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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.
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:
- APN: Access Point Name for most MVNO carriers is “wholesale”. This is different outside the US.
- 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.
- 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.
- Proxy: I haven’t used this in any of my MVNOs, but this may be required for some carriers for data access.
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.
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 employs one of the most detailed setup instructions out of all MVNOs. Simply navigate to their instructions and input your phone model.
The only questions that you’ll be asked are whether you’re looking to setup MMS (sending pictures) or WAP (Internet/data).
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.
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.
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 for your appropriate settings.
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.
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.
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. It’s relatively easy to save money with an MVNO. 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.