A Canadian-founded company claims it has found a way to bust through Netflix's border blocks. Its secret weapon — an electronic device called TurboBeacon.
After Netflix launched a big crackdown on border hopping early last year, many Canadians found they could no longer stream content restricted to other countries. That meant no more access to shows only available in Netflix's vast U.S. library — including favourites like CSI Miami and Nurse Jackie.
The company, Turbo VPN, claims its TurboBeacon contains technology that makes it "unstoppable," enabling customers to once again freely access U.S. Netflix. "Can't block the Beacon," it promises.
CBC News has not independently tested the product.
Try and try again
Turbo VPN was founded in Canada and is now incorporated in Barbados but still has an office in Burlington, Ont. It also offers an unblocking service called TurboFlix, which provides users with the technology needed to hide their location and sneak across virtual borders to watch content not available in Canada.
Following the Netflix crackdown, TurboFlix, like many unblocking services, had trouble helping its subscribers access Netflix in other countries.
While skirting Netflix's geoblocks is against the company's user policies, it does not violate any laws.
"Rather than throwing in the towel, we put our heads together, drank lots of coffee, and came up with TurboBeacon," said Taylor Campbell, general manager of TurboFlix, in an email to CBC News.
The product is a small box, a bit bigger than a deck of cards.
You connect it to your wireless router and then connect your streaming device like Apple TV to a Wi-Fi network called TurboBeacon. The company says you can then easily watch U.S. restricted content using streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now.
Campbell says TurboBeacon geo-locates the user to the U.S., just like unblocking services do. But she says how it actually works is "fundamentally different." She wouldn't elaborate further, telling CBC News that the device uses proprietary technology.
"A big part of why we are so confident, and haven't been blocked, is due to the private and secure nature of this technology," said Campbell, who is based in Burlington.
Customers can order the device online for $24.95 US. They pay a monthly subscription of $7.95 US for as long as they use the box. That's on top of your streaming service charge.
CBC News asked Netflix for comment about TurboBeacon. The California-based company did not respond to our request.
Customers give it a try
Louise Cowden from Hamilton, Ont., bought a TurboBeacon and says she's happy with it. She previously used unblocking technology to access Netflix's U.S library.
But following the crackdown, Cowden found that she was frequently blocked from watching U.S.-restricted shows like Criminal Minds and Sons of Anarchy.
"Every now and again, I log on to watch something, and it wouldn't work," she says. "It was becoming more of a pain than anything else."
Cowden says TurboBeacon was easy to set up and that she can now enjoy easy access to Netflix's U.S. library.
"It's awesome," she says.
Cowden also has no qualms about using the TurboBeacon to defy Netflix's geo-restrictions. The company is enforcing its border blocks because it has signed country-exclusive licensing agreements for much of its content.
"If it's out there for one country to watch, why am I not able to watch it?" says Cowden. "It just doesn't make much sense to me."
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Umar Ahmed says he has also tried the TurboBeacon and found that he could easily access U.S. Netflix. But he says one disadvantage is that the system, which uses its own Wi-Fi network, can be slow at times.
"You kind of get hit if you're trying to stream a lot of HD content," says Ahmed, who lives in Oakville, Ont.
Others want in on the game
Campbell wouldn't reveal sales figures. But she says, since the company started shipping the TurboBeacon in August, interest has grown, mainly from customers in Canada, Australia, and the U.K.
The device may soon face some competition. A Vancouver company, Betternet Technologies, appears to be set to launch a similar product called Betterspot.
The device is also being promoted as a way to bypass Netflix blocks and freely access content "without regional blackouts or restrictions."
Betternet Technologies has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for its project. People can pre-order a device with a one-year subscription for $135 US.
The company did not respond to questions from CBC News.
Will Netflix stop the 'unstoppable'?
Toronto tech analyst Patrick O'Rourke says he's never tried either of the devices but suspects their one advantage is that they have their own Wi-Fi connection. So when Netflix tries to block the service, the unblocking service can quickly find workarounds.
"The developers of the device can push out updates automatically," suggests O'Rourke, a writer for the tech site MobileSyrup. "They're able to stay one step ahead."
But he cautions that this may not always be the case. He points out that Netflix found a way to crack down on many unblocking services. So the day may come when it finds a way to stop an "unstoppable" device like the TurboBeacon, he says.
"It's just a matter of Netflix catching up to them," says O'Rourke, who believes the devices are already on Netflix's radar.