Rise of VPN services a game changer

Rise of VPN services a game changer
Malcolm Rodrigues, CEO of MyRepublic.

Like many of my tech-savvy friends, I have been watching the World Cup on the websites of the British broadcasters,

BBC and ITV. Almost all, if not all, of the matches are streamed live on these two websites. I have also been viewing the football frenzy on my 50-inch Samsung TV in my living room, through the official SingTel mioTV service, as well as on the mioTV app on my Apple iPad.

I am not that big a fan of World Cup football any more. The open, magical, attacking football which I grew up admiring as a kid has deteriorated into strategic defensive play, which is often so boring that I struggle to keep awake.

The only exciting match I have seen so far was the group stage match between Argentina and Nigeria, where both teams threw caution to the wind and played a full game of engaging attacking football. The rest of the matches which I caught were mostly boring.

I usually watch just the highlights on the mioTV app when I wake up in the morning. However, I have watched five or six of the midnight games live on all three platforms so far.

My greater interest in the World Cup lies in the technology behind it. As far as quality is concerned, nothing beats the high-definition splendour of watching Holland's miraculous comeback against Mexico on Sunday on the big screen via SingTel's mioTV set-top box.

Compared with mioTV, the Web-streaming services from BBC and ITV offer poorer standard-definition picture quality. After my colleague wrote about people here discovering the loopholes in using VPN-services to bypass the geographical blocks put in place by foreign websites, such as BBC and ITV, the service seems to have worsened. The Brazil-Chile round-of-16 match, in fact, lagged several times during the game.

Watching World Cup on BBC is fantastic because the legendary English striker, Gary Lineker, is the main host and his commentary for BBC sure beats Martin Keown's on mioTV.

The image quality is not the best, but as you are not paying extra for it, there is little cause for complaint. The reason that national broadcasters around the world are streaming the World Cup on their websites for free, is that in countries such as Britain, the World Cup is shown on free-to-air TV and the websites are a natural extension.

To prevent people outside Britain viewing the content, software is put in place to block foreign IP addresses. However, with the rise of VPN services, these can now be easily circumvented.

Four years ago, VPN services were already available, but they were confined to tech-savvy geeks who had to specially configure their routers to make the VPN work.

Today, VPN technology has become mainstream with two Internet service providers here - ViewQwest and MyRepublic - offering preconfigured routers which work right out of the box. No need to fiddle with complex settings or customisations. Connect your PC or media streamer to the router, launch the app or the website you want to visit and, voila, it just works.

Even if you are not on either of these two ISPs, you can easily sign up for third-party VPN services, which come with clear and easy-to-follow instructions.

Most offer a free one-week trial and at least one of them is taking advantage of the World Cup to offer a 40-day free trial - effectively covering the entire World Cup period.

Unlike streaming from illegal websites or downloading pirated movies via BitTorrent, using VPN to bypass geographical barriers is largely

seen to be legitimate. It is analogous to parallel-importing your PlayStation 4 from Amazon instead of buying it from retailers here via official distribution channels. In Singapore, parallel imports of physical goods are legal.

With the rise of legitimate VPN services - as well as illegal website streams which I will not go into here - the issue of forking out a sizeable amount to view the World Cup becomes a significant issue.

This year, World Cup subscription on mioTV cost $112. What about the next World Cup? By then, VPN services should be as ubiquitous as WhatsApp and Facebook are now.

By then, surely the rules of the game would have changed. If consumers find it too expensive, they will accept poorer streaming quality and use the money saved for beer and chips. Sadly, I suspect that the defensive game itself will not change. Teams no longer play to win - they play to not lose.

ginlee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 02, 2014.
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