There’s a staggering 462 million internet users in India, making it the world’s second-largest internet market after mainland China. The US, at 286 million, is a distant third.
And that’s not the only incredible statistic. Currently only 35 percent of India’s population enjoys access to the web. As mobile broadband services proliferate throughout the country, it’s likely that this figure will continue to spike in the years to come. The frenetic pace of growth isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
But the worrying part is that Indian authorities are clamping down on web content and services at an unprecedented rate. The Freedom on the Net 2016 report gives the Indian internet landscape a poor 41 out of 100 rating, saying it’s only “partly free.”
The advocacy body explained that users in the South Asian country faced obstacles to access, limits on content, and violation of rights. That’s despite the fact that India exhibited some gains in the 2014 and 2015 editions of the report.
In 2016, there were 23 separate instances in India where authorities forced service providers to shut down mobile internet services while 17 people were arrested for circulating information on platforms like WhatsApp.
These infractions are a major reason to consider using a VPN service. Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN encrypts and secures all the internet traffic to and from your device making it impossible for authorities, internet service providers, and agencies like the NSA from snooping on your activity.
Using a VPN will also unlock geo-restricted content such as Netflix and ESPN, as well as freemium porn sites like Xhamster, PornHub, and RedTube.
A VPN can also be used to access torrent sites like Torrentz.eu and Kickass Torrents, both of which are blocked in India. Read our guide to the best VPNs for torrenting if your explicit aim is to download torrents seamlessly.
Our list of the top VPN services for India is based on the following factors:
- Value for money
- Not keeping usage logs
- Strong encryption parameters
- Speed and stability
- Suitable for torrenting
- Apps for Android and iOS
It also uses 256-bit AES encryption as standard and gives users the option of connecting to a DNS proxy.
There’s a bunch of other great features, too, such as double VPN, Tor over VPN, and anti-DDoS servers. It’s optimized for ultra-fast streaming and one subscription grants you access to six simultaneous devices with support for Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and Android.
The fact that NordVPN is registered in Panama means it’s not subject to any data retention laws forcing it to reveal user history. It’s possible to pay via Bitcoin, meaning paper trails are kept to a minimum.
Its commitment to blazing speed means it’s an excellent choice to unlock geo-restricted content on Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer. There’s also a couple of servers based in India, which means residents of the country can access local content even when abroad.
Deal alert: Hidden away on NordVPN’s website is a heavily discounted 2 year deal. It’s not visible on the website’s home page or listed with the other plans but can be found here and gives a 72% discount. This includes up to 6 devices connected at the same time making it great value for money.
IPVanish owns and operates all of its server locations across the globe (unlike most other VPN services which prefer to rent). Hence it’s in total control of all the data passing through its systems with greatly minimized risk.
Both DNS leak protection and a VPN kill switch are included as standard options.
It comes with 256-bit encryption on the OpenVPN protocol and accepts Bitcoin as a payment method.
While the company is based in the United States, it does not store any traffic or metadata logs, meaning user activity is safeguarded and secure. At the same time, it operates several servers in India which means users traveling out of the South Asian country can still access their favorite sports and entertainment shows.
Best deal: Comparitech readers can save 60% on the IPVanish annual plan.
Its services come with 128-bit encryption as standard as well as secure DNS and a VPN kill switch – meaning it’ll halt your traffic if the connection drops in order to prevent leakage of data. Hence, if you’re using the VPN to seed torrents or access sites prohibited in India, there’s still no way of having your identity exposed and potentially causing a legal quagmire.
It does, however, keep track of the time users logged in and the IP address they used.
PureVPN is also a worthy choice if you’re planning on being out of the country for a few weeks. It’s servers in India mean local content won’t be out of reach – which is normally the case if you try and access from a location in, let’s say, North America.
Reader deal: PureVPN is currently available at the discounted price of $2.95 per month here if you opt for the 2 year plan.
4. Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access, or PIA for short, ships with a minimalist, ugly user interface but that shouldn’t distract you from the loads of features embedded within its app.
At $6.95/month, it’s not too expensive and comes with a 7-day money back guarantee, although there isn’t a free trial. Users can connect up to five devices simultaneously and it supports a number of operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS, Android, iOS, and Linux.
The default connection protocol is OpenVPN, with unlimited bandwidth and server switch requests.
Like Pure VPN, PIA also has a kill switch which means internet activity will be halted in case the connection drops. Local residents in India can also use it when traveling outside of the country – it operates ten servers there which means all you have to do is select that location to unlock local content such as Star Sports.
Best price: You can get 1 year’s access to PIA for $3.33 per month here.
ExpressVPN is one of our favorite VPN services because of its reliability, commitment to user privacy, and blazing fast speeds.
Like most VPN companies, Express is registered in a country which doesn’t force it to share data. In this case it’s the British Virgin Islands where it’s completely out of the reach of authorities.
The VPN service is encrypted with 256-bit AES protection, and it keeps no traffic logs whatsoever other than the choice of server location, total amount of data transfer, and date (not time) of connection.
It’s also an excellent choice for unlocking geo-restricted content on Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer. At the same time it has server locations based in India itself, so accessing local content – like Hotstar – won’t be a problem if you’re a resident Indian but traveling abroad for leisure or work.
Deal alert: ExpressVPN is a bit pricier than other services, but Comparitech readers can get an extra three months free with the 12 month plan. There is a 30 day money-back guarantee here, which allows you to get a full refund for any reason, so you can try it at no risk for a month and get all of your money back if you don’t want to keep it.
Free VPN options
There’s always the possibility of searching for a free VPN service. Such software isn’t hard to find – a cursory search on Reddit or Google will result in a plethora of options.
However, our recommendation is to avoid these traps. Such services are in the business of making money too – so while the product may come across as free, it isn’t nearly as simple as that.
When you log on to a free VPN, you’ll be bombarded with spammy referral links and tons of invasive advertisements. You run the real risk of contracting a malware infection that can lead to data loss and/or machine corruption. And, in some cases, free VPN providers have been caught mining their users’ data and selling it to third-party companies. That belies the whole notion of surfing the web securely and privately.
What is the future of Indian internet?
Advocacy and rights groups in India continue to work tirelessly to secure the future of the internet and ensure net neutrality. The rejection of Facebook’s Free Basics project was a watershed moment for such groups who argued that Zuckerberg was offering a watered-down version of the web that would eventually help his own company rather than assist ordinary Indians with access to digital skills and literacy.
But the Hindustan Times notes that content blocking continues to exhibit an upward rise with Facebook receiving the maximum number of requests from India to block content.
Content related to government criticism, political opposition, LGBT issues, and satire have attracted the most significant crackdowns.
Until there’s a more concerted effort to promote freedom of speech, it’s likely that clampdowns on the internet will continue in India.