Opera is adding a virtual private network (VPN) component for its desktop Web browser that users to access region-restricted websites and shield their browsing choices when utilizing public WiFi networks.
The free VPN client, which offers unlimited data usage and 256-bit encryption, is available to as part of Opera's newest developer version of its browser. Users can select the activation option from the Opera Settings menu.
An icon will also appear in the browser address field, from which users can see and change their location, check whether their IP is exposed, and review how much data they have consumed through the VPN servers.
The Opera browser can also replace the user's IP address with a virtual IP address, and unblock firewalls and websites
"Everyone deserves to be private online if they want to be. By adding a free, unlimited VPN directly into the browser, no additional download or extensions from an unknown third-party provider are necessary," Krystian Kolondra, senior vice president of Opera, wrote in an April 21 statement. "So, today, our Opera desktop users get a handy way to boost their online privacy, as well as easier access to all their favorite online content no matter where they are."
In the developer release, users can choose from one of three virtual locations -- the US, Canada, and Germany. But the company said more locations would be available in the stable version of the Opera browser.
The announcement follows Opera's move to offer an integrated ad-blocking feature, which the company claims speeds up Web page load times by as much as 90%, compared to browsing with the option disabled.
The ad blocker and VPN integration signal Opera's push to offer a browser to more tech-savvy users who would find value in faster, less restrictive browsing. While some VPN clients are offered for free, many of the more effective ones cost money.
"We are the first major browser maker to integrate an unlimited and free VPN or virtual private network," Kolondra wrote in a company blog post. "Now, you don’t have to download VPN extensions or pay for VPN subscriptions to access blocked websites and to shield your browsing when on public WiFi."
According to a 2015 Global Web Index report, more than half a billion people (24% of the world's Internet population) have tried or are currently using VPN services.
Young people are leading the way when it comes to VPN usage, with almost one third of people between 16 and 34 having used a VPN.
According to the research, the primary reasons for people to use a VPN are to access better entertainment content (38%), keep anonymity while browsing (30%) and access restricted networks and sites (28%).
While not specifically aimed at businesses, Opera's decision to include a free VPN comes as businesses begin to crack down on employees using insecure WiFi networks. This week's iPass Mobile Security Report says that 62% of organizations are banning their mobile workers from using free WiFi hotspots, with another 20% planning on doing the same in the future.