$1 per gigabyte and no need to buy a subscription plan? Sounds like one heck of a deal. It sure was in 2020, when I first reviewed the provider.
Three years later, I’m no longer as optimistic. PacketStream has changed very little in a market that’s moving at a breakneck pace. I’d be hard pressed to find a difference between the provider then and now.
If it works, don’t fix it? Maybe, but the PacketStream of yore had real issues with user experience and the size of its proxy network. In this review, we’ll see where the price king stands compared to other residential proxy services, and if it’s managed to address the shortcomings.
If you’ve come from Google to read about the PacketStream bandwidth-sharing app, we compare it with similar services here.
PacketStream is an American proxy provider. It was established in 2018 by Ronald Bell. The founder and team initially marketed the project on various channels, but their active marketing efforts seem to have ended in 2019.
PacketStream created one of the first bandwidth sharing marketplaces. Where other proxy services would bury SDKs into popular apps, the provider offered people to straight up sell their bandwidth for money, turning them into proxy servers. By now, it’s become a popular method for sourcing residential IPs.
This straightforward business model has allowed PacketStream to collect a respectable number of residential IPs in short notice. It’s also dumped the prices to impressive lows. But at the same time, PacketStream is extremely reliant on the so-called ‘packeters’, or bandwidth sellers – their whims can make or break the whole network.
As a general-purpose provider, PacketStream is used for various purposes, ranging from one-off web scraping projects to sneaker copping. It’s also a popular option for reselling, so you may be using PacketStream’s proxies without knowing it.
PacketStream Residential Proxies
Residential proxies are PacketStream’s only product. These IPs come from people who voluntarily share their bandwidth. According to the website, their network includes around 7 million monthly addresses, but the number hasn’t changed for a few years.
A basic but competent service.
PacketStream’s residential proxy network isn’t heavy on features, but the essentials are all there.
The proxies cover over 100 countries in the world. Their locations are listed on the dashboard, though there’s no way to know how many IPs each has, so you’ll have to rely on the provider. You can get IPs randomly or target particular countries.
These residential proxies are peer-to-peer, so they inevitably rotate. You can choose rotation on every connection request or to keep the same IP until the source goes offline. The PacketStream app is available only for desktop OSes, so in theory the sessions should remain alive for quite a while.
The two supported protocols are HTTP and HTTPS. Unfortunately, SOCKS proxies aren’t on the table, so this rules out torrents or streaming sites. PacketStream also lacks the option to whitelist IPs, meaning that you’ll have to make do with user:pass authentication.
PacketStream advertises that you can use the proxies anyhow you like, but in reality the terms of service prohibit some use cases, specifically advertisement spam.
Compared to some other larger providers, PacketStream sells proxies for peanuts. The pricing model is very simple: 1 GB of traffic costs $1. That’s it.
You pay for the traffic as you go, so first, you have to add some credit to your account. Then, your use of bandwidth will simply eat into this money until there’s no more left. If you want, you can hook up your credit card to auto-recharge the balance. Otherwise, top-up amounts are $50, $100, $250, $500, or $1000.
There’s one gotcha: Even though a gig costs merely $1, you have to buy at least 50 GB at a time.
During our tests, we experienced one more serious issue: PacketStream’s system overcounted traffic use by eight to ten times. Users first identified it in December 2022, and it still wasn’t fixed months later. Quite the opposite – the provider’s customer support repeatedly told people that everything was in order.
We last tested PacketStream in March 2023 for the annual Proxy Market Research.
#1: Pool size & composition
We ran 1M requests over 21 days using the unfiltered pool, 500,000 requests over 14 days using the country pools, and 140,000 connection requests over 7 days using the Australian pool. We enriched IP data with the IP2Location database.
Don’t be fooled by those 99,000 IPs in the unfiltered gateway – PacketStream’s proxy pool is small. In fact, it’s the smallest of the residential providers we’ve tested. With under than 6,000 unique US proxies throughout weeks of testing, we can only recommend it for minor tasks.
It doesn’t help that PacketStream freely resells its residential network – many users and few proxies spells bad news for IP quality.
#2: Infrastructure performance
This benchmark shared the same parameters as the pool test. Our computer was located in Germany. We targeted a global CDN – it pinged a server nearest to the proxy IP and had a response size of several kilobytes.
On the brighter side, PacketStream’s proxy infrastructure worked well. Between two and three percent of our requests failed – it’s not the best result in the market but still respectable considering the price. In addition, PacketStream was among the faster providers in the US. This makes sense considering where it’s based.
#3: Performance with popular targets
We made ~2,600 connection requests to each target using US-filtered proxies and a non-headless Python scraper. Our computer was located in Germany. Note that your results may differ based on your web scraping setup.
PacketStream’s results with real websites were just average. Google hit these proxies the hardest, which is understandable. But over 10% failed requests to Amazon are more than we’d have liked.
How to Use PacketStream
Creating an account with PacketStream is a simple affair:
- Enter your username, email, and password
- Choose whether you want to sell traffic or buy proxies
Then, you end up in the dashboard. You don’t even need to confirm your email address.
Packetstream has a simple dashboard that tries to serve both sides of its business at once. One half is dedicated for traffic sellers, and the other half for proxy users. This doesn’t affect the user experience too much, as the dashboard is not yet overloaded with features.
Using it, you’ll be able to see your traffic stats, invoices, and buy bandwidth. There’s a button for contacting support as well, but it merely returns you to the FAQ page. Of course, there’s also a page for setting up proxies. Other options, such as downloading the PacketStream app or managing referrals, aren’t really relevant for proxy users.
Finally, you’ll find a form to request access to the Reseller API, if you partake in such activities. What about an API for your own proxy use? The provider says nothing about it.
All in all, the dashboard provides all that is needed to get you going. It’s light on documentation and missing quick access to customer service, but all the essentials are there.
To set up proxies on PacketStream, you can use the provided widget. This involves selecting items from several drop-down lists: proxy type (HTTP or SSL), whether you want the IPs to rotate, and a country. A nice touch is that you can change between DNS hostname (so, proxy.packetstream.io) and IP hostname (22.214.171.124) at will.
Once you’re done, PacketStream generates a proxy list with up to 10,000 IPs in several formats:
PacketStream also provides a cURL proxy string for testing the proxy server, as well as dynamic code samples for multiple programming languages: Golang, node.JS, Python, and more.
All in all, the proxy setup procedure is simple and pleasant.
The only way regular users can track traffic expenditure is via the dashboard. On the home page, there’s a graph that shows consumed bandwidth during the last two weeks. There’s no way to change the timeframe or select custom dates.
PacketStream doesn’t use a subscription-based pricing model. You simply add money via a credit card or Paypal and use proxies at a rate of 1GB for $1.
If you pay by card, PacketStream has the option to automatically recharge the balance once it falls below $1. You can choose the top-up amount. PayPal, on the other hand, supports only one-time purchases.
The dashboard generates basic invoices for your traffic purchases.
PacketStream’s documentation is pretty spartan. Aside from code samples, you get a basic FAQ, as well as and setup instructions with web browsers and operating systems.
There’s no start guide, configuration instructions for popular tools, or troubleshooting. Instead, PacketStream asks you to contact its customer support if you need help.
The problem is that customer support is PacketStream’s weakest point. You can reach it by email only, and help doesn’t come fast.
I contacted the provider multiple times and received a reply in 12 hours on average. However, not all customers are that lucky: I found out that in general tickets receive responses within 24 hours.
So, while PacketStream does claim to have 24/7 support, you can hardly call it so in reality. This is better than nothing, but it might not be enough for enterprise clients.
I also managed to reach the provider by Skype but was unceremoniously shooed away after being told that it’s for sales only.
If I had to put it in one sentence, it would sound something like this: PacketStream is lean and its pricing impressive enough to attract, but the company seems to be on life support.
If your proxy needs are simple – I’d consider PacketStream as an option. Once it manages to fix the traffic overcounting issue, the provider will once again become the best entry option to try out residential proxies, save for perhaps Smartproxy and IPRoyal. Just make sure you don’t need SOCKS5 or city targeting first.
If you’re an enterprise… I would hold off on PacketStream. The provider’s proxy pool is too small and its customer service too inefficient to ensure a satisfactory experience. Today, I’d go for Oxylabs or Bright Data.