After the Beijing 2008 Olympics most people anticipated that internet censorship in China would ease but contrary to expectations the situation continues to get worse with more sites being blocked by the week (see whatblocked.com for the latest). Traditionally people bypassed the blocks using anonymous proxies and other free services but many of these have also been barred by the government and those which remain are usually so overwhelmed that service is patchy and slow at best. The best solution for foreigners in China and anyone wanting to access sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook these days is to get a personal VPN account using one of the commercial services available.

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, basically allows you to create a secure tunnel through your existing internet connection to a server in another country (usually Europe or America) where you can then enjoy complete freedom to surf as you would anywhere else. The technology is exactly the same as corporations use to allow their employees to work from home but is now available for personal use. Whilst it isn’t free they’re usually a lot more reliable and faster than the alternatives.

I recently got the opportunity to try a relative newcomer to the area called 12vpn (having also previously reviewed Witopia). Founded in 2008 by a group of expats in Asia who began by offering IT services to businesses, Anuson Limited opened up their VPN solution to end-users earlier this year.

Service Offering

They offer two basic packages for individuals – “Lite” ($30/year) and “Personal” ($70/year) with the only real difference being that the former has a bandwidth cap 10gb per month. Both provide multiple protocols for accessing the service (OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP, IPSec, IKEv2 and Cisco) meaning that you can use it on virtually any device. I tested it on a Windows 7 laptop, a MacBook Pro running Snow Leopard, my iPhone (first generation) and iPad (running iOS 4.2).

Setup

First impressions were good – sign-up is easy with a variety of payment options including PayPal and a 7-day money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied. Once this is complete you’re provided with setup instructions and emailed security certificates which allow you to connect to the service. The configuration steps are extremely simple with an automated installer being provided for your platform of choice (Windows/Mac…). As this is a true VPN service (not a proxy) all your applications will work without any need to change anything – you just hit connect and away you go.

For Mac users you’ll get a free license for Viscosity which offers a nicer user experience over the open source Tunnelblick alternative (the client used to connect to the VPN service).

Performance

The first thing you’ll notice once your connected with 12vpn is that you can now access to all your favourite sites again. The second thing is the big speed improvement for international sites. Whilst your download/upload speed is still limited to your physical connection things feel a lot quicker since the route the traffic is taking is far more direct and stable. In my tests YouTube videos streamed with minimal buffering time and downloading large files worked without any issues. In comparison to Witopia there isn’t any noticeable speed difference although 12vpn felt faster to connect but this isn’t something I can verify.

The service also offers a choice of servers in the US, UK and Germany which you can choose to use although I found the default to be more than adequate. If you want to use services like BBC iPlayer or Spotify then be sure to connect to the London server (and vice versa for US services).

Mobile

One of the great thing about 12vpn is that you can also use it on your smartphone (using L2TP usually). Setting it up on my iPhone was simply a matter of emailing myself a configuration file which when opened on the phone set everything up without any need to delve into any technical details. In China most people still use EDGE on their mobile for data services (3G coverage is patchy) and I had no problems connecting. This was far easier than with Witopia which I could never get to work on my phone in the past. Being able to twitter on the go is a small pleasure but one which is strangely appreciated when so far from home.

Conclusion

12vpn is a great service that I would recommend to anyone needing to bypass the great firewall or just those looking for an extra layer of security. Where the service differentiates and excels in comparison to the competition is in its flexibility to be used transparently on almost any device you might have with minimal fuss. While in an ideal world a VPN wouldn’t be necessary it’s a small price to pay for freedom.

12vpn have kindly offered to give Randomwire readers who sign up a 10% discount – enter the promotional code RANDOMWIRE when you sign-up to qualify.

Comments

  1. Parvez Halim says:

    @Bill very true. The desktop service is very good but unfortunately their iPhone service is useless as they use PPTP, which is completely blocked in China.

    • David says:

      Completely agree – Witopia works great using OpenVPN but forget trying to use it on your iPhone. If you need both 12vpn a much better choice right now.

    • David says:

      If your N95 supports L2TP VPN’s then it will work (likely).

      For mac alone either is a good choice. 12vpn edges out the competition with its wider device support but I’m sure you’d be happy with Witopia also.

  2. JpMan says:

    I want to know how you sent yourself an iphone email with config file. Is it to your email like yahoo or hotmail. Please reply me

  3. Hann says:

    Hi David,

    I’m going to be moving to China in few months so I’m looking to purchase a person VPN soon. Between 12vpn or Witopia, which one would you recommend? I only really plan on working online (I build niche sites that earn revenue) but I would still feel comfortable by protecting myself. I don’t use YouTube or facebook too often but I do use blogger a lot. Which would you recommend? Thanks!

    • David says:

      Hi Hann,

      Both Witopia and 12vpn are very good. I’d recommend 12vpn at the moment over Witopia because they have better support for mobile devices (like the iPhone) if you want to use a VPN on there also. Otherwise you can’t go far wrong.

      • Hann says:

        Hi David,

        Thanks so much for the quick reply! Had another question if you don’t mind, but how exactly would you use the internet on the iPhone in China? I actually unlocked my 3Gs yesterday so I’m planning on purchasing a prepaid SIM card when I get there. Btw, I just realized that your 5% discount code for 12vpn just expired a few days ago. Do you have another one that could be used? Thanks so much for the help.

        • David says:

          You can use EDGE or 3G on a pre-paid SIM in China providing you know the APN credentials for cellular data (you can ask in a China Mobile/Unicom shop for these or search online).

          If you can hang on a few days I’ll be running another promotion for 12vpn probably so there may be another discount then 😉

          • Hann says:

            Okay cool! I’ll be sure to check your site again then as I definitely want to test out 12vpn first before I move over to China.

  4. Sean says:

    Hi David,

    You mentioned the possibility of another 12vpn discount promotion – did I miss it? Still in the works?

    Thanks,

    Sean

    • David says:

      Hi Sean – yes another promotion is coming, just not had time to get to it yet 😀

      Will see if I can get the post out this week for it.

  5. living in Asia says:

    I have installed the 12vpn onto my computer and also my boyfriend. It works great living here in China except only one person at a time can log into it.

    Can someone tell me how to go about and make it possible that both of us can use the 12vpn at the same time without it kicking the first person who logged in off?

    Thank a mill.

    • David says:

      Hi, the personal version does not support multiple users users, however you can use it on your laptop / phone at the same time. You’ll need to buy another account I think if you both want to use it at the same time.

  6. Hann says:

    Hi David,

    I noticed that 12VPN costs $200 a year whereas Witopia costs $60. Is 12VPN that much better and is the extra cost justified? Anyway, I leave for China on March 20th so I’m pretty excited! Just making some final preparations as I have no idea when I’ll be coming back to the states.

    Thanks,

    Hann

    • David says:

      Hi Hann,

      If you signup when you’re in China it’ll still be $60. For some reason they’ve increased the price for people outside Asia… not sure why!

      Good luck!!

  7. Mike Cogan says:

    The 12vpn site seems to be blocked in China at the moment. Do they have a mirror site?

  8. Pingback: China Travel Trends
  9. Tuk says:

    As far as I can see, in order to use this VPN service on Nokia phones,
    this service should be SymVPN compatible. Could some one tell me if 12VPN service is indeed compatible with SymVPN (see http://www.telexy.com)
    Thanks.

  10. joe says:

    can you actually stream something like hulu on 12VPN lite “data limit 10GB/month”. how much data is one hour of hulu video streaming? any ideas?

  11. Yang says:

    Hi David, just sign up the 12vpn today and thanks for the 10% discount. It work perfectly so far because I am still in Manchester. I’ll try it next week when I am in China, hope this will work as I saw Mike’s message about the website is blocked after I sign up.

  12. George says:

    I tried both witopia and 12VPN. witopia was always slow and pain in the ass to load even simple sites like facebook. 12vpn was way better but I was not happy with it either. At times it was slow or disconnecting me randomly. I saw a tweet about Astrill free beta. This was in January. I signed up and tried it. One word – amazing. It was still in beta and by speed and reliability the best VPN I used ever. After their beta has expired I signed up for a full account. Today, their software is one of the most polished and fastest. So far I invited 10 friends and all are very happy with it. The price is also good like $5/month with 1-year plan. You don’t need to trust my words, but try it beofr you pay. Just ask them for a free trial. I think they are giving 30 days free trial (but not sure, check that with them).

    • Todd says:

      dude. wow. at least TRY to hide the fact you work for Astrill.

      Witopia and 12vpn are both excellent choices in China. Witopia has a HUGE network with a zillion servers. most definitely not slow. I’m using them now.

      12vpn is smaller network-wise, but has an innovative 10GB plan (quite generous if you’re not a heavy user) and really good Android support.

      They are both extremely popular and seem like ethical companies.

      They are not “slow” and they do not “disconnect randomly” or any of the other self-promoting desperate drivel you Astrill d-bags are spreading on every forum you can find. focus on your own company and stop telling lies about good ones to try to build your business and you will go farther.

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