The hidden truth behind ‘unlimited’ or ‘lifetime’ VPNs

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With the allure of ‘unlimited’ anything, consumers often think they are getting a great deal. Whether it is unlimited minutes on a business mobile phone plan, or a meal at an all-you-can-eat buffet, it’s hard to argue against an ‘unlimited’ deal and the value proposition it potentially represents.

In the VPN world, broadly speaking, customers have a choice of two options: paid-for or free options. Both of these have their relative pros and cons, and it’s certainly the case that there are often limitations on free products.

Many freebie offerings have a fairly strict monthly data allowance, for example, and always remember that these free VPNs have to make money somehow – which could involve playing fast and loose with your data. We’ve certainly argued in the past that free VPNs aren’t worth it.

Lifelong subscription

All that said, a new breed of VPN plans are cropping up, which avoid the issues of ‘totally free’ offerings, while still attempting to give customers a favorable value proposition. They fall into the emerging category of ‘unlimited’ or ‘lifetime’ VPNs, meaning that you pay a (usually fairly substantial) one-off fee at the outset, and can then use it forever with no further charge.

However, if you have a quick search online, you’ll see that there are some massive discounts to be had on these lifetime deals which can make them seem extremely tempting. 

At the time of writing, we saw lifetime subscriptions offered at rock-bottom prices down as low as $29 (around £22) – that amount of cash would only get you three months with some providers.

Not so fast, though. Looking at things a little more closely shows that these mega-bargain-basement deals are not being sold directly by the VPN providers, but by third-party resellers.

And at this point, it’s worth bearing in mind the phrase ‘caveat emptor’, or ‘buyer beware’. All we’ll say here is do your due diligence and research, check out the reselling company thoroughly, read customer reviews online, and so forth. After all, if a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is…

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Money, money, money…

Realize that running a VPN costs money; in fact, some serious money. The VPN has to have plenty of bandwidth for all its users, and maintain a large range of servers, ideally across an equally wide expanse of countries. For example, TechRadar Pro’s best VPN pick for 2020, ExpressVPN, runs in excess of 3,000 servers across 94 different countries.

Also, don’t forget to factor in the development costs of software for multiple platforms (desktop, mobile, and perhaps other devices). Finally, take into account the cost of marketing the VPN and providing tech support. Yes, running a VPN can certainly be an expensive endeavor.

So, given all that, it doesn’t really make any sense to sell a lifetime of VPN and support from a reputable provider for the one-time cost of a moderate dinner at a restaurant.

Therefore, these unlimited VPN offerings would seem to be an unsustainable business model. They plan to keep on taking folks’ money upfront, with their incredible offer of VPN for the rest of the user’s life. 

The VPN then hopes that more subscribers keep signing up to keep the model viable for a while longer, so they can just keep selling more subscriptions. It’s not hard to see how this house of cards could easily come tumbling down…

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Risky business

There are obviously clear risks in forking out money upfront for a lifetime service, only to find out that the VPN shuts down. This could be a real danger with less reputable providers, and could leave you seriously out of pocket. The failed firm could even restart its business under a different name and/or brand, keeping the same network of servers and hardware, and repeat the con trick all over again.

If you do end up with a lifetime subscription from one of these kind of dodgy outfits, you will likely suffer in terms of support, as well. After all, the company already has your cash, and you’ve given up the ability to vote with your wallet after that initial payment.

There is, therefore, no incentive to offer any kind of quality support, or indeed any support at all, with no reason to be responsive to user complaints. The same applies to potential issues with congestion or sluggish connections. Again, any complaints are likely to fall on deaf ears.

As for your privacy, or any guarantees of keeping no logs? Again, those promises may begin to look pretty hollow – the ‘lifetime’ VPN may well be looking to maximize any profits going forward by selling off data to third-parties. Who knows – you may not be any better off than if you had used a free VPN, and paid nothing at all.

Even if the company is entirely honest, with perfect integrity, that doesn't guarantee you'll be getting a good long-term deal. The VPN might work well now, but what if, in a couple of years, it's slower, Netflix is blocked, you hate the new interface, and a new service has just launched that's so much better? VPNs change, and so do your needs, so it's simply unrealistic to think the best choice for you right now, will be the best choice forever.

In conclusion, the offer of a lifetime of VPN service is certainly a prospect you should exercise caution around, and the smart buyer may well be tempted to look elsewhere.

In fact, when you take into account the many possible downsides of a lifetime VPN subscription, you may well feel that simply shopping around for a good VPN with a cheap two- or three-year deal may be the way to go. And as ever, to stay safest, always buy directly from a reputable VPN.

Another view

Yegor Sak, from popular free VPN provider, Windscribe, disagrees with our analysis.

Although they were examples of VPNs that sold lifetime subscriptions, and then closed shop and ran with the money, suggesting that the same applies to all VPNS that offer lifetime subscriptions is ludicrous. That's like saying "Since some investment funds turned out to be ponzi schemes, then all investment funds are ponzi schemes". If 90+% of your revenue comes from lifetime accounts, I would agree with the assessment, as it basically becomes a ponzi scheme. If most of your revenue comes from regular accounts, then the benefits, from a business perspective, are as follows:

1. 3rd party services that offer the lifetime subscriptions (Stacksocial, Tanga, Daily Steals, etc) expose the product to a very wide audience that the VPN provider alone may not be able to address, especially at a zero marketing cost. We had dozens of articles appear on various "top tier" publishers such as Engadget, Lifehacker, CNET, TNW, Popular Science, ExtremeTech, the list goes on. This exposes the brand to millions of people (and tech writers at those publications) that we wouldn't be able to reach otherwise. It's great for building up credibility, and awesome for SEO. You would also be surprised how many people will read about the lifetime accounts on these sites, and then buy a regular monthly subscription. 

2.  Helps establish partnerships with the companies that offer lifetime deals, which opens doors to new opportunities, like a TV segment we did a few months ago on a bunch of US TV networks, which exposed our product to over a million people. At no cost. 

3. Most obviously, offers a cash injection which allows (new) companies to hire more staff, develop features faster, and fund own marketing efforts. If you can take the $30 you get from a lifetime user, and get 2 non-lifetime users for that price, why is that bad?

You also overestimate the cost associated with providing service to a single user.

Jonas P. DeMuro

Jonas P. DeMuro is a freelance reviewer covering wireless networking hardware.