Bottom line: MAC scrambling bypasses free WiFi limits
I’ve just spend well over a day on a ferry with the most obscenely limited WiFi I’ve ever endured. For years we have routinely travelled back and forth between Spain and the UK and until recently there was an excuse for offering really poor WiFi to passengers.. that is, high altitude satellites were expensive to use and had limited bandwidth, high latency etc, so that hundreds of passengers were sharing a crappy connection.
Today all that has changed with Starlink and other low-altitude satellite systems offering high speed connections, expensive for individuals but cheap for companies who can then share a single connection. Why did I put “bottom line” at the very beginning? To catch your attention!
Has this fast, effective boadband reached Brittainy Ferries? It seems not. Last year it was even possible to bypass the “email and social media only” nonsense to work on this blog – but now, it seems, “no VPN” and “30 minutes a day free WiFi” is considered acceptable. Well, it isn’t…. not in this family anyway. Of course, one could always PAY for the distinctly dysfunctional WiFi but having spent MANY hundreds of Euros to get on this ferry in the first place I’m inclined to saving as much as possible while actually ON the ferry and even paying will only get past the 30 minute restriction- not the rest.
The 30 minute rule should be easily broken by randomising mobile phone MAC address (and if necessary sharing that phone signal with your laptop). Well it SHOULD be, but no – my Poco X3 phone will only allow MAC changing if ROOTED and that of course voids the warranty not to mention needing a decent Internet connection to grab the various packages – and a jump through hoops to root the phone.
So I can get a connection and share it for 30 minutes with my wife, but then what? Meanwhile, her Samsung tablet connects for the 30 minutes but can’t even share the connection. It seems that Americans on AT&T may have this option but as for the rest of us… downloading her newspapers takes over 30 minutes, so poor is the available speed on the ferry.
So, I was all ready to throw in the towel when it came to light that my Windows 11-equipped tablet can not only share connections easily but also has MAC-randomising capability. How did I miss that?
Well, there I was, writing this piece which took me far more than 30 minutes – out at sea, and all I had to do every 30 minutes was press one button to FORGET the ferry network and another to re-connect to it.. a third press would be needed if I was sharing my connection with my wife – but that’s it – and trust me it works.
IMPORTANT: As reader Nargousias reminded me in the comments below – randomised addressing should not be left on permanently as it can cause your router (say, at home or in the office) to run out of available addresses… not a good thing.
The tablet/laptop is an old Toshiba Portege but nothing special otherwise. On the WiFi connection, I right-clicked, “Network and Internet settings”, “Manage known networks” – forget the ferry network, then “Show available networks” and connect to the ferry WiFi at which point a web page appeared and offered a free connection for 30 minutes.
In order for all of this to work, under “Network and Internet”, WiFi”, “Random hardware addresses” had to be ticked once. That’s IT. To most of you this will be of no use right now – and in the future the relative position if these settings in Windows may change – but right now, this saved me from an utterly unproductive 30 hour ferry crossing at the hands of the greedy French owners – I hope it helps someone else.
While I’m on, we embarked in Spain, heading to the UK and what did they offer for the included breakfast on this vastly expensive crossing? Basic French fatty-croissant breakfast – No sign of a healthy standard Spanish tomato tostada anywhere. As for lunch… the adult menu was so boring I nearly went for the kids menu until it dawned on us that NONE of the food items on show were actually on the wall menu and were in fact quite reasonable-tasting though dramatically over-priced.
While I’m in here – £4.99 for “Pifco” universal mains adaptor -identical to those found in “B&M” in the UK for £2.99 for a pair – good job I’m organised – but I digress.
Update: Back in the UK now, that Pifco pricing is indeed a LOT cheaper in the stores here.. As if the ferry don’t charge enough as it is (especially if you have animals – we have three cats) they dramatically overcharge for everything while onboard. More competition – that, as usual that is what’s needed.