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The easy way to set up a VPN at router level
Setting up a VPN on your router allows you to browse anonymously and bypass geo-restrictions on any device in your network.
With a little bit of know-how, you too can stream other regions' Netflix, HBO or anything else on any and all devices connected to your Wi-Fi router. No hassle. This is a great solution for closed devices (think PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch consoles), which will never offer you a VPN-enabling app to download from their stores. This way you can bypass the middleman.
Before we go any further, it's important to note that this is a general guide only. Obviously, set-up will vary depending on the Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider you go with, not to mention the router you're using. We've gone with ExpressVPN as an example here, as their configuration represents a good entry level process for the VPN layman.
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Step 1: Sign up to a VPN
Obviously, you're going to need to have a VPN in order to use a VPN. There are tons of service providers out there falling over each other to sign you up. Save yourself a spin of the random decision wheel and check out our best of guide here to find yourself a good one.
Step 2: Find the provider's modem set-up guide
Before committing to payment, peruse the service provider's website to see if they do in fact support installation at a router level. If you see a bunch of downloadable apps for Windows, Android and Apple devices – but no mention of routers – chances are you're out of luck.
In ExpressVPN's case, it's worth noting that they recommend you go out and buy a secondary router and connect it through your existing primary one. That's not the most cost-effective option but it will cut down on the hassles (and leave you with a working Internet connection that'll be of great help during any troubleshooting process) if what happens next goes sideways.
Step 3: Modem firmware download
Located on your provider's website will be a list of some of the most common routers on the market today. If you've had yours for a while and can't rightly recall the specifics of it, be sure to check underneath the unit for a brand and model number. One quick Google search of what you find is typically all you'll need to zero in on what you're packing. From there you can download the applicable firmware if it's available on your VPN provider's website.
Secondary warning for extra visibility: really do try to use some specificity here. Go into as much sub-model detail as possible. Firmware is very rarely one-size-fits-all, so just knowing the brand might not be good enough.
Step 4: Log into the dashboard
Pretty much all routers can be accessed by opening your favourite Internet browser and typing a specific network address into your URL search bar. Once again, the exact address can vary quite a bit from router to router. If you've been provided with a router as part of a deal with an Internet Service Provider, typically you can find out the router's "open sesame" command via their support website.
As an example, our Telstra NBN modem/router could be accessed by either entering "http://10.0.0.138" or "http://telstra.gateway/". Once that's entered, you'll then need to enter your router login details to gain full access to the device.
Step 5: Update firmware
Welcome to the most dangerous and potentially wall-punching part of this entire process. Much like updating the firmware of your favourite phone or tablet, switching out the firmware of a router comes with a chance that you may "brick" the device if power is lost to the unit (or if the firmware you're trying to feed into it is somehow incorrect or corrupted). It's a roll of the dice and you really need to have your eyes open about that fact going into this – we take no responsibility if it all goes wrong.
Once again, what happens next will be different from model to model. Once your browser displays the interface page that controls all facets of it, go looking for an Admin section. Typically that's where you'll find an option to browse for a firmware file stored locally on your PC or Mac (and that should be sitting right in the folder where you downloaded it).
Once you select this file you may receive warning prompts indicating that you're about to flash your router with old firmware. This is to be expected. Click "OK" and then wait until the router resets itself.
Step 6: Login and change the default password
From here on out it's simply a matter of heading to your VPN's specific login page, at which point you'll need to enter in the router login details they specify. Usually, this is the not particularly secure username and password combo of "admin" and "admin". Some VPNs may also require you to enter an additional Activation Code as proof of service purchase.
Step 7: Select your target country and start browsing
If everything has gone according to plan, you now need only select which country you would like to browse from and your VPN-enabled router will do the rest. Happy anonymous surfing!
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