Online we’re used to getting great services for free wherever we are in the world. So, it’s incredibly frustrating when a particularly hot service is locked to a particular region.
Here are five of the most in-demand region-locked services, including how (if possible) to try them out and when you might be able to use them legitimately.
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What it offers: Netflix‘s main business is DVD rentals by post but far more exciting is its online streaming service. Paid-up subscribers can watch a selection of classic films as well as some new releases and TV episodes on demand via the web. The Netflix service on XBox 360 is hugely popular too.
Where its available: USA only.
Why it’s region-locked: Netflix is a company operating only in the United States. As streaming is presently its secondary priority behind DVD rentals, it doesn’t make sense to expand internationally. Also, differing royalty arrangements for movies in different countries would make expansion a complicated business.
Can I by-pass the region lock?: It would be difficult. Netflix streaming requires a Netflix account. To get an account you need an American address and credit card. If you could persuade a friend in the States to set up an account for you, you would need a program like Hotspot Shield to fool Netflix into believing you’re in the USA.
When will Netflix be available outside the USA?: In 2004 Netflix abandoned an expansion into the UK market but that doesnt mean they won’t try to break out of America at some point. In March this year the company’s CEO Reed Hastings told Reuters “Most Internet companies are global companies, and when you think about that kind of big opportunities for us, you’d have to say, ‘Jeez, isn’t there a big opportunity in China, Brazil, India, Europe?’ “We don’t have any specific plans, but over the next several years, it’s definitely something we want to look at.” In the meantime, your best hope is that a similar company already active in your country sets up the same service sooner.
While you’re waiting you could try: Apple’s iTunes store offers movie rentals in some territories.
What it offers: Imagine a geolocational social network service like Brightkite or Google Latitude, but with a competitive twist. Foursquare turns “checking in” at different locations around your home city into a game, with players fighting to become the ‘Mayor’ of different areas. You can earn badges for visiting new areas and it’s supposedly a great way of keeping track of friends too. Foursquare has really taken off amongst the early adopter crowd in cities that are supported.
Where its available: A limited selection of cities in the USA as well as Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Why it’s region-locked: In order for a city to become playable, Foursquare needs to research different locations around that city. This makes the rollout a rather slow affair, especially for a startup with only four employees.
Can I by-pass the region lock?: No, you can only use Foursquare in supported cities.
When will Foursquare be available in my city?: It’s been reported that Foursquare will soon begin crowdsourcing data for cities. As a result, you might not have to wait too long to start playing – especially if you’re willing to put in the effort to add data for your city.
What it offers: Hulu offers a vast library of US TV shows to stream on demand for free. Shows can also be embedded in web pages.
Where its available: USA only.
Why it’s region-locked: The rights and royalty arrangements for TV shows vary by country. Hulu wouldn’t be able to legally offer its service worldwide without coming to individual agreements with rightsholders for each country.
Can I by-pass the region lock?: We recently posted this video that shows you how, although results vary. Some readers have reported that it works for them while others say it doesn’t. Hulu is blocking back doors into its service as it finds them.
When will Hulu be available outside the USA?: Hulu is planning a UK launch early next year. More countries will probably follow eventually. Don’t expect these international versions to offer exactly the same content though. Hulu will be persuing local content deals in each territory.
While you’re waiting you could try: Many TV networks around the world have launched their own limited streaming services. The UK’s BBC iPlayer is one of many. Just like Hulu, these services tend to be region-locked due to licensing restrictions.
What it offers: Spotify provides a great quality music streaming service. At the time of writing nearly 112,000 tracks are available. A free service is available supported by advertising, while a premium service with a monthly charge offers a higher bitrate, exclusive pre-release tracks and access to its excellent mobile service.
Where its available: Sweden, Norway, Finland, the United Kingdom, France and Spain.
Can I by-pass the region lock?: As with Hulu, it is possible to ‘trick’ Spotify into playing music from unsupported countries by connecting via a proxy service or VPN (Virtual Private Network). However, Spotify has begun shutting down unauthorised user accounts so these solutions may not work much longer.
When will Spotify be available to the rest of the world?: A launch in the USA is planned to take place by the end of 2009. Other countries will most likely be launched as and when Spotify comes to agreements with local rightsholders.
1. Google Voice
What it offers: Google Voice replaces all your existing phone numbers with one new number. When people call your Google Voice number the call is routed to all phone numbers you have registered with the service. This means you don’t have to worry about changing number or where you are – people can always get hold of you. Additional features like web-accessible SMS and voicemail, not to mention voicemail transcriptions, make the service even more desirable.
Where its available: USA only.
Why it’s region-locked: Rolling out a service as in-demand and technically challenging as Google Voice is a slow process.
Can I by-pass the region lock?: What makes Google Voice the most frustrating service on this list is that it’s incredibly tough to get around the region lock. If you have a Google Voice invite you can sign up outside the USA using the method described for Hulu above. The problem is that you need an American landline as one of your registered numbers. This could be a major problem for most people, although one blogger claims he has got the service working from Malaysia by using VOIP services SIPGate and IPKall. We haven’t tried this ourselves but feel free to give it a go if you’re desperate to get some Google Voice in your life.
When will Google Voice be available to the rest of the world?: It’s still invite-only in America and Google has been quiet on expanding the service beyond the USA. A rumour in June suggested an expansion to Europe was planned ‘soon’ but it is yet to materialise.
Did your most wanted service make it into the list? If not leave a comment and let us know.