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Getting a prepaid cellphone can save you lots of money, with few drawbacks. One of those drawbacks may include data reception issues. Fixing this requires configuring your Access Point Network (APN) settings. This process requires a few minutes of your time and then afterward, your phone’s data connection will work as advertised. On the downside, the process varies slightly depending on what model of phone you have and who provides your wireless service.

If you sign up with a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), which leases broadcast spectrum from the big carriers, you might need to configure your phone’s APN settings. The process is simple, although varies from MVNO to MVNO. This article covers what APN settings are, as well as some of the automatic configuration tools provided by MVNOs. Specifically, I illustrate APN settings using the configuration instructions provided by AirVoice Wireless, Straight Talk and Ptel. For those of you with iPhones, some carriers, such as Ptel, include automatic setup instructions for your phone. Also, if you have an iPhone and are also looking for a better carrier, check out our list of the best iPhone prepaid plans Which US Carrier Offers the Best iPhone Prepaid Plan? Which US Carrier Offers the Best iPhone Prepaid Plan? Do you want to buy or own an iPhone but can’t afford the monthly fees? There’s something that the major post-paid carriers don’t want you knowing. You can have an iPhone and not pay ridiculous... Read More .

What are APN Settings?

Access Point Names are composed of several settings. These settings are essentially text fields that you must fill in in order to connect to data services. APNs exist because carriers broadcast and receive data over government regulated radio frequencies. Each phone must be specially configured to use these settings or otherwise potentially suffer from data connection issues, such as the inability to send MMS or use mobile data.

The four most important APN settings are:

  1. APN: Access Point Name for most MVNO carriers is “wholesale”. This is different outside the US.
  2. APN type: There are four APN types — generic, supl, mms and wap. These vary from carrier to carrier. If you experience issues with official setup instructions, “generic” is always a good default setting.
  3. MMSC: This setting is required for MMS functionality for most MVNOs. It stands for Multimedia Messaging Service. If you aren’t using MMS, this isn’t a required feature.
  4. Proxy: I haven’t used this in any of my MVNOs, but this may be required for some carriers for data access.

setup_APN_settings

When you receive the configuration settings, be aware that you don’t need to change settings unless specifically prompted to. So, for example, if your MNC is set to 260, do not change this unless your MVNO requires that you change it.

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Configuring Your APN Settings

To get started configuring APN settings, go to Settings -> Wireless & Networks -> More -> Mobile Networks -> Access Point Names. From here, you can configure your device to function on your specific MVNO. This process varies slightly from Android version to Android version, but more or less these are the steps that most people will need to take to access their APN settings. One important note is that you must tap the Menu button and choose to save your APN settings when you’re done entering them — hitting the Back button will simply undo your work. Also erase, or write over, the default APN settings.

I also include links to the specific APN settings setup tips from AirVoice Wireless, Ptel Mobile and Straight Talk and some iPhone APN settings. There are also some links at the end of this article covering APN settings for all major countries and carriers. If your carrier isn’t covered here, you can try searching for your carrier + “APN settings”, which will likely lead to setup instructions. You may also want to search for the appropriate steps using your carrier’s setup instructions for data and MMS.

The other settings that you see do not need additional input. You can leave them as the default or blank.

AirVoice Wireless

AirVoice Wireless employs one of the most detailed setup instructions out of all MVNOs. Simply navigate to their instructions and input your phone model.

airvoice01

The only questions that you’ll be asked are whether you’re looking to setup MMS (sending pictures) or WAP (Internet/data).

airvoice02

From there, just input the settings as instructed. These worked perfectly on my Nexus 4. The manual configuration is very simple. Just match the configuration settings to your device.

airvoice03

Ptel Mobile

Ptel Mobile also includes an automatic APN settings configurator in addition to the option of manual APN entry. I recommend at least taking a look at the automatic configurator and input your IMEI number. This method will send the APN settings directly to your phone. It also includes instructions for iPhone configuration.

ptel automatic

The manual entry method, on the other hand, is more reliable. If Ptel doesn’t include setup instructions for your phone, you only need to find a phone with similar data functionality and the settings should work. If not, you can always search on Google or an alternative search engine with better features 6 Cool DuckDuckGo Features You Won't Find On Google 6 Cool DuckDuckGo Features You Won't Find On Google In a world ruled by Google, at least where search is concerned, it’s sometimes hard to imagine a worthy alternative. DuckDuckGo is one website that is trying to offer such an alternative. If you’ve been... Read More for your appropriate settings.

Straight Talk

Straight Talk’s APN configuration instructions require manual input, although these are straightforward. Simply input your phone number, or your SIM card number, into their configurator and you will receive setup instructions.

straight talk

Additional Resources

There’s a couple websites that do an excellent job of explaining individual settings per MVNO, per country. The best comes from Unlockr.com. Another great sources is available at PrepaidPhones.com.

  • Unlockr: Covers specific APN settings for all major countries and carriers for Android.
  • PrepaidPhones: Covers Net10 and Straight Talk settings for iPhone, Android and Windows Phones.

Conclusion

Dealing with the problems caused by improperly configured APN settings remains the biggest stumbling block to signing up with an MVNO, and also when connecting using a prepaid SIM card in a new country. MVNOs will save you hundreds a year on your cellular bill No Longer Tied to a Cellular Contract? 10 Reasons You Should Switch To An MVNO No Longer Tied to a Cellular Contract? 10 Reasons You Should Switch To An MVNO Are you out of contract with your cellular provider? Rather than upgrading your phone, and signing a new contract, consider switching to a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO. You can save hundreds, even thousands,... Read More . It’s relatively easy to save money with an MVNO. Get Your Prepaid Mobile Phone Plan As Cheap As Possible: Four Tips To Save Hundreds! Get Your Prepaid Mobile Phone Plan As Cheap As Possible: Four Tips To Save Hundreds! In the United States, T-Mobile made history by becoming the first cellular carrier to not force customers into buying multi-year contracts. After the policy shift, T-Mo users can purchase subsidized phones independent of a monthly... Read More Seriously, you should never sign a contract with a major carrier unless someone else pays your bills.

Anyone need any additional setup tips to get data working on their phone? Let us know in the comments.

  1. RMori
    July 24, 2016 at 7:44 am

    In case people don't know, PTEL ceased operation as an MVNO on January 30, 2016. It was a very small business trying to expand. They switched from Sprint's CDMA network to T-Mobile's GSM based system hoping to cash in on the growing market for unlocked phones and BYO phone carriers. Unfortunately most of their existing customers were unhappy the news their CDMA phone would be going dead. A large number switched to another company rather than take one of the options PTEL offered:
    1. Buy an overpriced phone from PTEL,
    2. Buy an unlocked phone from a 3rd party, something new for most PTEL users, or
    3. Downgrade to a free refurbished flip phone.
    They never recovered.

    • Kannon Yamada
      July 24, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      Ouch. I was once a PTEL customer. It's a shame that they've closed because they offered really good customer service and fairly good rates for a T-Mo GSM carrier. Airvoicewireless is pretty much a better service though.

  2. Enrique Cardona
    July 20, 2016 at 4:30 am

    hey Kannon hope you can help.. I got an att lg g flex 2 and im using a life wireless sim.. it used to work just fine, but i think i accidently changed the apn that a guy i knew had put on for me.. but anyways if you could help with the apn settings that would be so so so appreciated..

    Thanks Rick

  3. Myles
    June 8, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    I've had non stop security/privacy issues with my nephew who has outwitted me at every turn and I'm at a complete loss on how to stop him. I tend to explain way too much when I type and it goes on and on so I'm going to skip as much of the stories of how and what has gone on the past few years with the phones and start with where I'm at now.

    So its been narrowed down to APNs. He's had no physical access to my current phone and still it has the exact same APN settings that the others had. Even though I've changed SIM cards and everything else. Its At&t and it has been. Android, on a family plan, and I even went and got an At&t Go phone, changed my number AGAIN, had absolutely everything including new SIM changed as well as new google/gmail account for the phone. But I go to my moms and I've looked at my phone every once in a while and I see that my WiFi was turned on at the time. As I was looking just then the WiFi networks that were there disappear. So I notice a few days later that on my new google account there's an app there I didn't install and its not on my phone. At least not visible. But its a browser and its been on each Google app account.

    Please help me

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 8, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      Hello Myles, it sounds as if you're saying that you find applications have access to your Google account, which you did not permit access to. Is this correct? I'm assuming you are checking your Google account's security settings.

      Can you tell me what the name of the app is?

      • Myles
        June 8, 2016 at 6:17 pm

        In a simple way, yes. It is a security issue with my account. But not just that. This kid gains access to any and everything. I can't say exactly how. All I know is that even with new sim, number, phone, and account (gmail) there's the same damn APN that I think is imprinted/coded to the SIM automatically when I get them from att. The app that is there on the account but not visible on my phone and cannot be deleted/uninstalled is called dolphin browser or something like that. If you search for it you'll see it. Every single thing I do is countered.

        • Kannon Yamada
          June 8, 2016 at 7:48 pm

          This sounds to me like a very simple problem, although I do not know all of your circumstances.

          The original source of your problems is probably not your smartphone, although it may have become compromised as an indirect effect. It strongly sounds as if your Google Account may have been the compromised device.

          Do you own a laptop or desktop? It is possible that your nephew has either installed a keylogger or has, through some other means, managed to gain access to your Google Account. You can check to see what LOCATIONS have been used to access your account:

          http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/how-to-know-if-someone-accessed-your-google-accounts/

          The reason I mention this is that if someone did have access to your Google Account, they can remotely "push" programs onto it. If they can remotely push programs onto your device, they can do all kinds of things to it.

          I believe the thing to check is Account Activity. If there is a keylogger installed on your desktop, you might have serious problems that require a technician to resolve. Or if you are familiar with the process, you might want to reset your computer (if you have Windows 8 or 10). Or simply reinstall the operating system.

  4. Alex
    May 23, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Hello there Kannon,not sure you can help me with some info ,i would like to create a sms or a website that you can get the apn settings put on your phone and not manual.
    Like i see in a european country the operator there just sends you an sms and your click save or run and it automatic create the apn for you on your phone and your good to go after a recommended restart of the phone.My question is i know some programming but not sure if its all from the file that needs to be sent or there something on the operator end that needs to be done also ?any ideeas or were can i get some info regarding how to do somethign like this?

    • Kannon Yamada
      May 28, 2016 at 2:01 am

      That's a really good idea!

      I don't know much about US standard for APN settings, unfortunately. LycaMobile in the US uses the method which you've mentioned and it's really amazing. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, LycaMobile is the only MVNO that uses automatic APN settings (but they're originally a European operator). The rest of them are less reliable and their standards are all over the place.

  5. David rackley
    March 27, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    When I go to my settings on the moto e xt830 and go to more there is nothing that say access point name there as far as it will take me is where I got to make a default MMS I need to set my APN up and can't get there please help

    • Kannon Yamada
      March 28, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      All unlocked Moto Es should have access to APN settings. The only exceptions are phones that were carried locked to begin with, such as those devices sold by Sprint and Sprint-MVNO carriers. A locked device doesn't have access to APN settings and can only be used with the carrier which sold the phone.

  6. Franklin
    January 22, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    I need help changing APN data settings on a "at&t mifi liberate " . It is unlocked and I need to use simple mobile as the carrier. Any help will be greatly appreciated

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 22, 2016 at 7:46 pm

      Have you already plugged in your SIM card (into the hotspot)? If you have, and have restarted the device, all you need are generic APN settings. I've seen APN settings that differ from device-to-device, but I would try the default Android APN settings first, for your carrier.

      If you continue to have problems, perhaps you should try talking to the device manufacturer?

      http://www.nvtl.com/

  7. Shupzi
    November 27, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    Thanks a million this was very helpful

  8. Kari Moles (Kmo16)
    September 15, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    I purchased a Samsung Galaxy S4 4g LTE/CDMA for Verizon phone through SmartPay. They're part of the BYOP plan with Straight Talk. I am denied access to my APN settings. When I select the APN option I get a notification "Unable to view the access point name settings. Access is restricted for the current user profile." Straight Talk has tried fixing my data settings without much success. They're not sure what the problem is. Any clue on how to fix this? Ever heard of a problem like this?

    • Kannon Yamada
      September 16, 2015 at 6:40 pm

      This is at its core a permissions issue and without question the fault of the company who leased you the phone. Permissions are a security setting, intended to prevent unwanted modifications to your phone. It's contained in a single file, called the Android manifest. I believe it would require root access to edit this file and restore the proper permissions for editing APN settings. Normally you should have access to this file, but it sounds like ST is trying to prevent customers from switching to another carrier with their leased phones.

      It may be that StraightTalk is leasing refurbished SGS4 units and failed to properly configure APN settings for their own network. This is highly incompetent.

      If Straight Talk is leasing them out, that means the phone will be almost certainly carrier locked to Straight Talk. That means they should have already had their APN properly configured by the MVNO (ST). They seriously screwed up somewhere along the line. I would demand that they take the phone back at their own expense and supply you with a new leased phone. In that case, if you experience the same problem again, then they screwed up an entire batch of phones.

      Otherwise you might end up waiting forever on hold with ST as they try to push out an over-the-air software update, which has a low probability of succeeding. I'm sorry about their screw up.

  9. Beverly Howard
    May 4, 2015 at 11:39 pm

    Hmmm... I posted two comments... was there something inappropriate in the first post... for example the link to the APN settings app?

    Beverly Howard

    • Kannon Y
      May 5, 2015 at 2:56 am

      Sometimes our moderators remove application links, if they feel the app violates our terms of service (or if the app is suspicious). I wouldn't take it personally, although my apologies for the inconvenience. Perhaps you can share just the name of the app? I'll take a look.

    • Beverly Howard
      May 5, 2015 at 11:36 pm

      Thanks for the response. My comment was that I have had a number of ocassions where saved APN entries have been deleted on two different Nexus4 phones with os versions from 3.x to 5.x

      Even though the "APN Name" is not supposed to be critical and I have changed it to names that make more sense to me, I now wonder if there might be something in the sim that contains the published "name"

      Screenshots are a great way to save and backup critical information such as the APN entries, but, remember that screenshots are images that will require transcription. With that in mind, remember that google Keep does a very good job of transcribing image text... that way, you have a text copy of entries that can be copypasted... very nice for long, case sensitive server url's

      Finally, although the android os prevents apps from filling in APN values, there is one app, "Change APN" that simply takes you directly to the APN settings screen... nice if you need to swap sims regularly.

      Beverly Howard

  10. Beverly Howard
    May 4, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    One other thought... store your APN settings somewhere convenient on the phone... such as a note taker app such as Evernote or Google Keep so they are available for reference when it's time to swap sims.

    Beverly Howard

    • Kannon Y
      May 4, 2015 at 3:42 pm

      Thanks Beverly! That's a really good idea!

      You just gave me an idea -- by pressing and holding the power button and the volume down button (it varies by device) you can generate a screen shot in Android. That will back up your settings, without requiring a pen and pencil. If you have Dropbox installed, it will then automatically backup to the cloud.

  11. Sherry
    April 30, 2015 at 5:14 am

    I bought a new iPhone6 that did not have the APN set which according to T-Mobile should be blank. A month or so later I noticed there was a username and password using emojis. They provided me with the correct info to put in those fields and set it back to the way it should be. My question to them was how did it get changed. In response they stated to setup a password on my phone that they thought someone had got a hold of my phone and input the username and password under setting cellular. Is this something that could have been from something like webwatcher? Thank you in advance for any info you might be able to offer.

    • Kannon Y
      May 17, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      I'm not sure. T-Mobile phones don't require APN configuration as they are preconfigured. Your APN settings can be reconfigured via application (if you download and execute a file). Other than that, I'm stumped.

  12. Shwetha
    February 17, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Hey! I have a dual sim phone and my Internet stopped working as soon as I accepted the configuration settings of the new sim that's Airtel. Is it because the Apn settings were changed automatically? How do I switch back to the docomo Internet I was using previously?

    • Kannon Y
      February 17, 2015 at 5:25 pm

      I believe dual-SIM phones may require that you manually select the correct APN from the settings --> wireless --> cellular networks --> access point network menu.

      Some networks like Lycamobile (and now I've learned, Airtel) send out a file that allows users to automatically configure their APN network. This simply adds and selects a new APN configuration. You just have to change back to the correct APN settings.

  13. Rakshit
    January 26, 2015 at 7:19 am

    Thanks for the greatpost but I still have some questions sim card APN settings, will we need to manually go and reset these APN settings in phone?? As far as I know we don't have to change the APN setting because it’s configured for you automatically.

    • Kannon Y
      January 26, 2015 at 9:02 pm

      Yes, you would need to manually change those settings. Some prepaid carriers automatically configure APN settings but many MVNOs do not.

  14. Mike
    January 8, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Thanks for the great share! I'm still little bit confused. My question is why do we need to set APN in the fist place? - Is it because the company is contracting out big carriers coverage in different countries and that's the only way to access their advertised data?

    Also, when you put your local sim card back after using the one with APN settings, will phone go back to default settings automatically or should user manually go and reset these APN settings with the local carrier?

    Thanks!

    • Kannon Y
      January 10, 2015 at 7:14 pm

      Unlocked phones don't come with the settings for specific networks. In the US we have T-Mobile and AT&T which GSM phones can connect to. Your settings basically differentiate between the two carriers.

      The APN settings aren't saved to the SIM card, they're saved to your mobile device. These settings should persist even after you've swapped cards, but you will need to reselect the appropriate settings again, since your phone may switch back to its default APN settings.

  15. Harsh
    March 19, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Thank you with the post Fantastic post the knowledge posted the following are going to be handy. in any case thank you once again. Great work :D

  16. julia
    February 9, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    The APN or Access Point Name is the network or carrier your cell phone or tablet accesses for data. Usually you don't have to touch the APN setting because it's configured for you automatically.
    http://www.certleaks.com

  17. Jhonny
    December 12, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    Why in the heck would I want to configure my APN. Can someone explain to me the benefit of doing so. Is this to get free serves? to get faster Internet? what is this for?

    • Kannon Y
      December 18, 2013 at 7:55 pm

      If you use a prepaid phone (such as provided by an MVNO), sometimes your data may not work properly. Manually configuring the APN settings will get your data working properly.

  18. Krishna P
    December 6, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Well what I think is that using any tools like UnlockIt is not really cool, I am editor at http://temcam.com and I fully agree and follow the post here! Thanks!

    • Kannon Y
      December 6, 2013 at 11:17 pm

      Thanks for the comment Krishna! I frequently am required to make software recommendations for APN settings. I prefer the manual method in Android. What do you think about UnlockIt? What potential problems might people experience?

  19. Kishore
    October 28, 2013 at 10:48 am

    It is possible that your mobile carrier has removed the option because it doesn't want you changing these settings. It's hard to say without seeing the phone though.

  20. Bren
    October 26, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    What about just using http://www.unlockit.co.nz/
    This site does it all automatically.

    • Kannon Y
      November 14, 2013 at 7:15 pm

      A friend of mine just used it and reported that it functions without problem. I should probably include some mention of it in the article.

  21. Daksh B
    October 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    The manual entry method, on the other hand, is more reliable. If Ptel doesn’t include setup instructions for your phone, you only need to find a phone with similar data functionality; Thanks for this useful post. :D
    http://www.thetechart.com

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