Residential IP addresses are a type of IP address that tricks streaming services into thinking you are not using a VPN. Although they don’t always work, they are a powerful tool in any VPN provider’s arsenal.
Ever wondered how certain VPNs can unblock Netflix while others struggle? The answer lies in residential IP calls, a particular type of Internet address that is much more difficult to detect than the ones commonly used by VPNs. This is how they work.
VPN and Netflix
If you know a little about how VPNs work, you know that when you use one, you’re redirecting your connection through a server that belongs to your VPN provider. By doing so, it assumes the location associated with that server, making it appear as if you are accessing a site from somewhere other than where you live.
This is useful for a number of reasons, but it’s particularly good for anyone who wants to get the most out of their Netflix subscription. When choosing shows or movies on Netflix, you are restricted to your current country selection. Netflix has a lot more to offer than what you see on your home screen – it’s right behind a regional block.
Because a VPN allows you to spoof your location (often called “spoofing”), it allows you to get around these region blocks. The way it works is that when you access Netflix, it checks your IP address, a set of numbers that determines your “address” on the web, to see where you’re accessing the site from. If you’re in the US, but you spoof a UK IP address, you can watch UK Netflix.
Netflix detection measures
All of the above sounds simple enough, and in theory it is. However, Netflix and other streaming services don’t like customers bypassing these region blocks and have put detection measures in place to help them identify spoofed IP addresses and block them.
While it’s unclear exactly how these detection systems work (unsurprisingly, Netflix didn’t respond when asked), we spoke to a few VPN providers who made some educated guesses. The most likely culprits are the databases that record which IP addresses belong to VPNs and which do not.
Companies like IP2Location and IPQualityScore maintain lists like this one for exactly this purpose. They will go through the lists of addresses provided by IP registrars and try to find out which ones belong to companies, which ones belong to VPNs, and which ones belong to ordinary people. This is where residential IPs come in.
What are residential IPs?
A residential IP address is an IP address associated with, well, a residence, a place where people live. This is usually determined by looking at who bought the IP addresses in the first place. For example, if the buyer is an Internet service provider like Verizon or AT&T, it will be classified as residential.
Their ability to bypass any Netflix blocks makes residential IPs prized possessions. By connecting to a site using one of them, it is recognized that it belongs to an ordinary person, so it does not trigger any alarms or anything. You’re sneaking past any naked eye detection system.
Most VPN providers will obtain their IP addresses through web servers or other ways and are therefore classified as either business or VPN; the process is not entirely clear. What we do know is that if an IP address is on a VPN-related list, it probably won’t come out any time soon.
The way VPNs get residential IPs is also a bit murky, and no one wanted to tell us how they got them. Then again, it’s hard to blame VPN providers for not telling us how they make their secret sauce. It is also unclear which VPN services use them. All we can assume is that if a VPN is good for streaming, as many of the best VPNs are, they use residential IPs.
The perfect weapon?
That said, residential IPs aren’t bulletproof either: Netflix, for example, doesn’t rely solely on third-party tracking tools. The company also appears to implement its own systems. If a single residential IP has four or five people watching at the same time, the company will realize that something fishy is going on and will probably block that IP, residential or not.
We saw a likely case of this happening in real time when using a decentralized VPN to stream Netflix, a type of VPN that makes liberal use of residential VPNs. Things were going great until all of a sudden Netflix kicked us out; this happened several times. The most likely explanation is that other people started using the same IP and the site realized something was up.
As good as they are at helping VPN providers crack Netflix, it seems that residential IPs have their limits too. However, unless Netflix finds a way to filter them out, it looks like most VPNs will continue to use them. At least, that’s about all we can assume behind the success rate of services like NordVPN and ExpressVPN when it comes to reaching libraries in other regions.