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The internet has always been about transcending boundaries and providing unfettered access to information in ways that traditional media and information sources such as libraries could not. For the most part, this has remained true. A person in Zimbabwe can read the New York Times as soon as article is published, we can use Skype or WhatsApp to chat with our loved ones whether they are in the next room or in Toronto.
Increasingly however, different organisations and governments have for various reasons sought to destroy the universal nature of the internet. Those who have visited China know that WhatsApp is blocked. Former champions of internet freedom such as the UK have been blocking websites left right and center and most have expressed their hatred of WhatsApp. Movie and Television organisations have always hated how the internet upset their gravy train.
Zimbabwe’s Ministry of WhatsApp
It seems the concept of Internet Soverigntity has reached Zimbabwe which has formed a Ministry of Cyber security ostensibly to fight Social Media Abuse. Faced with such adversity the question is how can you protect yourself and make sure you still have unfettered access to the internet? The answer is VPN and personally I am a fan of Smart DNS Proxy’s VPN service.
What is Smart DNS?
Primarily Smart DNS provides a service which is known as DNS Unblocking. The service allows its customers to access geo-blocked services such as Spotify, Hulu, NBA, BBC iPlayer, ITV and other 300 different service providers outside their geo-restricted areas. The service allows Zimbabwean users of Netflix to access the US Netflix library at no extra cost. To use DNS unblocking:
- Visit the Smart DNS Proxy website
- Sign up for their service or join their two weeks free trial
- Change the DNS servers on your device be it a phone, smart TV, Windows laptop/Desktop, router, modem, Ubuntu machine, iPad or Mac
- Visit your account page and click on the activate button and you are done
Signing up for the service requires payment via MasterCard, Visa or a PayPal account. With most banks now limiting international transactions you can use a Prepaid card from FBC, Ecobank or BancABC. The service costs $4.90/month, $12.90 for 3 months, $34.90 per year and $49 for 2 years (which translates to $2.08 per month).
Subscription comes with three VPN
Signing up for the service comes with free VPN service. Using a VPN comes with certain advantages:
- Your traffic is encrypted as it moves from your device to the VPN server keeping it out of reach of organisations which include your ISP and the government. From the ISP’s view it seems you are just connecting to one IP address and this is especially useful when you are using public hotspots.
- You can access blocked services for example Whatsapp even when it is blocked by your organisation or the government.
- You can circumvent protocol throttling for example most ISPs throttle BitTorrent traffic.
- You get a new IP address which is not owned by a Zimbabwean ISP who will give you up when pressured to do so. It is a lot easier for the government to pressure a local ISP than one in another country, even for the US government.
- You can circumvent geo-blocking mechanisms and access more of the internet.
What makes Smart DNS Proxy’s VPN special
- South African server access– using a VPN comes at a speed cost, most VPN providers do not have servers in Africa, this means even when you are accessing a local website your data goes to say Europe before coming back to Zimbabwe, also, the website’s response is sent to Europe before coming back to you. Most companies such as Google and Facebook have a node in South Africa. With Smart DNS VPN you can just use the South African VPN server and rest assured, you won’t even notice the speed difference.
- Multiple VPN protocols including PPTP, Open VPN, L2TP, IKEV1, IKEv2 and even SSTP. This means you can use the service with almost any device.
- Smart VPN – these VPN servers allow you to access services such as Netflix, Hulu, CBS, HBO and BBC iPlayer without doing anything. These days most popular VPN providers are blocked by these services.
- 24/7 live support via Chat, Facebook or email. The people behind this service respond quickly (usually in seconds) that is pretty impressive.
- Comprehensive set up guides for most devices including Windows 7-10, iOS, Macbook, Ubuntu, Android and several routers
- It’s free – well not really since you need to sign up for their DNS service but the service is cheaper than all the major VPN servers I know
- 70+ VPN servers in a lot of countries including South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Sudan, UK, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Greece and of course the US.
- Torrenting is allowed on a lot of these servers
- Multiple server ports such as 443 and 80 which are not blocked by most ISPs and organisations
NB You cannot use the VPN service unless you subscribe for the Smart DNS service, free trial users cannot access VPN services.
What I like about the service
For me as an avid fan of Hulu this is money well spent. I have always been a control freak and therefore traditional services such as DStv and Kwese do not suit my needs. The former requires a service fee to activate PVR and the later does not even come with PVR. For $11 (the service fee) I can pay for Hulu ($5.99) and Smart DNS. The VPN is just a bonus. I can also watch most T.V series for free on their own websites including CBS, The CW and USA today.
Their VPN presence in South Africa sealed the deal for me. This gives them a latency comparable to that of visiting Google.co.zw. They also have a DNS server in Cape Town. What this means is that you can connect to African CDN and Cache nodes for services like Google and Facebook and only connect to European and US services when needed. Other DNS unblockers slow down your internet by connecting you to say European Google servers.
Other things I liked include the relatively cheap price of under $5 per month and the timely support. Then there is the fact that I can connect using a number of ports including 443 and 80.
What I do not like about Smart DNS
Their VPN Apps are buggy and do not work as expected. The Windows App for example completely messed up my network connection by messing with the firewall and thereby blocking my legitimate traffic when the VPN connection fell apart. I could not move the Windows app to make it more visible as part of it remained hidden below the task bar. Then I could not even sign into the Android app. To be fair, both apps are in Beta.
These things are non issues for me as I prefer to manually set up my VPN connections anyway. The website has excellent video and picture guides on how to set up your connection. In any case you can always contact their support for help.
Geo-unblocking is a grey area. It is not illegal but might be against the terms of service of some service providers.
How to sign up?
Visit the Smart DNS Proxy website, sign up and follow the guides on their website.
FBC Holdings Limited (FBCH) is an Investment holding company listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange and whose principal activities are in Zimbabwe. The Group offers diverse financial services through subsidiaries that span commercial banking, mortgage financing, short-term insurance, reinsurance, securities trading and micro-financing. In all,... Read More About FBC
DStv is a Pay TV service owned by South African company, Multichoice. DStv provides a broad spectrum of entertainment, news and information channels subscribed to via bouquets. Bouquets have a pre selected number of channels. In Zimbabwe, the DStv service is provided by Multichoice Zimbabwe,... Read More About DStv
Kwese TV is a Zimbabwean satellite and broadcasting network owned by Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, under Econet Media. On 23 August 2017, Econet Media announced that Kwese TV was now available in Zimbabwe and that decoders were available at Econet Shops. However, that very same day... Read More About Kwese