So, you want to watch Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, or any other streaming service, but they are not available in your location? Then you know how it feels to fall victim to geo-blocking and other content restrictions. Quite a bummer, right?
Luckily, there are ways and tools to bypass location-based blocking, such as the best VPN services and the most prominent, SmartDNS. What is SmartDNS, how exactly does it help, how is it different from its counterparts, and what are some uses of SmartDNS? Let’s find out!
SmartDNS is a technology based on using your DNS to unblock geo-restricted sites and services. It’s somewhat similar to how proxy servers route your internet traffic through a remote server to hide your real IP address and physical location. However, SmartDNS only directs a part of your traffic - namely, your DNS queries - to its servers (later in this piece we’ll explain why you might want this over what a proxy does).
This makes SmartDNS technology perfect for situations where you need to access geo-blocked content without affecting all of your device’s traffic and without masking your real IP address.
Why may you want this? For instance, to avoid triggering automatic protection systems with sites that consider you accessing from different IPs suspicious. Or, to retain access to networks that are restricted to your real IP, e.g. your corporate network.
This makes SmartDNS technology useful if you need to:
- Watch speed-sensitive geo-blocked services and sites (like online streaming channels) on any internet-capable platforms
- Access geo-restricted websites that can’t otherwise be unblocked by simple virtual IP address (such as the US Netflix library and some other streaming services)
- Avoid lags, triggering IP-based security authentication, and affecting your internet browsing experience as a whole
How is SmartDNS different from VPNs and proxies?
When it comes to comparing VPNs, SmartDNS, and proxies, there are a few key differences that distinguish SmartDNS from the other two methods. We've outlined them below.
It only unblocks what you need it to
As we’ve mentioned earlier, SmartDNS is somewhat similar to proxies. The big difference is, of course, in masking IP address versus masking DNS. SmartDNS leaves users’ real IP addresses intact and still opens blocked content. This means that services and sites that you want unblocked will be unblocked, and all other traffic of your device will stay totally unsuspicious.
It doesn’t slow down your connection
SmartDNS does not affect your internet connection as much, since it doesn’t modify your traffic like VPNs do. This makes SmartDNS a great option for accessing blocked speed-sensitive services, like video streaming channels.
It works on any internet-capable device
At its core, SmartDNS technology is quite basic and doesn’t require any special capabilities or computing power from your device. As such, it can be configured on pretty much any internet-capable device with no complex setup. For this, you only need to install SmartDNS on your WiFi router and connect to it the devices you use to stream videos.
It doesn’t protect you
At the same time, there are things that SmartDNS can’t do. This technology is by no means intended to protect your personal data, sensitive information, internet traffic, or privacy, nor can it make you anonymous online. In a way, some of the SmartDNS dont's are what make possible its do’s. For instance, the reason why this tool doesn’t slow down your connection is that it doesn't encrypt your traffic to secure it.
It can’t unblock everything at once
One final thing to keep in mind is that every SmartDNS provider offers different server locations. Some of them will be able to unblock particular services that you need, while others won’t. So it’s always a good idea to check a provider’s server library (and, as such, the sites it can unblock) before opting for its services.
Five situations where you may need SmartDNS
1. You wish to get access to content that’s restricted to a specific location
To illustrate this case, did you know that Netflix’ media library can vary wildly from country to country? Basically, this means that, depending on your location, you may be getting more or less content for the same money.
Since the US Netflix is known to offer the biggest library of shows and movies, you might want to connect to it even if you’re abroad. Alas, Netflix is aware of that and won’t be tricked by simply changing your IP address. SmartDNS technology, however, is much harder to detect, making it a perfect tool to watch Netflix from anywhere in the world.
2. You need a cheaper option for streaming and don’t care about cybersecurity
SmartDNS’ counterparts - VPNs - tend to be more expensive. This is due to the fact that, in addition to unblocking geo-restricted content, they offer a lot of other features. Namely, VPNs are often used to encrypt users’ web traffic and hide their real identity. These are all important features for sure, but each of them comes at additional cost.
So if you’re using a VPN only to bypass geo-blocking, you are overpaying for all the additional capabilities you don’t need. SmartDNS would be a better choice in this case, since it’s a dedicated tool for the concrete job - same bang, fewer bucks.
3. You’re viewing speed-sensitive content
As we’ve mentioned before, SmartDNS is the best solution for when connection speed is of the essence, e.g. to stream in 4K or even just 1080p. This is for two reasons:
SmartDNS servers are located in the same country as the services they unblock, effectively nullifying distance-caused lags. Also, SmartDNS technology doesn’t encrypt your data, which would otherwise have required notable computing capacities
4. Your device doesn’t support VPNs
Despite bigger prices, VPNs remain a decent option for bypassing geo-blocking. Unfortunately, VPN apps only work on devices that they’re developed to. By coincidence, most of the time media streaming devices and smart TVs are not compatible with VPNs.
SmartDNS, on the other hand, can be configured on a great variety of internet-capable devices, from common mobile and desktop platforms, to media streaming players, gaming consoles, smart TVs, and routers. Which conveniently brings us to the next case…
5. You use multiple different devices for streaming
It’s not uncommon for cinephiles to use a number of different devices while streaming even a single show. You start watching in the morning on your TV, then go about your daily routine with the show playing in the background on your smartphone, and then finish watching it on your laptop while in your bed.
With a proxy or VPN, this would require you to set up an account on each of these devices. With SmartDNS, you only need to configure it on your WiFi router. After that, all devices connected to your WiFi network will reap all the benefits that your SmartDNS provides.
- Check out our list for the best web browsers
Are you a pro? Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up to the TechRadar Pro newsletter to get all the top news, opinion, features and guidance your business needs to succeed!
Vasiliy Ivanov is the founder and CEO of KeepSolid, a company that develops modern security and productivity solutions for corporate and personal use. Ivanov is an industry veteran with over 15 years of experience.