Using Pandora on a Japanese iPhone

Last fall, I purchased an iPhone 3GS through Japan’s official distributor for the device, Softbank, along with a two-year phone contract. But since my credit card is based in the US, iTunes kindly directed me to the US store for all my purchases. I was excited to download Pandora (which I had heard many great things about) and I was greeted by this lovely screen…

Nooooooooooo!!!!! But, but, but… I downloaded it from the US store… I pay for my apps and songs (songs which I wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for Pandora!) with US dollars using my US credit card and… I’m a US citizen!!! I couldn’t help but feel a little betrayed.

It turns out, because of copyright licensing issues, Pandora blocks access from IPs that are outside the United States. Fortunately there exists a way to use Pandora anyway.

The technology is called VPN (Virtual Private Network). Primarily intended to increase information security when browsing the internet, VPNs act as a proxy between you and everything you connect to, so if your VPN is located in the US, then Pandora will think you are accessing from within the US. ラッキー!

iPhone supports 3 different VPN protocols, and the ones we are interested are L2TP and PP2p. Don’t worry, I don’t know what that means either.

Set up your VPN

First you’ll need an account on a VPN server that is based inside the US. Hotspotshield offers a free L2TP VPN specifically intended for iPhone. Click the link to go to the site, where they provide you all the information you need to get your VPN set up. It takes 5 minutes.

After you have your VPN information set up, just switch it on in your settings. Once the little VPN logo shows in your iPhone status bar, open Pandora and you’ll be able to use it without any problems at all. Woohooo!!!


You’ll probably notice that when connecting from Japan, Hotspotshield’s free VPN frequently disconnects–every 20 minutes or so. It holds a signal about as well as Stephen Hawking holds a cup of coffee. And since Pandora checks your IP after every few songs, if you don’t have a stable VPN, Pandora can be a bother to use. You get what you pay for.

You’ll notice on my VPN list I have a Witopia account. For $40 a year (a mere $3.33 a month), they offer a PP2p (setup is identical to L2TP) service that will hold its ground much more reliably than the free L2TP from Hotspotshield. It’s not perfect: I usually get one disconnect shortly after I start using it each day, but once I reconnect after that I can use it for several hours at a time without a disconnect.

I’m not affiliated with Witopia in any way other than being their customer and am getting no compensation or benefit for recommending them. Yes, there are other VPNs out there that might be better, and I could get a refund from Witopia (they have a 30-day money back guarantee) and go try some of the others, but their VPN is sufficiently problem free for me that I don’t feel an urge to go through the work of trying another.

Make it even better

Even a rare disconnect can be frustrating if you are using a non-Jailbroken iPhone, because this means you need to exit Pandora… go into settings… general… network… turn the vpn on… wait for the connect… … … go back to Pandora… blah blah blah… However, with a jailbroken iPhone, you can get SBSettings (anyone jailbreaking their iPhone should really have this anyway), and a VPN switch plugin for SBSettings. Once you’ve got these, you simply swipe your finger across the iPhone status bar to open it, and press one button to (re)activate your VPN. You don’t even need to leave Pandora!

(My SBS Settings panel (Glasklart theme) with the VPN switch)

So, the magical formula for enjoying Pandora on your Japanese iPhone is: Quality US-based VPN + Jailbreak (SBSettings + SBSettings VPN Toggle). Enjoy! :-)

One last thing

Starting December 2009, Softbank began limiting bandwidth for heavy data users on their 3G network. This applies to users who exceed about 1.2GB of data transfer per month. One hour of Pandora will run you about 15-30 megabytes of transfer depending on how many songs you skip, so keep that in mind as you enjoy your tunes.  (Original press release in Japanese)

Posted under Living & Enjoying Japan by Nihonshock.

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