Last week we looked at how Zimbabweans are being charged more, a lot more, for Netflix when compared to their US counterparts. This is when we take into account what we are asked to pay versus the Netflix Library items ( TV Shows and Movies) that are available to watch from Zimbabwe on the streaming platform.
How to even the odds
Most services use the address and details you used to sign up to primarily determine what you can watch. Netflix on the other hand does not really care about your details when it comes to what you can watch. It uses the IP address you are using to determine what you have access to. This means that if you sign up in Zimbabwe and say move to the United States, Netflix will give you access to the US Content because you are watching from the States. You will still be billed from Zimbabwe.
There are two main ways to do this
In reality there is really no need for you to pack up your bags and move to the US just so you can get access to the US Netflix library. Unless you really like Netflix. There are two primary ways you can use to allow your Zimbabwean Netflix account to get US Netflix.
- Using a VPN
- Using a DNS Blocker
The first method used to be very popular. The process involved signing up for a VPN service with servers in the US, installing a VPN client and connecting to this server. Internet traffic would now be rerouted through this server. To Netflix one would appear to be in the US and thus be able to watch US content despite the origin of the account they are using.
There are two main problems with this method though. It just increases latency even for ordinary web browsing done during the duration of the VPN connection. Visiting a local website for example www.uz.ac.zw would see traffic go to the US server and back to Zimbabwe then back again while you wait. The second problem is that Netflix declared a war on VPNs and started blocking them. Few VPN services work with Netflix nowadays.
The second method involves clever use of DNS technology. A service like SmartyDNS gives you two DNS servers when you sign up for their service. When you visit Netflix only the geo-detecting part of the connection is routed through a proxy in the US. The rest of the traffic and your other normal traffic are routed the usual way. This is a win win as you get to access US content without significantly slowing down your internet.
Signing up for SmartyDNS
There are many SmartDNS unblockers out there. SmartyDNS is just one of them. You don’t technically have to sign up for SmartyDNS, you can just sign in using your Google or Facebook account. If this is your first time you will be given a 3 day trial. This will allow you to test the service and see if it is working.
One quick difference I noticed with other services is that you get free VPN Access as soon as you sign up for the 3 days trial. Sadly there are no VPN servers on the continent but you could always use London or whatever location you prefer. You can access all these servers using OpenVPN or L2TP. The former allows you to connect through port 443 which is open on most networks.You can also use their Socks Proxy or HTTP(s) proxy if you are that inclined.
To access US library
If you are using Windows, iOS, Android, MacOS or Firestick you can head to the SmartyDNS website and download the app for your device. Install it, login and that’s it. For other devices such as my Ubuntu machine I had to manually change my DNS servers to SmartyDNS, validate my IP by clicking on the validate button and choosing a region.
The change region button is quite useful if you want to change the Netflix library from say US to UK. SmartyDNS can also unblock and be used with other services such as Amazon Prime, HBO, CBS and Fox. If you download apps for the last three you can watch free episodes of most current series.
Does it work
Before you launch the Netflix app or visit the Netflix website you need to change your DNS servers either manually or using the SmartyDNS app. Also make sure you have validated your IP address by clicking the validate IP button in SmartyDNS dashboard.
To make sure everything is working as intended visit dnsleaktest.com and carry out a standard test. If you see the DNS servers supplied by your IAP/ISP then you need to restart your device/internet connection. If you do this right you should see something like what is below.
Please note your output might be different. Just make sure you are getting something different than what you would see if you used your ISP’s DNS. If you do this right you should able to watch US geo-restricted content such as House of Cards, Jessica Jones, Sofia the first etc. Enjoy.
Another thing I noticed is that you might actually lose access to some content. There was a riot in my house after the kids failed to watch Peppa Pig. Use services such as Unogs to find out where you can watch what content.
Is there a drawback to this
For the most part SmartyDNS worked well behind the scenes but on one occasion Netflix detected the proxy, stopped the movie we were watching and demanded we disable our proxy. That was a bit annoying and the solution was to just relaunch the Netflix app. Netflix saves you watching progress so we just resumed from where we had been cut off.
Then there is the latency. Though not as bad as using a VPN, perfectionists like me will notice it. The servers I was given were a solid 320ms away compared to Liquid’s 70ms. With the bucket loads of resources and scripts that sites like to use the costs start to add up.
Finally there is the cost issue. Once your trial expires you have to part with $50 for one year of unblocking and VPN, or if you prefer to pay each month, $7/month. Unblocking requires resources and SmartyDNS has to put bread on their tables but in a country where there are severe foreign currency shortages every penny counts.