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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).

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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.

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