there are literally hundreds of UK TV channels available if you take into account Freeview and Freesat. So if you just want the basics like the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five stations live, then this is the ideal solution for you.

If however, you have greater demands and want to get the most channels possible, a Slingbox system is most likely your preferred choice.

The great thing about a VPN is it costs so little to gain access that it is a no brainer! You can watch all the popular terrestrial stations.

So if you have a good broadband connection where you're based and are happy to watch your UK TV online, this is the perfect solution for you!