Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Internet on the train

Once again I find myself on a 2+ hour train journey to Leeds. It happens :-)

So, I try and get some work done. I did once try and play WoW, but that really did not work well. For a long time I have used a MiFi. They are excellent. Today I tried a few alternatives, largely because I totally forgot to bring the charger/USB lead for the MiFi...

The first thought was tether via wifi to the iPhone. That would work, but would, in this case, be some horrid Three NAT internet service. One reason for using the MiFi is it can take an A&A data SIM which really "just works" and has a fixed IP and full 1500 byte MTU and so on. Yes, it is also on Three, but a business grade service. It is also then using an IP that is on my LAN at home, which is handy.

I am at a loss as to why Apple do not include a mobile modem in the MacBook Pro - they really should.

So, not using MiFi, I tried the East Coast Trains in-train WiFi. That was a huge mistake! Pings at 3 to 5 seconds, and sometimes 15s. Loads of loss. Unusable for anything interactive (like ssh and vim).

I realised I could tether the iPad mini. It has an A&A data SIM too. That works (via WiFi). But as I want to keep it charged I plugged in the USB lead, and of course the Mac simply tethers by USB, so even better.

The data SIM in the iPad means I am now seeing much more sensible latency, usually under 100ms, and much more reliable connection. I suspect this will be my preferred way of working now rather than using a MiFi at all. It was good while it lasted, but this "just works" too.

But one thing for sure - don't use the in-train WiFi, it is dire.


  1. The mosh terminal is very useful in these situations.

  2. Sheesh Rev... not even a spare (£1) USB cable in your bag for the Mifi :)

    I've never understood what anyone sees in using the on-train wifi (especially in cattle class where you get to pay for it) - it gets progressively poorer with the distance from KGX yet via Mifi or a phone it remains pretty much ok (and you know where your data is going and who has access to sniff it)

  3. Its a shame that OS X still won't tether to Android devices... Linux and Windows both work fine, but if you want OS X to work then you're left bodging it together with third party software on both the phone and the computer... :(

  4. The Ipads support tethering now officially?

    it used to be the only way to do that was with a Jailbreak and a 3rd party app.

  5. Does your mifi have a not-NAT mode? Mine (the low end white one) doesn't seem to, although it has some DMZ mode which I think is 1-1 NAT but still grr.

    1. Sadly not, as I could route real IPs to it if it would cope. But it seems to retain the sessions so once stays connected over reconnects. iPad seems not to.

  6. If you were an Android user this story would have been: I forgot the USB lead for my Mifi, but instead I just used one of the other mini-USB leads for my other devices because they've all standardised on the same connector. ;)

  7. Can't seem to get a reliable, stable connection at all on my west coast mainline commute. I have a connection 90% of the journey but it's very unstable and variable (on three, but not much different on any I tried) Too many tunnels, cuttings, remote sections I suppose, and the pendolino trains seem to be good at keeping out the phone signal too.

  8. Using Vodafone on Chiltern was better in performance terms than WiFi on Virgin West Coast Main Line when I tried it, back in 2008. I'd probably check the performance next time - my personal laptop has an A&A SIM in it.