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ExpressVPN Lightway Review (With Performance Tests)

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This review focuses on ExpressVPN Lightway, a new open-source VPN protocol developed by ExpressVPN.

Let’s agree that the idea of a faster, more secure protocol for VPNs is thrilling.

I’m certainly drawn by ExpressVPN’s announcement to deliver a next-generation experience. But before I get too excited, I want to see if this improved VPN technology lives up to the hype.

I’ll use my knowledge of protocols and put Lightway to the test.

Continue reading for an accurate report of my findings.

What Is ExpressVPN Lightway?

ExpressVPN Lightway is an open-source protocol that ExpressVPN created (from scratch), tweaked, and then refined to offer what it deems a faster, more secure, and reliable protocol.

It works like other protocols by directing internet traffic through a tunnel that encrypts data. The destination is an authenticated server you can trust.

The provider first rolled out Lightway in May 2020  as a beta version.

Today, it’s on the market as a full-fledged (seemingly flawless) protocol.

For now, Lightway caters to the following devices: Windows, Android, Mac, iOS, Linux, and routers.

Is Lightway the Same as Wireguard?

Let’s iron out confusion – Lightway is not the same as Wireguard.

While Wireguard has been re-branded by some entities, Lightway is a brand-spanking-new protocol that may share similarities with Wireguard but isn’t a replica.

In the past, protocols were designed to be fast or secure.

This was until Wireguard entered as a “fast and secure” protocol.

Lightway was developed to surpass this standard.

Let’s call it an overachiever!

What’s important to know is that several VPN protocols are available, each with peculiarities. Apart from speed and security, a key feature of Lightway includes its exclusivity to ExpressVPN. Plus, it’s easier to audit and maintain (more on this below).

If you want access to this so-called “revolutionary” protocol, you need to sign up with ExpressVPN.

How Does ExpressVPN Lightway Work?

expressvpn lightway protocol explained graphic art

Lightway works like other VPN protocols and uses a unique code to encrypt your internet activity while assigning your device a new IP address.

However, it forgone many components of traditional protocols.

According to ExpressVPN, Lightway only has +/- 1,000 lines of code, which is way less than competitors.

See for yourself:

Protocol Code Length
ExpressVPN Lightway   +/- 1,000  
Wireguard   +/- 4,000  
OpenVPN   +/- 600,000  
IPSec +/- 400,000  

This means it technically has the advantage of being “lighter” (faster).

It also means it uses less battery powerAnother bonus is the shortened code leaves a significantly smaller attack surface, which ups the protocol’s cybersecurity.

Speaking of security, Lightway uses WolfSSL, which provides a C-language-based SSL/TLS encryption library. This language is the same as what governments use to protect data on websites.

lightway protocol security and privacy standard statement

Furthermore, Lightway combines WolfSSL with ChaCha20 to encourage even faster encryption on mobile devices.

ChaCha20 is a 256-bit stream encryption type that ciphers each bit of data separately. This encryption process is faster than AES, which scrambles and then unscrambles blocks of data.

Moving on to speed.

Is ExpressVPN Lightway Fast?

Yes, Lightway is fast. It has all the components of a fast protocol and uses the best ciphers to deliver a speedy yet secure turnaround.

But is it faster than other protocols?

This Q&A with the mastermind behind Lightway shares great insight into the speeds you can expect (and highlight other features):

Note how chief architect, Peter Membrey, discusses Lightway’s goal of making it feel like there’s no VPN there at all!

It’s no secret that VPNs and protocols use speed to perform and can slow your connection. But some protocols are significantly faster than others.

Plenty of online reviews hint that Lightway is the fastest protocol.

However, I wanted to test its performance myself and see if it lives up to Membrey’s hope that you won’t “feel” the VPN.

Find my test results below.

Lightway Speed Test and Comparison Table

I used Ookla to run my speed tests.

First, I tested my base speed.

Bear with me; I’m using a slow connection!

lightway base speed speedtest by ookla

Next, I connected to the Lightway UDP protocol using my Windows ExpressVPN app. I selected a South African server to gain accurate comparison results.

Not all VPNs cater to my country – but ExpressVPN does!

Anyway, here’s my Lightway speed test:

lightway speed test on south africa server

My download speed dropped by 0.12 Mbps – not bad! Surprisingly, my ping stabilized!

I was eager to move on and test Wireguard next, but of course, Lightway won’t share the stage with its number one competitor, and the protocol isn’t available on any of the apps.

I used one of ExpressVPN’s competing VPNs to run my Wireguard test (IPVanish).

IPVanish and ExpressVPN offer similar speeds, so the results won’t be too far off.

ipvanish speed test result

Then I moved on to the OpenVPN, IKEv2, and L2TP/IPsec protocols – which all have a reputation for being fast or adequately fast.

OpenVPN:

openvpnvspeedvtest

IKEv2:

ikev2 protocol speed test result

L2TP/IPsec:

l2pt/ipsec protocol speed test result

Here’s my comparison table for ease of reference:

Protocol Download Speed Speed Loss
ExpressVPN Lightway 25.91 Mbps 0.12 Mbps
Wireguard 20.05 Mbps 5.98 Mbps
OpenVPN 17.68 Mbps 8.35 Mbps
IKEv2 15.72 Mbps 10.31 Mbps
L2TP/IPsec 1.50 Mbps 24.53 Mbps

I think the numbers speak for themselves – Lightway knocked my socks off with its speed results!

However, I thought Wireguard would perform better.

Perhaps I caught it off guard (no pun intended)!

As for L2TP/IPsec, this is a “last resort” protocol, and I expected a significant drop. Keep in mind that I had to connect to my nearest server, which is in Israel (nothing in SA). Still, there’s no reason for the speed gap to be so wide.

But to answer the question again – yes, Lightway is a fast protocol, and my findings show that it’s the fastest, too!

Can Lightway Be Used for Torrenting?

Yes! Lightway can be used for torrenting. Both UDP and TCP protocols yield good torrenting results, and both options allowed me to download a 1.02 GB file in under 20 minutes (this is exceptionally timing considering I used a 10MB line at the time).

To test, I connected to a local server and used Utorrent as my torrenting client.

Here are my Lightway UDP torrenting results:

lightway protocol udp torrenting result

My max download speed fluctuated between 350 kB/s and 550 kB/s, while my average download speed sat at 279.3 kB/s.

My Lightway TCP torrenting results:

lightway protocol tcp torrenting result

As you can see, there was only a slight drop in download speeds – nothing significant enough to stretch the download time.

I was happy with a 392.8 kB/s max download speed and 211.2 kB/s average speed.

So, both Lightway UDP and TCP get a thumbs up for torrenting.

How Secure Is ExpressVPN Lightway?

expressvpn lightway protocol secure and transparent banner

Lightway is an extremely secure protocol that uses the best encryption to protect your data and privacy. It also combines with ExpressVPN’s top-tier security tools, such as kill switch, leak protection, no logs, and TrustedServer technology, to polish its security features.

Now, we’ve established that Lightway uses wolfSSL to do its ciphering.

This is good news because third parties have extensively vetted the software, including against the FIPS 140-2 standard. Honestly, you can’t get tighter encryption security than wolfSSL.

But just to be sure it’s performing as promised, I ran a quick encryption test using Wireshark.

I followed a UDP stream, and my live capture displayed gibberish, which means the protocol is encrypting successfully!

My capture:

gibberish with upd stream on secure encryption using lightway protocol

Next, I ran a DNS leak test to see if my IP address was masked.

For this, I used dnsleaktest.com.

Here’s the result I got:

dns leak test result on lightway

Even though I connected to a local server, the VPN and Lightway protocol successfully switched my IP address and ISP, hiding my real identity.

FYI, “Xtudio Networks S.L” is an internet registry based in Spain.

I ran another leak test using a foreign UK server to ease my curiosity.

Again, none of my real details were shared.

leak test uk-server lightway

So, no complaints there.

If you’re not convinced Lightway is a secure protocol, check out its source code on GitHub. This transparency speaks volumes.

However, one concern is Lightway’s 2021 audit report.

This report was completed by a third-party company called Cure53.

While the results were positive overall, the auditor did point out shortcomings.

I’ll share a snippet from the report with you:

cure53 lightway audit report

Since Lightway was officially released in 2021, a few teething issues are to be expected. Let’s hope the next report finds fewer bugs.

Ending on a good note, let’s discuss “Always-on Protection.”

This Lightway security feature ensures a secured connection even when networks fluctuate.

For example, if you switch from WiFi to LTE – your Lightway session remains! There’s no need to renegotiate your connection or worry about vulnerabilities when (if) dropouts occur. 

Overall, the security features still surpass other VPN protocols, “shortcomings” and all!

Can Lightway Be Used for Streaming?

Yes, Lightway can be used for streaming. It can also be used to unblock geo-restricted content, ensuring you can watch whatever you want without lag!

Not convinced?

To prove Lightway’s unblocking features, I put it to the test and unblocked Netflix US, Hulu, HBO Max, and BBC iPlayer.

Lightway Can Unblock Netflix:

Netflix US is not available in South Africa. To unblock this site, I connected to a US server using the Lightway UDP protocol.

This method took me to the US version of Netflix (notice the plans are in USD). Previously, I’d be re-directed to a strictly South African portal.

unblocking netflix us with lightway udp protocol

Once subscribed, I successfully streamed Major Dad – an old family-favorite reserved for Netflix-US only.

Lightway Can Unblock Hulu:

Before connecting to a US Lightway UPD VPN server, Hulu would block my sign-up attempts with a 503 error:

error 503 on hulu

Once connected to the server, I was immediately given access to an account and could move through the motions of setting up a plan and accessing the library.

hulu successful access with lightway protocol server
hulu with lightway udp protocol connected to us server

Lightway Can Unblock HBO MAX:

HBO MAX is another streaming platform that isn’t available in South Africa. 

Without a VPN, you can’t even access the site’s homepage.

region block prompt on hbo max

But after I connected to an ExpressVPN server using the Lightway protocol, I could easily access the site and create an account.

access on hbo max with expressvpn lightway protocol

Lightway Can Unblock BBC iPlayer:

Last, I tested Lightway on BBC iPlayer. For this, I had to connect to a UK server.

Here are my before and after screenshots.

Before:

bbc iplayer unavailable notice

After:

access on bbc iplayer using expressvpn lightway server

My “before” shows that BBC iPlayer recognized I’m not in the UK.

My “after” shows that I managed to access and stream BBC iPlayer content while connected to an ExpressVPN Lightway server.

Success once again!

ExpressVPN Lightway Pros & Cons

All internet safety tools have pros and cons, and even the best tunneling protocols aren’t flawless!

With Lightway, the pros outweigh the cons, which is good if you’re an ExpressVPN user.

I’ve broken these pros and cons down for you:

Pros

1. Superior Speed

The most significant selling point of Lightway is its superior speed.

I proved this with my speed comparison test.

So, while ExpressVPN was deemed a fast VPN, now it’s even faster!

This is mostly due to its lightweight code and streamed WolfSSL encryption.

Fast speeds make this protocol perfect for gamers and streamers who enjoy a private and secured connection.

2. Higher-Grade Security

ExpressVPN already has several top-notch security features, but Lightway takes security to a new level.

First, it supports 256-bit stream and ChaCha20 encryption standards.

No other protocol supports both.

Second, the code is reduced to fewer lines than any competing protocols.

This makes it easy to audit and maintain.

Last, the attack surface is minimal, so cyberattacks are less likely to find breaches.

3. It’s Open-Source

ExpressVPN has taken a “sharing is caring” stance and has made its revolutionary protocol available to anyone who wants to contribute to the code and use it freely!

Plus, open-source software is considered more secure because anyone can scrutinize the code and help identify areas for improvement.

Furthermore, the code pairs with an independent audit.

This solidifies the protocol’s transparency and supports ExpressVPN’s claim of being “a step up from other VPNs.”

4. Longer Battery Life

Lightway’s “light” code encourages the VPN to use less CPU when your devices are connected to it. This means it’s easier on batteries, and you can expect your devices to run a lot longer.

This is ideal if you need a VPN to protect you on the go – and charging stations aren’t easy to come by.

5. Greater Accountability

Lightway is engineered internally, which means ExpressVPN’s ultimately accountable for anything that goes wrong.

If you experience an error or the server crashes, contact the provider directly – no third-party involvement is required.

With ExpressVPN’s Live Chat feature, you’ll have the answers you need in no time!

6. Always on Protection

As I said, Lightway is an overachiever and doesn’t do anything half-heartedly. “Always-on Protection” is a clean example.

lightway always-on protection logo graphic

This feature ensures that all excellent security measures apply even when you experience a connection drop – or if you need to switch from one connection type to another, e.g., WiFi to LTE.

Few VPNs can keep up with fluctuating networks, so kudus to ExpressVPN for getting it right!

Cons

1. Limited Support

A major drawback of Lightway is that it’s not available on any other clients.

It’s exclusive to ExpressVPN, which means you must subscribe to ExpressVPN to access this improved protocol technology.

However, since it uses open-source code, it may not take long for other VPNs to nab the technology. Here’s hoping!

2. Teething Issues

I mentioned the ExpressVPN Lightway auditing report isn’t too convincing.

The report refers to “14 shortcomings” and mentions the results are only “generally positive.” Either the code and performance aren’t as great as the provider claims, or Cure53, the auditor, is a hard nut to crack.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to a more recent report to justify my own “mostly positive” findings.

Pros & Cons at a Glance:

Pros

Cons

ExpressVPN Lightway vs. Other Protocols

One way to wrap your head around Lightway is to compare it to other VPNs.

This is why I benchmarked it against other competing protocols.

Lightway vs. Wireguard

It’s difficult to draw a line between ExpressVPN Lightway and Wireguard because they share many similarities. To start, they’re both open-source.

Then there’s the confusion where VPN providers have implemented Wireguard into their software and simply renamed it. For example, NordVPN offers Nordlynx, which is essentially a re-branded version of Wireguard.

To be clear, Lightway is not a version of Wireguard.

It’s a fresh-out-of-the-box protocol. It’s also currently limited to one VPN provider (ExpressVPN). Both Lightway and Wireguard provide military-grade encryption.

Although Lightway uses wolfSSL and ChaCha20 and Wireguard uses ChaCha20 and Curve25519 (among others).

Wireguard’s code is clean, but Lightway’s is cleaner!

There’s a +/- 75% reduction in lines of code over Wireguard.

This translates to faster loading, easier setup, and faster speeds.

Speaking of speeds.

Lightway’s “light” code allows for better speeds when connecting to a server and while using the VPN. Wireguard’s speeds are impressive, but according to my own tests, Lightway is faster.

Another difference is obfuscation. Wireguard made it clear it doesn’t mask that a VPN is being used to re-route traffic.

See my chat with an ExpressVPN agent:

live chat with expressvpn agent about wireguard

While Lightway’s beta version didn’t have built-in obfuscation, the official protocol has atomized this setting:

expressvpn customer support live chat about obfuscation

Notice that the agent also mentions Wireguard’s failure to support TCP

One quality that both protocols share equally is stability.

Both Lightway and Wireguard can hop between networks seamlessly, ensuring continuous protection.

Lightway vs. OpenVPN

Like Lightway, OpenVPN is open-source and transparent.

It also works with TCP and UDP communication protocols, and security implementations are equally safe.

lightway and openvpn udp and tcp protocols

OpenVPN is compatible with several encryption ciphers such as AES and ChaCha20 (same as Lightway).

A difference is that Lightway is significantly faster than OpenVPN.

This, in part, has to do with Lightway’s lighter code structure.

OpenVPN is also more battery-consuming than Lightway and battles to remain active when networks are switched – which means stability’s not as great.

One advantage OpenVPN does have over Lightway is that it’s available on most VPN apps.

ExpressVPN Lightway Setup on All Devices

Lightway is available on ExpressVPN apps for Windows, Android, iOS, Mac, Linux, and routers.

These dedicated apps are easy to use.

Just follow my step-by-step guides for each device type!

Lightway Setup on Windows

  1. Sign-up to ExpressVPN and purchase a subscription.
  1. Download and install the ExpressVPN app for Windows.
install expressvpn on windows banner
  1. Launch the app and sign in to your account.
  2. Click on the three bars in the top right corner. Select “Options” and “Protocol.”
  3. Your app will be on the “Automatic” setting. Select “Lightway – UDP” or “Lightway – TCP.”
expressvpn automatic settings windows
  1. Navigate to the home screen and click “Connect” or choose a server from the server list.
connected to expressvpn lightway server on windows

Enjoy a safer and faster connection with Lightway!

Lightway Setup on Android

  1. Sign-up to ExpressVPN and purchase a subscription.
  1. Download and install the ExpressVPN app for Android from the Google Play Store or the APK off the provider’s website.
expressvpn apk download on android
  1. Launch the app and sign in to your ExpressVPN account.
  2. Tap on “Options” in the bottom right corner.
  3. Tap on “VPN Protocol.” Your app will be pre-set to “Automatic.”
  4. Change it to “Lightway – UPD” or “Lightway – TCP” on the same screen.
  1. Navigate to the home screen and tap “Connect” or choose a server from the server list.
connected to expressvpn lightway server using android

Enjoy a safer and faster connection with Lightway!

Lightway Setup on iOS

  1. Sign-up to ExpressVPN and purchase a subscription.
  1. Go to the App Store and search for ExpressVPN. Download the app.
download expressvpn app on ios
  1. Launch the app and sign in to your ExpressVPN account.
  2. Change the VPN protocol settings by tapping on “Settings” and “VPN Protocol.”
vpn protocol setting on expressvpn using ios
  1. Your app will be pre-set to “Automatic.” Change it to “Lightway – UPD” or “Lightway – TCP” on the same screen.
  2. Navigate to the home screen and tap “Connect” or choose a server from the server list.
Enjoy a safer and faster connection with Lightway!

Lightway Setup on Mac

  1. Sign-up to ExpressVPN and purchase a subscription.
  1. Download and install the ExpressVPN app for Mac.
expressvpn download mac
  1. Launch the app and sign in to your account.
  2. Click on the three bars in the top left corner. Select “Preferences.”
expressvpn preferences setting mac
  1. Click on the “Protocol” tab.
  2. Your app will be pre-set to “Automatic.” Change it to “Lightway – UPD” or “Lightway – TCP” on the same screen.
  3. Navigate to the home screen and click “Connect” or choose a server from the server list.
Enjoy a safer and faster connection with Lightway!

Lightway Setup on Linux

  1. Sign-up to ExpressVPN and purchase a subscription.
  1. Download and install the ExpressVPN app for Linux.
  2. Sign in once your app is activated, and switch to a Lightway protocol by running one of the following commands:
lightway tcp command linux
expressvpn lightway udp command using linux
  1. Run the following command in the terminal window to connect to a server:
expressvpn lightway connected to server using linux
  1. ExpressVPN will use its “Smart Location” feature to select the best server location. Alternatively, you can select your own server by running the command “expressvpn list all.”
Enjoy a safer and faster connection with Lightway!

Lightway Setup on Routers

This is a general setup guide that covers most ExpressVPN compatible routers. Installation steps may vary.

    1. Sign-up to ExpressVPN and purchase a subscription.
  1. Make sure your router’s connected to the internet.
  2. Download and install the latest firmware for your router from the ExpressVPN website.
downloading expressvpn firmware for routers
  1. Sign in to your router once the installation is successful.
  2. Navigate to the settings menu. Select “VPN Options” then “VPN Preferences.”
locating vpn preferences setting on expressvpn for routers
  1. Select “Lightway – UDP” or “Lightway – TCP” protocol.
  2. Navigate to the home dashboard and select “recommended” or “All Locations” to select and connect to a server.
Enjoy a safer and faster connection with Lightway!

How to Disable ExpressVPN Lightway?

To disable ExpressVPN Lightway, simply switch to another protocol

For Windows, Android, iOS, macOS, and router users, the process is as easy as choosing OpenVPN UDP or TCP (or IKEv2 / L2TP/IPsec) in the settings menu.

  • Windows: Menu icon > Options > Protocol > select another protocol
  • Android: Options icon > VPN Protocol > select another protocol
  • iOS: Settings > VPN Protocol > select another protocol
  • macOS: Menu icon> Preferences > Protocol > select another protocol
  • Routers: Settings menu > VPN Options > Preferences > select another protocol

Linux users can enter one of the following terminal commands to switch to OpenVPN:

				
					expressvpn protocol tcp
				
			

or

				
					expressvpn protocol udp
				
			

Lightway Troubleshooting

If you’re battling to successfully connect to one of the Lightway protocols – don’t panic!

Run through these quick ExpressVPN Lightway troubleshooting steps:

  1. Have you tried switching it on and off again? A quick refresh is sometimes all you need to fix an issue. Close and reopen the ExpressVPN App and see where that gets you.
  2. Try a different server. Servers can be under maintenance and may not be able to perform when you need them to. Trying another server might help.
  3. Whitelist ExpressVPN on your device. Firewalls can clash with VPNs and often disable or block VPN connections. Adding ExpressVPN to your list of trusted apps (Whitelist) may be a solution.
  4. Contact ExpressVPN through its Live Chat feature. The provider offers 24/7 real-time support with agents on hand to walk you through alternative steps and solutions unique to your error.

FAQ

Yes, Lightway is safe to use. The protocol features military-grade encryption and masks your IP to safely hide your location.  

In fact, it’s one of the safest protocols to use.

The code is much shorter than other protocols and thus reduces attack space.

This lightweight code is also easier and faster to maintain and fix when bugs arise.

ExpressVPN Lightway is a good protocol for gaming because of its fast speeds. You can download, stream, and play games quickly without lag. 

Ligthway’s “light” code and streamlined wolfSSL and ChaCha20 ciphering help this protocol produce low ping rates and fast download speeds.

The result: VPN-protected lag-free gaming.

Wireguard is not better than Lightway. The two protocols share many similarities, but Lightway has the advantage of a shorter code structure, which makes it faster than Wireguard.

Both protocols use the best encryption programs to cipher your online activity and mask your IP. However, Wiregaurd comes with a better reputation because it’s been around for longer and proven its capabilities.

Lightway is a new kid on the block, and users may experience teething issues while it finds its feet.

ExpressVPN Lightway does not cause a high CPU.

Its light code and streamed ciphering abilities cause less CPU than other protocols.

With this light, fast, and stable protocol, you can run ExpressVPN on your device smoothly without draining your battery.

Yes! You can use Lightway in ExpressVPN’s router app.

This revolutionary VPN caters to many devices, including routers.

But first, check that the provider has firmware for your router model before getting overly excited. If your router is on the list, you’re good to go!

Yes, you can use light way on iOS! ExpressVPN’s dedicated app for iOS includes Lightway UPD and TCP as protocol options.

More good news is that the iOS app is easy to use, and you can select and switch between preferred protocols in seconds.

That’s a Wrap!

Lightway is a fast, secure, and reliable protocol, especially for gaming and streaming.

It only takes a few seconds to connect and is very stable.

If you want to be at the forefront of Ligthway’s climb to the top, subscribe to ExpressVPN and try the protocol yourself!

Looking for a VPN for torrenting? Find out how ExpressVPN performs in this department here.

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