Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Kanata, Ontario.
Unblock-us is not a VPN service. You tell your media device to use them for DNS, either by configuring the DNS on the device manually or changing your home router to pass out the unblock-us DNS address rather than your ISP's DNS.
When the media device (PC, XBox, PS3, anything really) asks for google.com, unblock-us gives you the normal google.com address. When it asks for a site like netflix.com, it lies to the device and provides the address of an unblock-us server instead of the real netflix.com address. Your device thinks it's talking to netflix but in reality, the traffic is being proxied via an unblock-us server in the part of the world necessary to make the service work (UK for BBC, Canada for CTV, US for Netflix/Hulu, etc). Netflix sees that the traffic is coming to it from somewhere in the US and gives you US content.
The big difference vs. a VPN is that once the streaming starts, most video services will give the device the address of a content delivery network like Akamai to get the video. Your device streams the content directly from the CDN rather than having to proxy through unblock-us. That's why they can afford to provide their service for $4-5/month - they only proxy a small portion of the traffic.
The challenge for paid services like unblock-us and unotelly is that DNS traffic has no authentication mechanism, so when a request to resolve netflix.com comes to them from IP address 18.104.22.168, they have no way to tell from the content of the request if it's from a subscriber. As a result, they record the public IP address of each subscriber and allow or deny the request based on the originator's IP, so if 22.214.171.124 is the IP address of a known subscriber, the request is handled, otherwise it's ignored. If you reset your Internet connection and get a different IP address, your foreign services won't work until you visit unblock-us in a web browser, sign in, and have them make note of your new IP address.
There was a free service doing something similar but they got so overloaded with traffic that they stopped supporting Netflix. That might have been what your family members referred you to; the paid ones shouldn't have worked.