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Sometimes the simplest solutions are often the best. Lots of British Expats spend an awful lot of time trying to replace the things from the UK that they miss. However happy people are in their new location, there’s always going to be an element of homesickness at some points. For me I can never quite get used to Christmas in the sun or foreign chocolate which never quite tastes the same. Yet the real biggie for many of us is UK television, it’s difficult to replace as I reckon it’s best in the world especially for English speakers.
So it’s not surprising that there are many discussions on how to access these TV stations from your new location. Anyone who has lived abroad or traveled a lot will know that although all the UK TV stations broadcast everything online, if you’re physically outside the United Kingdom then it doesn’t work. All the major British channels check on your location when you connect, if your IP address is registered outside the United Kingdom then you won’t be able to watch.
You’ll get something like the following screen – either an error message or a notification that you’re outside the UK.
There are solutions of course and many millions do enjoy the best of British TV from all over the world. They’re not that hard to find, after all the internet is jam packed full of workarounds, cheats and hacks. However many of these can be needlessly complicated and expensive. The simplest solutions are all based on accessing the various TV stations websites online – e.g BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub etc, but even then there’s quite a few methods and many simply don’t work in 2019.
To access the online channels, you need to convince the website that you’re actually in the United Kingdom. Each site determines your location by looking up where your IP address is registered, if it’s not in the UK then nothing will work. Unfortunately it’s not actually possible to change your IP address however you can hide and obscure it. The main methods are to use VPNs and proxies to ‘bounce’ your internet connection through, so instead of seeing your real IP address the website sees the address of the intermediate computer.
As long as the proxy/VPN server is
- In the United Kingdom
- Configured so it can’t be detected.
- Not Blocked by the website
- Doesn’t have too many user
– then it should work perfectly, the website will think you’re in the UK and you’ll have full access to every UK only website. Sounds easy? Well it is really but there are some complications. However there’s really no need to pay big bucks for a preconfigured VPN router, because there’s easier options.
One of the major difficulties though is that we now watch TV on all sorts of different devices, not just computers. Anything with a screen and network access from Smartphones to Games consoles can be used. Getting these devices to connect to a VPN or proxy server can be difficult and sometimes almost impossible.
Fortunately it is possible to solve this problem and actually enable a fake UK IP address for all your devices in one place.
Using a VPN Router for UK TV
As mentioned, there are many complicated methods to enable VPNs on your different devices. You can even set up your internet router to establish a VPN to a UK server too. The advantage of this is that all your traffic is routed through this UK including all the traffic from devices connected to this router. So theoretically you can enable UK TV access on all your devices without having to enable anything on them directly.
This does involve owning a specific type of router though and I can guarantee it’s not the crappy, under powered one your ISP gave you either. Remember it’s a client side outbound VPN connection you need to the UK server. Many routers which advertise VPN functionality actually mean they’ll handle inbound VPN connections from the client only. Which is great for accessing your router securely but useless for David Attenborough on BBC iPlayer!
If you have the right router, some technical knowledge and a little perseverance it is perfectly possible to use a VPN router for UK TV. It might even be the best solution particularly if you only use the router for specific devices and just to watch the BBC for example. But remember when you enable a VPN on your router all your traffic will go through that tunnel which is connected to a server in the UK. This includes your email, messaging, simple browsing absolutely everything all redirected to the UK. It can be a nuisance as well, because useful geolocation like Google finding you local results instead of those in the UK will also be affected.
A Simple, Low Cost Solution Does Exist and you can try it for free !
It’s called Smart DNS and for many people who just want to watch UK or US TV stations makes more sense than a complicated openvpn router. There’s actually no direct VPN involved but you simply change your DNS settings to point at a specially configured DNS server. Just input them into your router’s internet setup page like the page on my Linksys VPN router below.
So instead of going to a standard DNS server, which will normally be automatically allocated for you when you connect to your ISP you use a Smart DNS one. This works in exactly the same way as a standard DNS server resolving IP address and domain names apart from one crucial difference. Whenever it sees a request for a geo-blocked web site like the BBC it will route the initial connection through a server in the appropriate country.
One quick change and everything on your network will be unlocked!
So for the BBC your connection will be temporarily routed through the UK, for US sites it will go through a server in the USA and so on. Basically the Smart DNS server contains a list of sites to unlock automatically and when required will hide your location.
This has loads of advantages but one of the major ones is that unlike a full VPN the rest of your connection is unaffected. What’s more only a small amount of your traffic is routed through the external servers, just enough to hide your location, so the rest of your browsing will work as normal. It’s like having a dedicated VPN router which automatically works but only when you really need it.
What’s the Catch – Sounds Great !!
For watching TV and bypassing blocks it works really well but there are catches which you should be aware of. Probably the most important is that although this provides the same functionality it’s not exactly a VPN router for UK TV.
There’s no layer of encryption for example so your internet connection is not protected. There’s also a requirement that your exact IP address has to be registered with the Smart DNS company to work. So every time it changes you need to reregister the address with your provider, it’s not so bad on a home connection but not really feasible for using on a mobile which will switch addresses frequently. This is not a problem when the mobile is using your Wifi at home though as the IP address in this case would not change.