East Midlands Trains Wifi - not for streaming!

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spotify95
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East Midlands Trains Wifi - not for streaming!

Postby spotify95 » Apr 13th, 2018, 19:38

If you use the East Midlands Trains services on the main line, you'll have realized just how crucial connecting to the Wi-fi service is, as it is well known that the windows in Class 222 "Meridian" trains block out all signals quite nicely.
The Wi-fi service has changed substantially over the years, from being upgraded to 4G (from 3G), to allowing Standard Class users onto it for 15 minutes for free (though you will have to pay after this).

Train wi-fi (and other mobile wi-fi services, like those now found on buses) is different to most other wi-fi sources, because, unlike fixed broadband/fiber optic broadband, the bandwidth available for use is constantly fluctuating. With home broadband, you get whatever speed you are paying for. With 3G/4G broadband, the bandwidth will fluctuate slightly, depending on what other people are also doing, as the connection is shared. But with mobile wi-fi, not only is the connection shared, but the input bandwidth also fluctuates as the signal strength of the 4G signal varies (also, some masts have more or less capacity available for use).

With that mini explanation, now let's get to the problem area. East Midlands Trains state that the wi-fi is for light uses, and not for heavy, resource intensive tasks. This is due to heavy users impacting the speed for everyone else (remember the limited bandwidth above). You can see more on their website. However, until before the Easter break, no activities have been actively blocked on their wi-fi.

It now seems that East Midlands Trains have put a block on streaming services, to deter users from hogging bandwidth. For services like Youtube/Netflix/Now TV etc, I can see why, especially as HD connections require a good 5-10Mbps to work, and if there's only 20Mbps available to the train, then that's a good chunk of bandwidth already used.
However, audio streaming services tend to not impact other users as much, as Spotify uses anything between 96kbps and 320kbps (that's kbps, not Mbps) and Tunein Radio requires at least 48kbps to run most streams (in theory). To be comfortable, 0.5Mbps would be an ideal target. And using 0.5Mbps of bandwidth when there's 20Mbps (or more) available to the train isn't being inconsiderate to other users.

I have tested both Spotify and Tunein Radio and they both struggle to work now, if at all. With Tunein, only Capital FM works, and you have to start the stream on 4G. On Spotify, it just doesn't work. Before Easter, both services worked flawlessly without any issues.

There is a way around this though - install a VPN! VPN's route all of the traffic through them, instead of the main ISP connection, hence why IP addresses also change. East Midlands Trains are unable to distinguish between all types of data whilst going through a VPN - which is evident because both Tunein and Spotify work flawlessly through a VPN connection!

Conclusion: If you're going to use East Midlands Trains wi-fi (or any similar wi-fi) then it's best to have a VPN installed so that any potential blocked activities (such as streaming) can be carried out without any issues. There are plenty of VPNs available on the App Store or Google Play - ideally find one that is known to have good privacy settings, or one that can control individual apps (such as just tunneling streaming services through the VPN, whilst letting everything else go through the main wi-fi connection).


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