I first came across Smart DNS about three years ago when it was relatively unknown, the concept was good to hide your real location by just masking specific parts of your connection and routing it through a specific server. The idea being that an intelligent DNS server could just hide your location without rerouting your entire connection. This had numerous benefits including price because only small portions of a connection where routed through a proxy there weren’t huge bandwidth charges to be paid.
Other benefits included speed, again due to your connection being mostly direct with the server you were trying to access. Also configuration was simpler, just change your DNS settings to point to a smart DNS server like this would then allow you to access different sites across a whole host of countries irrespective of your location. This means that suddenly you are not restricted to watching on computers but potentially on any internet device, without the need to support a UK IP proxy, just watch this video.
As you can see if you can access the network settings on a device then you can enable a Smart DNS server. Where as a VPN needs client software to enable it to work either proprietary or from within the devices operating system (such as Windows or linux). Suddenly devices like Roku’s, Smart phones and even Smart TVs can be Smart DNS enabled without a problem. The device itself is irrelevant, only the accessibility of it’s network settings – surely the VPN didn’t stand a chance?
Certainly the VPn is superior in as far as security is concerned simply because Smart DNS simply doesn’t supply any identity protection or encryption, however that’s largely by design to limit costs and improve simplicity. The ability to enable it on any device is also a huge advantage in a world where there are so many ways to access media online. So why hasn’t the Smart DNS application killed off proxies and VPNs?
Well there’s obviously the marketing aspect, the big players in the VPN market are all well established and companies like HMA have a huge internet footprint. Search online for queries on how to watch US netflix or BBC iPlayer then you’ll likely find yourself at a VPN solution provider somewhere on the web. However there is another problem in that Smart DNS is easier to block than a traditional VPN. Earlier this year Smart DNS stopped working on many devices – this article explains more – Broken Smart DNS for Netflix, and indeed explains a fix (albeit a rather technical one).
The problem was that although it’s relatively simple to change the DNS settings on most devices, it’s also very simple to code that an application or device must use a specific DNS server. What happened was anyone trying to access Netflix found that their DNS settings were ignored as the interface used public DNS servers like 126.96.36.199 from Google. This meant that the ‘location switching’ technology from the Smart DNS servers never got chance to work as the servers were ignored. The big media sites obviously started putting pressure on other companies as modifying basic DNS settings on all sorts of devices got harder and harder. The result was that for many people Smart DNS just stopped working for a couple of weeks until there seemed to be something of a pull back. It is surmised that the owners of these public DNS servers like Google were probably not impressed with this huge upsurge in requests for an effectively free service and the providers back tracked.
At the moment Smart DNS works relatively well on most platforms but this could change at any time, Netflix could easily block these through the code in their interface and most expect this to happen. Blocking a VPN is much more difficult though as it well configured service is almost impossible to detect, companies like Hulu have been trying for years. As such VPNs remain the ‘safe choice’ for watching things like BBC iPlayer abroad, as this – if Smart DNS is still working in a year or so then this might change.