I have received some questions recently about how to stream US video to an iPad while travelling overseas. I discussed some options in a previous post; but there have been many changes in the last year.
Streaming audio and video requires a high speed connection. In my Tokyo apartment, I can use my home based network and WiFi to connect my iPad to the Internet. Of course, once I leave the apartment, I lose my WiFi.
One of the biggest improvements in the last year is that there are now more options for portable WiFi access in Tokyo. While public access WiFi is still rare, it is now possible to rent a portable WiFi Hotspot. This will allow you to take your WiFi with you, allowing you to move around the city using your iPad, iPhone, or laptop just as if you were in the US.
The drawbacks include expense, battery life, and signal loss in certain areas. However, for the short term traveler, who does not have the option of setting up a home network, the router rental plans are a good option. They will allow an iPad, iPhone, or any WiFi device to access the Internet. You could even stream videos if the router speed is high enough to allow that.
Note that many of the WiFi rental plans come in two tiers, a low speed suitable for checking email, and a higher speed suitable for streaming video and Skype calling.
Two tier service is available from the following companies:
I haven't used these services and therefore cannot vouch for the claimed speed or coverage. Their claims include a 10 to 40 Mb/second speed for the highest tier. I have found 10 Mb/second speed to be the minimum for streaming video.
A Google search will certainly show more options. I would pick one that will let me pick up at the airport or get the device delivered prior to arriving. That will ensure you have access as soon as you hit the ground.
Any discussion of streaming video in Japan always brings up the problem of geographic blocking. Many US video sources are blocked in Japan. Hulu, for example, blocks access to its services for overseas users. Even if you are a US citizen traveling overseas and have a Hulu Plus account on your iPad.
Discussion at other sites shows several ways to view streaming video in Japan. These include setting up a Private VPN and purchasing a subscription to a paid VPN service.
The Private VPN service would require an “always on” computer at your home in the US and a fast Internet connection. This would be the cheapest option, assuming you already have a home computer and Internet connection.
The paid VPN service would require a subscription to a VPN service provider, such as StrongVPN or the quirkily named Hide My Ass!
Note that using a VPN service to view Hulu in blocked areas is against Hulu's Terms of Service. Other providers, such as Netflix, have similar rules. I have never heard of anyone getting an account blocked due to streaming video through a VPN service, but it is a possibility. So under no circumstances should you perform the following to view streaming videos on your iPad in Tokyo:
1. Rent a high speed portable router from one of the above providers.
2. Set up your iPad to use the portable router’s WiFi network.
3. Purchase a VPN account from a VPN service such as StrongVPN or Hide My Ass! That service will route your Internet connection through a server in the US, making it appear to the provider (Hulu, for example) that you are in the US.
4. Use the login information provided by your VPN service provider to set up a VPN connection on your iPad.
5. View streaming videos on your iPad in defiance of the Terms of Service you agreed to when you purchased your Hulu Plus or Netflix account.
You have been warned! No matter how much your kids want to see Netflix films or your wife wants to see the latest episode of “Gray’s Anatomy” on Hulu Plus, you should not ignore the rules outlined in miniscule fine print in the Terms of Service you clicked.
Authorized uses of the VPN services include enhancing security while using public WiFi Hotspots, protecting your online identity, and privacy.
The cheapest option would be to set up a private VPN network. This would require a permanently on computer and a high speed internet connection at your home in the US. The setup and administration would be a pain. Even though I have all of the equipment and technical know-how to set this up, I avoided this solution.
I currently use StrongVPN while traveling. I have set up and tested Hide My Ass! on my laptop and iPad. They both work fine, with some minor differences in speed and ease of use. Advantages and disadvantages of each provider are discussed below.
So you wamt to purchase a paid VPN service; carefully avoiding streaming video from services that frown on unauthorized access (even though you have paid for that access). What else should you look for? If you’re like me and my wife, we both would want to connect our iPads at the same time. With StrongVPN, simultaneous connections are not allowed. However, StrongVPN does have a big discount for a second account. A second account can be had for an additional $2.00 per month. I chose this option, making my monthly VPN bill $17.00 per month. This gives both my wife and I our own VPN accounts. On the minus side; StrongVPN does bill in three month increments, increasing the size of your bill. Hide My Ass!, on the other hand, allows two simultaneous connections on the same login. They also have a 30 day trial period and a lower monthly cost and monthly billing.
I have loaded both VPN’s on my laptop and iPad and run tests on them. My test used SpeedTest to check performance. My results showed that StrongVPN was generally faster. However, Hide My Ass! was still fast enough to reliably stream video. Just like buying a car; it is a tradeoff between speed and price.
Note that these tests are not definitive; they were the results of my quick and dirty setup of each provider. From previous experience, I know that the choice of server has a great impact on the speed of the connection. A different user, choosing different servers, might find StrongVPN the loser in the speed test. I believe that StrongVPN is generally faster, but am willing to believe that, under certain conditions, Hide My Ass!, will be faster.
According to my testing, StrongVPN wins for the number of servers available and the speed of their connections. Hide My Ass!, on the other hand, is more user friendly, easy to set up, lower priced, and has a thirty day trial period. StrongVPN has a seven day trial period.
A more sophisticated setup that would allow multiple connections, no matter which service you use, would be to set up the VPN service on the WiFi router itself. Then any device connecting to the WiFi router does not need to be set up for VPN because the router has VPN enabled. This would allow laptops, iPhones, and iPads (for example) to share a single VPN connection. Both StrongVPN and Hide My Ass! have instructions on setting up a router for VPN access. This would allow a user with a single StrongVPN account to operate more than one device at the same time and the Hide My Ass! use to have more than two simultaneous connections.
Unfortunately, I don't believe this will be possible with a rental WiFi device, as it would require Admin access to change the network settings. The best thing to do would be to use one of the VPN service providers; either Hide My Ass!, for the simultaneous connections, or StrongVPN, with the second account activated.
I hope this overview will answer some of the reader’s questions. As noted in the first paragraph, mobile Hotspots and portable communications are a fast changing field. I expect to have to update these articles within the next year.