VPN usage across Middle East and India – H1 2021

With all the chatter about privacy and reducing data collection, VPNs have been growing in popularity. They have also helped people in accessing certain services that are geofenced or restricted by local telecom operators (e.g. WhatsApp calling). In the first half of 2021, the Middle East region has seen its usage jump significantly to circumvent restrictions.

US-based Atlas VPN recently published an overview of VPN usage worldwide. While 2020 saw VPN applications downloaded more than 277 million times, the number nearly tripled in H1 2021 to 616 million.

Middle East in the Top 10 VPN usage

In the past year during the pandemic, most people expected telecom operators to unblock other VOIP apps due to distance learning for educators and remote working. In addition, people couldn’t even get home, and keeping in touch with family became a challenge.

Some countries in the Middle East region had eased restrictions when using software like Teams and Zoom. Other VOIP software like Skype and WhatsApp/Facetime calling didn’t see similar love. Not many people can even afford the luxury of VPN, when the only mobile device they’d possess is a smartphone.

One look at the below chart clearly shows which countries saw their usage skyrocket since the start of 2021.

Rankings of VPN adoption in 1H 2021 by downloads, population, and adoption rate.
VPN rankings shown by country for downloads, population, and adoption rate from Atlas VPN. Countries in the Middle East take up the Top 10 rankings.

Qatar clearly took the top spot, with the UAE in a close #2. Gong down the list adds Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Lebanon to the list. While India didn’t see much VPN usage in 2020, that changed with the start of 2021.

You’d have expected that VPN usage would slow down, but it only grew. That is compounded by the internet restrictions enforced by the respective country’s ISPs (Internet Service Providers).

While cinemas were closed, SVOD services like Netflix/STARZPlay/Amazon Prime definitely viewership skyrocket. However, viewers have to contend with some content being geofenced due to distrubution rights by copyright holders. VPNs greatly helped people spoof their location, allowing them to watch content that wouldn’t even be available in the Middle East.

The legality of VPNs can vary on a country-level basis, as it’s based on the type of usage activity. So do keep that in mind when you’re using one.

Image credit: Unsplash and Atlas VPN (rankings)

Author: Yasser Masood

Think of me as a grassroots community evangelist. Juggling social media while covering technology/digital trends across the Middle East and crossroads of society and culture, while unearthing other perspectives that pique my interests.

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