Not your traditional VPN

Cloudflare has finally launched its WARP VPN-like service, satisfying the two million people on its waiting list.

The app for both iOS and Android was announced back in April, and scheduled for rollout between then and July.

“As a way of hopefully making amends, for everyone who was on the waitlist before today, we’re giving 10GB of WARP Plus – the even faster version of WARP that uses Cloudflare’s Argo network – to those of you who have been patiently waiting,” says Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince.

WARP is based on the company’s existing mobile app, which encrypts Domain Name System (DNS) connections, and isn’t exactly a traditional VPN – it doesn’t hide users’ IP addresses from the websites they visit, and doesn’t allow access to geo-restricted content.

Instead, says Prince, “It’s built to ensure that your data is secured while it’s in transit. So the networks between you and the applications you’re using can’t spy on you.”

Meanwhile, WARP Plus is said to give a 30% improvement in website-loading performance. It’s based on the company’s virtual private backbone, known as Argo, and is designed to detect real-time congestion and route web traffic across the fastest and most reliable network paths.

Prince puts the delay in releasing the products down to several reasons. First, he says, Apple ‘threw us a curveball’ by launching iOS 12.2 just days before the April 1 rollout deadline.

“The new version of iOS significantly changed the underlying network stack implementation in a way that made some of what we were doing to implement WARP unstable,” he says.

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The company was also thrown by the diversity of mobile carriers, mobile operating systems, and mobile device models, and by wildly changing network settings.

And there are still bugs. WARP’s occasionally slow, usually because traffic is being misrouted.

“Other common bugs involved captive portals – the pages where you have to enter information, for instance, when connecting to a hotel WiFi,” says Prince, adding: “We expect, over the weeks ahead, we’ll be squashing many of the bugs that you report.”

However, Ariel Hochstadt, co-founder of global VPN comparison site VPNMonitor, urges caution.

“History taught us that when a company is offering free VPN service, they don’t understand what they are facing,” he tells The Daily Swig.

“For example, Opera offered a free service, but they quickly found that maintaining a large network of servers isn’t cheap, and if there is no business model, it doesn’t pay off.

“Cloudflare won’t have this problem because they know how to run servers, but they don’t know how to give service to end users. What would they do when Netflix blocks the VPN – would they really find a workaround quickly? I don’t believe so.”

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