Moving Abroad? Use My Expat Network to See the Same TV
While most VPNs market themselves to all users, regardless of their reason for purchasing a VPN service, My Expat Network is one of very few who have a niche, that of accessing TV programs from abroad. With an intriguing business model such as this, as well as customer service features like the ability to have their representatives set up the software for their users, we wanted to ask their co-founder, Tim Fleming, some questions about what brought them to be where they are today, and how they differentiate themselves from other VPNs. Share
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before starting a VPN service. How did you get started as a VPN service?
My Expat Network was started in 2009 by me and my longtime friend Noel Greaves-Lord. At the time, I was based in Shanghai working for an international bank and frustrated that I couldn’t watch British TV on-line, as the websites I wanted to access were geolocation restricted. I started looking around to see what the options were to get around these restrictions and I signed up for a VPN. I was struck by the fact that most of the services available, at the time, were focused on security and anonymity on-line and not on getting around geolocation restrictions. Many of the sites then were focused on what a VPN was and not what it could do. I felt there was a gap in the market to promote a VPN service to users who didn’t want to be bothered to understand the technicalities of unblocking a website, but simply wanted to unblock a given site.
With Opera offering a free VPN, do you see a future for paid VPNs?
Yes I do. My Expat Network is focused exclusively on getting around geolocation restrictions and our service is tailored to meet this need. We deliberately use low level 64bit encryption which means a faster connection speed and higher performance for video streaming. Our servers never run at more than 75% capacity, even for a live sports event, so we can maximise uninterrupted viewing. We work with Sabai Technology to offer their VPN routers via our on-line router shop. Here our clients can buy an entertainment package including the VPN router, streaming device and all the required cables so our clients can watch their favourite TV ……… on a TV!
We have an industry leading dedicated support team, who provide around-the-clock support and if required, will access a desktop computer to install the VPN client or to fix a connection problem. In summary, as a paid service we can offer a comprehensive service to a niche segment of the market, we don’t believe that a free service can serve this segment in the way a paid service can. Of course we are not complacent, the industry is changing and if we want to remain competitive, we also have to be innovative and evolve our service, but we do this with our core client in mind.
Since we started in 2009, we have seen many competitors offer free VPN services and now we see this combined with browser integration. However, these services usually have a catch such as bombarding the user with ads or cannot offer a tailored product, such as VPN router integration and support can be minimal, woeful or none existent.
You offer a unique service, that of installing your VPN software for your clients via a Team Viewer application. How did this specialized service come to be?
This was really a natural progression for us, given our aim to make VPN simple. The vast majority of our clients install the software themselves in less than 5 minutes. However, for those who are not so comfortable with technology we started offering this service in 2013. Since we launched the service it has become very popular, we install between 10-15 VPN clients every day.
Some VPNs offer a lifetime deal. What do you think of this strategy?
I think the lifetime deals are a very good deal for the VPN providers. I am not sure it is best deal for our clients.
I would not recommend a ‘lifetime subscription’ as there is no incentive for the provider to remain the ‘top performing’ once the one time subscription is paid. Secondly, a ‘lifetime subscription’ binds the user to the service and offers no flexibility should circumstances change in future.
I recommend an annual subscription as the best value and a good balance between price and flexibility. We offer a 20% discount to anyone who commits to yearly payment terms and almost half our new subscribers go with this option.
What makes My Expat Network different from other VPNs?
We are focused on making it easy for our customers to watch UK/US/ Canadian and Australian TV, listen to radio, play the local lottery easy or access other geolocation restricted websites, from wherever they are in the world. In addition, our clients are not so concerned about what a VPN is, but rather what it can do to help them, so our website is set up with this mind and whilst security, privacy and the other benefits that a VPN provides are great, these are not the main focus of our service. Then we offer a set up that is simple or we can do it for our clients, the VPN connection is optimised for video steaming and finally we offer value added packages with a router shop to enable our clients have a seamless VPN experience throughout their household.
Can you explain “Data retention”? What is your policy?
We are a Hong Kong based company and there no legal requirement to retain data. Our servers are based in the UK, US, Canada and Australia and they require their server centres to retain some connection data such as the original IP address of the user. This information is only disclosed if we are legally required to do so.
We do retain data that is required to provide the service such as email address. However, we use Braintree as our payment gateway and all card details are stored within their vault.
Your VPN is catered to individuals who want to access TV channels from abroad. How did you end up choosing this niche?
This was based on my own experience living and working as an expat in China, Hong Kong and the United States. I am from the UK and missed watching my own TV. I have been very fortunate to have lived in three fantastic places in my 12 years living abroad, however, from experience all expats miss something from home and continuing to have the link home via TV means a lot.
With free VPNs like Windscribe and Hola, what is the differentiator for paid VPNs?
Since bandwidth isn't free, all so called free services have to operate their service to get around or minimize the cost of band width and to monitise the service. Their business model includes one or all of the following;
- Use peer to peer technology to obtain free band width to pass on to the user. In other words, when you sign up you are also signing up to have your computer join the global network and have others VPN traffic running through your device. More worrying is your data will be running through an unknown user’s computer.
- Cover their costs by serving up lots of advertisements; that means that when visiting web pages, users see extra advertising inserted into the web pages being viewed. This can be very invasive to viewing enjoyment.
- Offer paid services as well and upsell you to this on the basis you will think the free service is so bad you will want to pay soon!
- The Opera model to incentive use of their browser, which in turn generates advertising revenue for Opera, but is not the market leading browser. In summary, compromise the choice of browser for the free VPN.
When our clients subscribe to My Expat Network, yes they pay a monthly subscription, but they can access any available content advertisement free and with no distractions or annoyances, they get market leading customer service and products tailored to their needs.
With many VPNs, many individuals complain of issues accessing Netflix. Being that you specialize in accessing entertainment programming from abroad, do you encounter these issues as well?
The bad news is I don’t believe there is any VPN provider who can claim 100% uninterrupted access to Netflix. In most cases you have to send a mail to the support team and ask them which server(s) is working, not very seamless. This solution only works for the browser version, Apps are almost 100% blocked. Many make claims that you can access Netflix freely, don’t believe them.
The good news is the competition is still accessible, including Amazon Instant Video (Prime), NOW TV, Sky Store and Hulu and don’t forget the great content available out of the UK from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. There is so much great competition out there, life without Netflix is possible!
What measures are being taken in your company to prevent outsiders as well as employees from looking at your uses data?
When we think about data there are two distinct types of data a) Data required to sign up b) data that flows through our VPN servers, historical logs of websites visited and other data collected whilst using the service.
Data required to sign up – We ask for a valid email address which we keep and use to manage our clients account. Only My Expat Network team members have access to this for support purposes. Payment information such as credit card details are kept at our payment gateway Braintree. We (My Expat Network) have no access to this data and Braintree are fully PCI (Payment Card Information) compliant.
Data flowing through our VPN servers – we do not keep logs for historical browsing history and do not monitor data flows. We only keep IP connection data, which we are required to do and will only provide the information to the authorities is legally required to do so.