Sure, you have a VPN app installed on your computers, smartphone, and tablet.
But, if you think about it, that leaves plenty of your connected devices (like those Ring cams we’ve been hearing about) totally unprotected.
Plus, it means you’re not getting as much as you should be out of your Apple TV, Roku, Xbox One, PS4, smart TV or other connected devices.
VPN providers can’t make apps for every connected device you own. First of all, it just doesn’t make economic sense.
Second, not every device maker allows VPN apps on their devices (::COUGH!:: Apple TV and Roku! ::COUGH!::).
Third, some devices, like a security camera or network-connected toaster, don’t have the ability to run a VPN app.
That’s why using a VPN on your home or office router makes sense. A VPN-enabled router protects all of your devices, even those that don’t have VPN apps available, like streaming boxes, gaming consoles, security cams and more.
Plus, a VPN-enabled router offers continuous protection, meaning you don’t need to remember to turn on the VPN each time. In addition, most VPNs offer a kill switch to automatically disconnect from the internet if the connection to the VPN server is lost. This prevents your online activities from being exposed.
By using a VPN-enabled router, you also open up access to geo-blocked services, providing access for all of your devices to streaming, gaming, and other content and services that might normally be blocked to users in your region of the world.
Last but not least, most VPN providers put a limit on the number of devices that can connect simultaneously to their service using a single set of login credentials. No matter how many devices you have connected to a VPN router, it only counts as one connection to the VPN service.
That makes a VPN router an optimal solution for large families and small businesses that might require a large number of VPN connections.
If you’re looking for a reliable VPN to use with your Netgear router, the best one I can recommend is ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN is compatible with a large number of router makes and models. However, it’s especially easy to use with some Netgear routers, as the provider offers its own custom firmware for use with two Netgear router models:
- Netgear R6300v2
- Nighthawk R7000
By using ExpressVPN’s custom firmware with one of these routers, you avoid all the hard work that would be involved with adjusting connection settings and configuration files, such as you may be forced to do if you were using a VPN with another type of router.
Plus, you can pick and choose which devices are connected through the VPN, and which are allowed to travel outside the encrypted tunnel.
As I previously mentioned, you can use ExpressVPN with a number of other Netgear routers, but if you opt to use the service with those, you’ll need to flash your router with open-source firmware, like DD-WRT, and there will be quite a bit of manual setup and configuration involved. (And that is a subject for another article.)
In addition to the provider’s compatibility with Netgear routers, it also offers a number of other features that make it an optimal choice for your VPN for any online activity.
ExpressVPN’s connection speeds are some of the best in the business. The super-fast download speeds make the provider an excellent option for users who enjoy streaming video, downloading large files and engaging in a bit of action in the online gaming arena.
In addition to their excellent router support, the provider also offers a wide variety of apps for numerous device platforms, allowing you to easily protect and enhance your online activities when you’re away from your home or office.
There are apps available for the Amazon Fire, Android, Chromebook, iOS, Linux, macOS and Windows device platforms.
While I have seldom had any issues with ExpressVPN, their customer support folks have been there when I needed them. Live support chat is available 24/7. Email support, a trouble ticket system, and a searchable support and troubleshooting library are also there to help.
A VPN’s global server coverage determines what type of international content you’ll have access to. ExpressVPN has over 3,000 servers stationed in 94 countries around the globe.
While ExpressVPN is priced higher than many of its competitors, they offer an excellent return on investment. ExpressVPN offers a no-risk, 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read my full ExpressVPN review here.
How to Set Up ExpressVPN on Your Netgear R6300v2 or Netgear Nighthawk R7000 Router
Installing ExpressVPN’s custom firmware on your Netgear router won’t take long. I’ve usually completed the entire process in under a half an hour, and that includes reading and re-reading the instructions over and over to make sure I’ve done it all correctly.
In this section, I’m going to assume that you have an ExpressVPN subscription and that you own either a Netgear R6300v2 or Netgear Nighthawk R7000 router. (Seriously, don’t try this with another brand or model of router, because you could totally screw up your router.)
Downloading the ExpressVPN Firmware
To download the ExpressVPN firmware, follow the steps below.
- Sign in to your ExpressVPN account on the provider’s website using your Mac, Windows or Linux computer. You’ll be taken to your account dashboard.
- While you’re on this page, take note of the “Activation code” shown at the bottom of the “Set up your devices” section of the screen. You can either leave this page open, or click the activation code (“A” in the screenshot below), which will copy it to your computer’s clipboard. If you opt to copy it, open Notepad (or a similar text editor app) and paste it. You’ll need this later, when configuring the firmware.
- Also in the “Set up your devices” section, you’ll see a “Router” link. Click that. (“B” in the above screenshot.)
- A new tab will open in your browser. Click the pull-down menu below “Select your router.”
- Click the name of your router. I’ve selected the Netgear R6300v2, as it is the router I use. The installation procedure will be identical for the Nighthawk R7000 router.
- Click the red “Download Firmware” button that appears.
- When prompted, choose a directory to save the firmware to. Don’t forget where you save it, as you’ll be needing it shortly.
- Once the firmware file has finished downloading, go on to the next section.
Installing the ExpressVPN Firmware
I strongly suggest that you connect to the router using an Ethernet cable if at all possible.
While I realize many modern laptops no longer include an Ethernet port among their specs, Amazon and other vendors offer a USB-to-Ethernet adapter for as little as $10. Using an Ethernet connection will make the process faster and simpler.
- While your browser is still open, access your Netgear router’s dashboard by going to routerlogin.net. If that doesn’t work, try entering 192.168.1.1 into your browser’s address bar.
- Your browser will prompt you for your existing router administrator login and password. (If you haven’t changed it (shame on you), it’s likely admin/admin or admin/password.)
- You should now see your router’s admin dashboard. It should look similar to the screenshot below.
- On the router dashboard, click the “ADVANCED” tab at the top of the screen. On the sidebar of the “ADVANCED” tab, click “Administration” and then click “Router Update.”
- Click the “Browse” button. When the file explorer window opens, navigate to the directory where you saved the firmware you downloaded. (Hint: the filename format is: “expressvpn-netgear-rxxxxx-vxxxx.chk”.) The screenshot below is from a Mac, but the Windows version will be similar.
- Click “Upload” to reflash the router with the ExpressVPN firmware. Wait for the router to complete the flashing process and restart. (It shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes, tops.)
Configuring the ExpressVPN Firmware
Once your router has restarted, you will need to make sure you are connected to your newly-protected Netgear router.
If you are already connected via an Ethernet cable, then you’re definitely connected to the router.
If you are connecting via Wi-Fi, you’ll need to search for the “NETGEAR_(modelname)_(revision)” Wi-Fi network and connect to it.
The exact name of the network and the password should either be on a sticker on the front or the bottom of the router. If you have previously changed the name of the wireless network and/or the password, let’s hope you remember them.
- If your browser doesn’t automatically take you to the ExpressVPN router dashboard, go to www.expressvpnrouter.com. If that doesn’t work, try entering 192.168.1.1 into your browser’s address bar.
- Once you’re on the ExpressVPN router dashboard, click the “Get Started” button.
- If your ISP requires a username and password, enter it and click the “Connect” button. If not, click “My ISP Has No Login.”
- Remember that account activation code I told you to save somewhere? Well, we need it now. Copy and paste it into the provided field and click the “Sign In” button.
- On the next screen, you’ll be given the option to share crash reports and anonymous analytics with the VPN provider. Either click “OK” to share them, or “No Thanks.” This is totally your call. I clicked “OK,” since it doesn’t affect your privacy any, since it’s all anonymous.
- On the next screen, you’ll configure the details for your VPN-protected Wi-Fi network. You’ll enter the name of the Wi-Fi network (I named mine “FBI-VPN” just to screw with my neighbors), and then enter a new Wi-Fi connection password – one that is secure. Click “Continue.”
- Now you will set the router admin password. Make sure it isn’t the same as the Wi-Fi password you just set, as whoever knows it will have full access to configuring your Wi-Fi network and VPN protection. Click “Continue.”
- Click “Done” to confirm your router’s new administration settings. You might need to reconnect to your router’s Wi-Fi.
- On the next screen, you’ll see that you’ve automatically been connected to the best-performing VPN server in your country. In my case, I was connected to a server in Dallas.
- I went to WhatIsMyIPAddress.com and as you can see, my computer now has an IP address located in Dallas.
Using the ExpressVPN-Enabled Wi-Fi Router
Connecting a device to your ExpressVPN-protected Wi-Fi router is the same as with any Wi-Fi router. You can either connect via an Ethernet cable if there’s a free Ethernet port available on the back of your router, or you can connect via Wi-Fi.
Either way, all of your traffic will be encrypted, and your device will appear to be located in whichever server location you have selected. (More about that below.)
Selecting a Server Location
By default, the ExpressVPN router app will connect you to the best possible VPN server location by using a process called “Smart Location.” This is determined by using such anonymous metrics as connection speed, latency, and distance.
However, you can also choose to connect to any other ExpressVPN server, which will benefit you by opening access to content (such as streaming and gaming content or banking services) that might normally be blocked in your area.
- To change your server location, go to www.expressvpnrouter.com. If that doesn’t work, try entering 192.168.1.1 into your browser’s address bar. You’ll be taken to the ExpressVPN router dashboard.
- To connect to a different VPN server location, click on the location “picker.”
- Browse through the available locations until you find the one you want, then click on that location. (You can also use the search bar to find a location).
- The router will disconnect from the previous VPN server and connect to the new one. There may be a short period of time without internet connectivity while the router connects to the new VPN server.
All of your connected devices will now appear to be located in the same area as the newly-selected VPN server.
Managing Devices Connected to the ExpressVPN Router
You’ll notice that by default, the ExpressVPN app routes all internet traffic through the VPN. However, it’s possible to pick and choose which devices use the VPN, and which devices will use an unprotected connection.
This ability can come in handy when you need some devices to use a normal, unprotected internet connection, as they need to connect to resources in your area. Meanwhile, other devices can be protected and use resources that might normally be geo-blocked.
- On the ExpressVPN router dashboard, click on the “Devices” tab.
- You’ll likely see that “Each device uses” is set to “Router VPN,” which means all devices that are connected to the router have their connection routed through ExpressVPN’s servers.
- You can click on “Each device uses” to set it to “Per device setting,” which then displays a list of connected devices.
- You can then select which devices are protected by the Router VPN, uses no VPN, or uses the MediaStreamer DNS service (handy for Xbox, PS4, Apple TV, and other internet-connected devices that have no VPN app available).
Other ExpressVPN Router Options
How To Change the Wi-Fi/SSID Name and Password
There may come a time when you need to change the name of your wireless network (Wi-Fi/SSID name). This may be because someone else is using your network’s name, or simply because you’re whimsical and always wanted to have a Wi-Fi network named “Bill Wi the Science Fi.”
- In the sidebar, click “Network Settings” -> “Wi-Fi Settings.”
- Under “Enable Wi-Fi network”, enter the Wi-Fi name and password you want to use.
- Click the “Save” button. You will see a message that says “Connection to Router Lost” while the changes are being saved to the router.
The “Internet Settings” section in “Network Settings” is best left alone. This information was saved when you first set up your ExpressVPN firmware.
If for some reason you find the need to change this information (such as if you have changed internet providers), contact ExpressVPN customer support to have them walk you through any needed changes.
Local Network Settings
The “Local Network Settings” section in “Network Settings” is another group of settings that’s best left alone unless you absolutely need to make any changes.
However, this is where you’ll go if you’re experiencing any conflicts with other routers on your network. You’ll be able to change your router’s IP address, Subnet Mask and the range of IP addresses that can be assigned to devices that connect to the router.
In the “Advanced Settings” menu, there are numerous options associated with the operation of your ExpressVPN-enabled router.
The “Router Settings” menu is where you change the admin password. This is the password that provides access to the router’s settings and is not the same password used to connect to the Wi-Fi network.
“Software Update” is where you go to update the ExpressVPN firmware or to revert your router to its original “out-of-the-box” state (more about that later). You’ll download the latest firmware update from the ExpressVPN website, save it to your computer’s hard drive and upload it to your router.
“Back Up and Restore” allows you to back up the settings of your hard drive and restore them if needed.
“Port Forwarding” allows you to set up remote management for devices connected to your ExpressVPN-enabled router. This allows you or other users to remotely access your devices.
To set up port forwarding, follow the steps below.
- Click “Port Forwarding” in the “Advanced Settings” menu.
- Click “Add New Rule.”
- Fill out the fields on the form as follows:
Device: <select the device you want to access>
Internal Port: 80
External Port: 8080
- Click “Save” to add the new rule.
- You should now be able to remotely access the device by going to <publicIP>:8080.
“Dynamic DNS” – If you have a DDNS hostname set up (see more about that here), you can enter it here, which will allow you to remotely access devices connected to the ExpressVPN-enabled router using a DDNS hostname instead of your public IP address.
- Click “Dynamic DNS” in the “Advanced Settings” menu.
- Fill out the fields as follows:
DDNS Service: <your DDNS provider, e.g., dynu.com>
Hostname: <your DDNS hostname>
Password: <your DDNS password>
- Click “Save” to add the hostname.
- You should now be able to remotely access your connected device by going to <hostname>:8080.
Rebooting Your ExpressVPN Router
Occasionally, you’ll find the need to reboot your router. After all, a router is basically a small computer that controls the connections of the devices that are connected to it. If your router is “acting up,” the first thing to try is rebooting it.
You can reboot your router as follows:
- Click the “Reboot Router” button found in the lower left-hand corner of the ExpressVPN router Dashboard.
- Click “Continue” to reboot the router. In just a few minutes, the router will reboot and your connection to the internet will be restored.
How to Reset Your ExpressVPN Router Back to the Original Firmware
There may come a time when you want to return your ExpressVPN-enabled router back to its original firmware, restoring it to its original, factory-released state.
This can be the case if you’ve bought a new router, want to sell your old one, or want to use the router for a different project.
Before you begin the process, make sure you have the router’s original firmware on hand. You can download a copy from the Netgear support website. Enter your router’s model number or product name to find the firmware. The model number can be found on the bottom or back of your router.
Once you’ve downloaded the firmware, do the following:
- Go to www.expressvpnrouter.com. If that doesn’t work, try entering 192.168.1.1 into your browser’s address bar. You’ll be taken to the ExpressVPN router dashboard.
- In the left sidebar, go to “Advanced Settings” -> “Software Update.”
- Click on “Choose file” and select the firmware file.
- Click on the “Update Now” button.
- The firmware will begin updating, returning your router to its original, fresh-out-of-the-box state. Your browser should return to the Netgear dashboard when the process is complete. The entire process should take less than 5 minutes to complete.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Router-Based VPN
If you use a VPN with your router, you benefit from always-on protection.
If you’re like me, you have sometimes forgotten to turn on your VPN protection on your computer when sharing files or engaging in other “unapproved” online activities.
With a VPN running on your router, your online activities are always protected from prying eyes.
Protection for All of Your Connected Devices
When you have a VPN running on your router, any device that connects to your network is automatically protected by the VPN.
This includes game consoles, streaming boxes, smart TVs and other connected devices that normally would not be able to benefit from VPN protection.
More Upfront Expense
Purchasing a router that offers compatibility with your VPN provider can cost you a good amount of money upfront.
There is a good chance that your current router is not compatible with your VPN provider. A router that offers compatibility and that is powerful enough to efficiently manage a VPN connection can cost hundreds of dollars.
Plus, not all VPN providers offer router compatibility, or they charge extra for the feature. This means that you’ll likely be paying more for your VPN subscription. (Thankfully, this is not the case with ExpressVPN.)
Your Connection Speeds Will Be Slower
When running a VPN on your computer or other connected devices, you’ve likely noticed your connection speeds are slower.
The same thing happens when you use a VPN-enabled router. Plus, those slower speeds will apply to all of the devices connected to the router.
Router manufacturers, like any other company, keep an eye on the bottom line. This means they won’t use a more powerful (and expensive) processor in their routers if they don’t need to. A router is designed to do one thing: maintain and route your internet connection to your connected devices.
If you install a VPN on that same router, the processor works that much harder because it is now responsible for encrypting and decrypting the data being sent and received by your devices. The more devices, the lower the performance and the slower your speeds.
When you’re using a VPN app installed on your device, you can control when to turn the protection on and when to turn it off. If you’re connected to a VPN-enabled router, your VPN protection is always on.
While many VPN routers offer features that can select which device(s) use the VPN connection, you need to know the administrator password to make that change.
Can I Use a Free VPN With My Netgear Router?
Most “free” VPNs only work with mobile, desktop and laptop devices, and therefore they don’t offer compatibility with routers. (I say “most” free providers, but to be honest, I can’t think of any freebie VPNs that offer router compatibility.)
Plus, many sans-fee VPNs will throttle your connection speeds and also impose daily or monthly data caps on your usage. Data caps are not a good idea in any situation, but especially not when you have multiple devices using the same VPN connection.
Plus, keep in mind that even a “free” VPN service is run with an eye to making a profit. Many VPNs of this type will monitor your online activities and sell that information to advertisers and other interested third parties.
Still, other freebie VPNs will inject unwanted ads and tracking cookies into your browser sessions. And those cookies continue to track you, even when you’re not connected to the VPN.
While there are certainly disadvantages to using a VPN on your router, the advantages greatly outweigh the drawbacks.
A router-based VPN, like the one that ExpressVPN offers, provides full-time VPN protection for all of your devices, including streaming and gaming devices, and even your internet-connected microwave oven.
ExpressVPN offers top-notch VPN protection for all of your internet-connected devices via a single access point. The provider offers reasonably simple setup with Netgear routers and even makes pre-configured routers available if you don’t want to do it yourself.
The provider offers excellent global server coverage, top-notch connection protection, and fast download speeds.