An ambitious new startup with dreams to make the internet "10x faster" has launched a service that lets anyone anywhere in the world access region-blocked content, such as Hulu, Netflix and BBC iPlayer TV. Unlike other proxy solutions, it doesn't slow down your traffic, it works in your browser and it's totally free.
Hola Unblocker has been available as a Chrome and Firefox extension since December, but it has just expanded to include websites like CBC, Fox and BBC's iPlayer TV. You simply install the extension, then go to the website with the region-blocked content you want to access. You don't have to restart your computer -- you don't even have to restart your browser. There have been some reports of the extension suddenly not working on a particular site, as well as a few glitches here and there. Our tests showed that the BBC iPlayer TV worked in Chrome, but not in Firefox. Hulu worked as advertised. It's technically still in beta, but the reviews appear to be overwhelmingly positive so far.
Hola was started by two guys with "a thesis that HTTP could be re-invented". It sounds crazy, but it has apparently received $US18 million from investors to pursue its broader plans to make the internet faster using "a combination of patented technologies -- caching, multiple sources, compression, P2P protocols and other technologies".
Hola has also put out a Windows and Android app that supposedly speeds up many (not all) websites, gives you faster downloads and minimises video buffering. The Android app contains an internet accelerator, although it can't unblock content just yet. The Windows app contains both the internet accelerator and the unblocker, as well as a connection manager that helps you find and connect to Wi-Fi networks.
The main difference between Hola Unblocker and other VPN/proxy services that we've found so far is its ability to unblock content without slowing everything down. Hola explains how it achieves this on its FAQ page:
Hola sends only the traffic to the blocked site through other servers. The rest of your traffic flows to the websites you are visiting without going through a proxy. If you have the Hola software installed on your computer or phone, your web browsing will actually be faster than without Hola.
So what's the catch? How can it be free? Hola answers those questions and more on its FAQ page. Here's a snippet:
How is Hola free? Hola is the only service of its type that is free because Hola's technology does not require us to have actual servers -- as more people join the network, they pool their resources to help each other to make a better Internet for all, and thus we have no additional costs per user. And that cost savings is translated in to a free product. We plan to make our money from premium services we will offer in the future.
How does Hola make the Internet faster? The Internet is slowed down by server response times, Internet congestion, round trip times, and poorly written communication stacks in operating systems. Hola removes these bottlenecks by securely caching content on peers as they view it, and later serving it up to other nearby peers as they need it. Hola also compresses communication and employs a patented DNS acceleration to speed the net further. As more people install and use Hola, the faster and less congested it will be!
Will Hola slow down my computer? Hola will not use your computer (or phone) to help other Peers if you are using your computer. Hola is designed to always provide service which is at least as good as your Internet service would have been without Hola.
How is Hola Unblocker free if VPN solutions cost money? Hola is the only service of its type that is free because Hola's Better Internet technology does not require us to have actual servers. As more people join the Hola network, they pool their resources to help each other to make a better Internet for everyone, and so Hola has no additional cost per user. That cost savings is translated into a free product (free for us means no advertising either).
How does Hola affect my privacy? Hola's network receives much of the same kind of information you currently send to your ISP when you surf the web. Since Hola's communications are typically encrypted, it provides a higher level of privacy than regular HTTP browsing. Hola collects information such as web sites visited and URLs loaded in order to accelerate the Internet for other Hola users. Hola also caches encrypted copies of the content you've viewed in order to assist other Hola users that have access to the same content. For example, if you've read an article in the NewYorkTimes.com web site, and another Hola user has access to the same article, that other user Hola client may load parts of that page from your cache, if your computer is idle. You can stop the Hola acceleration by pressing 'Stop Acceleration' in the Hola menu.
What do you guys think? Have you tried it yet?