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ExpressVPN Lightway Protocol Review & Comparison 2021

ExpressVPN’s Lightway protocol is being hyped up as the fastest protocol since WireGuard. I was skeptical about this, so I put it to the test.  I wanted to see if Lightway is as good as everyone is saying, and I think you’ll be surprised by what I found.

Lightway performs well, and it’s very secure. It’s not the fastest protocol (yet), but it has the potential to be. The rest of its results were nearly as good, but I found some areas where it needs to improve.

Let’s take a look at what makes Lightway a promising protocol, where it excels, and where it needs work.

Use Lightway With ExpressVPN!

Quick Guide: How to Setup Lightway in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Download and install ExpressVPN. Open the app, and navigate to the Options menu.
  2. Under the Protocol tab, select Lightway. Then, exit the window.
  3. Select a server and connect. You’re ready to enjoy lightning-fast speeds.

Pros and Cons of Lightway

Pros Cons
  • Fast connections. Lightway gives you instant connections and reconnects straightaway if your internet drops. ExpressVPN’s other protocols take around 20 seconds to connect.
  • No obfuscation. Lightway doesn’t hide your connection so some firewalls may still be able to tell you’re using a VPN.
  • Better performance than other protocols. Because it’s more lightweight and takes less processing power to run, Lightway offers less lag and can even increase your battery life.
  • Not available on iOS. Lightway is currently available on Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, and routers — iOS is still yet to be launched.
  • Very secure. Lightway has shorter code so it is much easier to audit. It’s also a lot faster to find and fix bugs.
  • Can unblock popular streaming platforms. Lightway can bypass geoblocks easily with fast speeds.

Start Using Lightway Now!

Lightway Protocol Features and Performance — Tested in 2021

After extensive testing, Lightway proved to perform well in key areas such as security and speed (ideal for streaming and gaming). My only complaint is that it’s not available on iOS yet but I’m assured by customer support that it’s coming soon.

Security

Lightway comes with all of ExpressVPN’s standard safety features: 256-bit encryption, a kill switch, leak protection, and no logs.

It uses wolfSSL, a cryptography library that’s been tested by the experts, and allows Lightway to support all SSL/TLS protocols. This is the same level of security the government uses to protect data on its websites, including the NSA. There’s also an option to ChaCha20 on your mobile devices. This cipher is around three times faster than the standard AES-128-GSM, which means that pages will load faster and your phone or tablet will use less battery.

The code is only 1,000 lines long, which makes Lightway much easier to audit and maintain (OpenVPN’s code is much longer at around 70,000 lines). If there’s a security issue or bug, it takes much less time to find and fix it because there’s less code. ExpressVPN plans to open-source Lightway’s core library, which will make it more secure because it will be scrutinized for flaws by third-party experts.

A unique feature of Lightway is that your connection is never terminated; It’s switched to ‘idle’ instead. Even if your internet connection is interrupted, you’ll be automatically connected as soon as you’re back online. This ensures that you’re always protected and it means you don’t have to wait to be reconnected as you do with other protocols.  In each of my tests, Lightway reconnected me within 4 seconds. I am impressed with this feature — I’m an impatient person, and even the 20 seconds it takes for OpenVPN to reconnect is a bit of a drag.

Speed

Lightway is faster than OpenVPN and on-par with other WireGuard adaptations. 

The 3 main things I looked at to determine Lightway’s speed were its ping, download, and upload speeds.

  • Ping — Ideally, you’d want to have a ping rate of 10-170ms. This is the time it takes for a website or game to respond once you click on a link. During this time, your data is being sent to and from the server (this makes a big difference for gaming). A high ping causes huge delays, lag, and even disconnections.
  • Download speed — This should be above 5mbps for minimal lag and buffering. Your download speed basically tells you how fast your device can download files from the internet. A slow download speed means it will take you longer to open websites, save files, and load video streams.
  • Upload speed — Anything faster than 1.5mbps is good. If your upload speed is slow, you’ll have trouble sharing files, posting things on social media, making VOIP and video calls.

Start Using Lightway Now!

Local Speeds

I began my tests by choosing the Lightway protocol and connecting to the nearest server. To get the full picture, I compared my results with my OpenVPN speed and my WireGuard speed. I chose WireGuard to compare it to because it’s Lightway’s most similar competitor, and OpenVPN is the default protocol for most VPNs.

Ping (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Base speed 13 116.55 95.94
Using Lightway 23 108.53 88.04
Using WireGuard 53 107.89 87.62
Using OpenVPN 92 101.37 87.95

My download and upload speeds were similar for Lightway and WireGuard, but Lightway was a little faster. It’s normal to see a 10-20% speed decrease when you connect to a VPN. The 8% loss I experienced from my base speed wasn’t noticeable. Lightway was 7% faster than OpenVPN.

Although my ping using WireGuard was within the normal range, Lightway gave me the lowest ping. I noticed that websites responded slightly faster than they did with WireGuard and OpenVPN.

Note: You’ll need to select Lightway before connecting to the VPN server, as it isn’t the default protocol for ExpressVPN.

International Speeds

Next, I tested servers in London using Lightway, OpenVPN, and WireGuard to see which protocol performs best over long-distance connections. I was surprised at how much lower my ping was using Lightway.

I expected my download and upload speeds to drop quite a bit because my data had to travel farther to reach the international server.

Ping (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Lightway (UK server) 132 23.40 41.5
WireGuard (UK server) 203 32.43 49.05
OpenVPN (UK server) 319 19.48 30.61

My ping was significantly lower using Lightway, but WireGuard’s download speeds were faster by 38%. This doesn’t make a huge difference if your connection is already fast, but if your internet is slower than around 5Mbps, it could make it unusable. Lightway and WireGuard were both faster than OpenVPN. 

I cross-checked these findings by testing another server in Frankfurt. Again, my ping while using Lightway was significantly better — but WireGuard’s download and upload speeds were faster. 

Ping (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Lightway (Frankfurt server) 153 12.63 23.93
WireGuard (Frankfurt server) 229 21.15 24.03
OpenVPN (Frankfurt server) 310 10.95 20.39

The difference in upload speeds wasn’t noticeable, but WireGuard’s download speed was 67% faster than Lightway.

Finally, I tested a server in Australia. I wasn’t surprised to see Lightway’s ping speed blow past WireGuard at all this time. But I was surprised that Lightway beat WireGuard’s upload speeds. WireGuard had marginally faster download speeds, but its high ping rate made it nearly too slow to use.

Ping (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
Lightway (Sydney server) 202 16.32 42.63
WireGuard (Sydney server) 395 24.98 31.95
OpenVPN (Sydney server) 428 11.35 19.84

Start Using Lightway Now!

Streaming

Lightway is a great protocol to use for streaming. It has proven to be able to bypass geoblocks easily and it’s fast enough to stream in HD.

I selected the Lightway protocol on my ExpressVPN Windows app and tested several top streaming platforms. Lightway could unblock all the platforms I tried, including Netflix US, BBC iPlayer, and 9Now. It only took a few seconds for the VPN to get connected and I could start streaming without delays

ExpressVPN can unblock lots of streaming sites when you’re using OpenVPN, and I was curious to find out if Lightway can access all of them, too. I reached out to customer support using the live chat feature to ask. ExpressVPN’s customer support responded quickly and told me that Lightway can unblock all of the same streaming platforms as OpenVPN normally can. 

A screenshot of a discussion with ExpressVPN live chat support.

A customer service agent confirmed that Lightway can unblock all the same streaming sites as OpenVPN.

Start Using Lightway Now!

Gaming

Lightway is a good protocol to use for gaming because its fast speeds mean you can load games quickly and without lag.

Your ping rate (the time it takes for the game to respond once you click a button) is particularly important for gaming because it affects your lag. For gaming, your ping should be between 10-100ms. When I was connected to a nearby server my ping was only 23ms. On international servers, it was between 132-202ms. For this reason, I don’t recommend it if you’re playing on international game servers.

Lightway is fast enough to play most games without lag. I was able to play World of Tanks without any interruptions or long loading times.

Device Compatibility

Lightway is available on Windows, Mac, Android, Linux, and routers at the moment. ExpressVPN is working to release it on iOS in the future — but you can still use it on your iOS device at home if you set it up on your router first.

How I Tested the Lightway Protocol

There was no way for me to test both protocols simultaneously without using separate devices, and using more than one device would skew my results. That meant I needed to set up a control for my tests. So, I created a list of specific criteria to test Lightway against.

  • High performance — I tested Lightway against two other VPN protocols: OpenVPN and WireGuard. OpenVPN is the most common protocol, and WireGuard is Lightway’s closest competitor. Comparing the three allowed me to gauge Lightway’s performance and to see which protocol is best.
  • Reliability — I tested the same servers at the same time of day over 3 days. This gave me an idea of Lightway’s stability and performance over a longer period of testing.
  • Fast speeds — I used Ookla’s speed test tool to find the exact speed of each connection.
  • Streaming abilities — I accessed all the major streaming services to make sure Lightway can unblock them.

Lightway vs. Other VPN Protocols: Which Is Best?

After extensive testing, I found that Lightway is the top choice for speeds (especially for gaming) as well as security.

  • Speed — Lightway and WireGuard are significantly faster than OpenVPN and IKEv2.
  • Security — OpenVPN, Lightway, and WireGuard implementations like NordVPN’s NordLynx are equally safe (WireGuard isn’t as secure on its own). Lightway has all the security essentials, including strong encryption, a kill switch, and no logs.
  • Streaming — Lightway is best for streaming because its faster speeds mean you can stream with a clearer video quality.
  • Gaming — Lightway is ideal for gaming because its ping rates (reaction time) are much quicker, which means there’s no lag.
Lightway WireGuard OpenVPN
Open source? No Yes Yes
Source code Efficient, easy to fix and audit Efficient, easy to fix and audit Inefficient
Speed Very fast Very fast Slower
Security High High High
Stability Very Very Moderately
Time to connect < 4 seconds Approx. 20 seconds Approx. 20 seconds
Offered by ExpressVPN NordVPN, Surfshark, CyberGhost NordVPN, ExpressVPN, Surfshark, CyberGhost, PIA

Start Using Lightway Now! 

FAQs on Lightway

What is the Lightway protocol?

Lightway is ExpressVPN’s newest protocol. It’s designed to increase your connection’s speed and stability when you’re using the VPN.

The protocol you use determines the security, speed, and stability of your VPN connection. ExpressVPN offers several protocols: Lightway, OpenVPN, L2TP, and IKEv2. ExpressVPN recommends Lightway as the best protocol for all activities (and suggests OpenVPN as a backup if Lightway isn’t available on your OS).

Lightway is secure and easy to use. It can do all of the normal tasks you’d use ExpressVPN for (like streaming and torrenting) and my tests show that it’s much faster than the default protocol (OpenVPN). 

Is Lightway safe to use?

Yes, Lightway is safe to use (it’s as safe as ExpressVPN’s default protocol). It gives you all the same protection as your normal VPN protocol, but it’s faster. Your data is still secured with ExpressVPN’s military-grade encryption and your IP and location are safely hidden.

In fact, it’s a little bit safer than using OpenVPN because its code is shorter. This means that it’s easier for developers to identify bugs and faster to fix them. 

Which is better to use: Lightway, NordLynx (WireGuard), or OpenVPN?

I recommend Lightway because its ping rates are slightly lower (this means that it takes less time for a website to react when you click a link). NordLynx was slightly faster in my speed tests, but the difference wasn’t really noticeable.

Both NordLynx and Lightway are faster than OpenVPN. They’re also just as secure, which is why I recommend choosing Lightway instead

Final Verdict

Lightway is a fast, secure, and reliable protocol, especially for gaming and streaming. It only takes a few seconds to connect, and it’s very stable.

After testing it, I discovered that its speeds are on-par with WireGuard, and much faster than OpenVPN. Because it’s lighter than other protocols, it performs better and uses less of your device’s battery power. Because of this, I recommend that you use Lightway with ExpressVPN.

The Best VPNs With Fast and Secure Protocols in 2021

Privacy Alert!

Your data is exposed to the websites you visit!

Your IP Address:

Your Location:

Your Internet Provider:

The information above can be used to track you, target you for ads, and monitor what you do online.

VPNs can help you hide this information from websites so that you are protected at all times. We recommend ExpressVPN — the #1 VPN out of over 350 providers we've tested. It has military-grade encryption and privacy features that will ensure your digital security, plus — it's currently offering 49% off.

Visit ExpressVPN

About the Author

Kristin is a Multimedia Visual Communications entrepreneur who is experienced with identity access management and online security.

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