One of the big drivers behind the expansion of the VPN/Smart DNS market is the increase in use of region locking. This is the practice where a web site controls what you can access based on your physical location. It used to be a fairly benign technology mainly used by the search engines to ensure you got region specific results which matched your location. However in the last few years it’s been used by media and commerce sites to lock people out of content or control what they can use on their sites. For example one of the biggest uses is by the media giant Netflix who make extensive use of region locking based on your IP address.
Although the Netflix subscription is a global account, the version you access is based on your physical location. So although I subscribed in the UK, if I logged on from Tokyo I’d get the Japanese version, in Paris the French version and so on. Many people find this hugely inconvenient simply because the content both quantity and quality varies so much between these different versions, consider the American businessman confronted with lots of Japanese Anime content when he logs into Netflix for example. The reason is usually cited as copyright restrictions however it is hugely inconvenient for the subscribers.
Previously users were able to switch to the versions they prefer by using a VPN or Smart DNS system to spoof their location and watch the version they wanted. However this year, Netflix made the unprecedented step of blocking access to connections like this and people were forced to turn off their VPNs if they wanted to watch. The same went for the Smart DNS solutions which routed part of the connection through localized servers in order to beat the locking – they all stopped working.
It been a few months now and a couple of VPN providers have figured out how to bypass Netflix’s block on VPNs and proxies however until now there have been no Smart DNS that have worked. The issue is that Netflix are blocking all IP ranges which originate from commercial IP ranges – which unfortunately is all of them! Now though the first company has updated their infrastructure to include residential IP addresses which you can read about here – Smart DNS Netflix.
The company haven’t released details on how they’ve got their DNS solution back working with the Netflix site however it’s almost certainly by incorporating residential based IP addresses into their infrastructure. This is pretty much essential as any connection which originates from a commercial IP address (even if it’s not a proxy/vpn) will get blocked instantly from accessing anything on the Netflix site. Although using DNS doesn’t provide any security and can be easier to block their are significant advantages – firstly you don’t need any software all you need is an account and then to point your DNS settings to the specified servers. This means you can install on devices other than computers and laptops by just adjusting the network settings. Secondly there is a little more control because you are allowing the DNS server to make decisions this can be configured by the user. So you can determine whether you want UK, Canadian, or even US DNS Netflix settings – indeed you can change these at will.
The battle continues between the web sites and the VPN/DNS providers and who knows if this will be the final installment. There are certain to be further developments and it is hard to see where the next move will come from. The logical solution for a provider of Netflix’s media sites is to standardize these across the world however this will likely reduce their revenue.