What is an APN (Access Point Name) and How Do I Change It?

Definition and explanation of access point names (APNs)

An access point name (APN) on mobile phones establishes a connection to the gateway between the carrier's network and the internet. The APN finds the IP address that the device is identified with on the network, determines if a private network is needed, chooses the correct security settings, and more.

The APN for T-Mobile is fast.tmobile.com for 4G LTE devices. An older one is wap.voicestream.com, and the T-Mobile Sidekick APN is hiptop.voicestream.com. The APN name for AT&T smartphones is NXTGENPHONE, modems and netbooks is isp.cingular, for all smartwatches it's Phone, and the AT&T all tablets and mobile broadband is broadband. The APN for Verizon is vzwinternet for internet connections and vzwims for text messaging.

APN may stand for other things, too, even if they have nothing to do with mobile phones, such as Advanced Practice Nurse.

The Different APN Settings

APN settings usually include several specific configuration nodes:

  • APN: In the U.S., the APN name is often wholesale.
  • APN type: Generic, supl, mms, and wap are the four APN types.
  • MMSC: Multimedia Messaging Service is only necessary when using MMS. It's a requirement on most mobile virtual network operators that use MMS.
  • Proxy: Some mobile carriers use this setting to set up a proxy between the network and the internet, much like a proxy on a computer.
Access point network.
Wikimedia Commons

Switch APNs

Typically, APN is auto-configured or auto-detected for your phone or tablet, which means you don't need to make any changes to the APN settings.

Wireless carriers use different pricing for different APNs. Switching from one carrier to another can change you from one type of data plan to another. It can also cause problems and additional charges on your wireless bill, so changing the APN isn't advised.

However, there are a few reasons to switch or modify the APN:

  • The APN settings are not correct and give an error message that it could not activate a cellular data network.
  • You have an unlocked phone and want to use it with a different carrier.
  • You're on a prepaid plan and don't want to get charged for data usage or to avoid data usage overages..
  • You're traveling outside of your wireless provider's service area and want to avoid data roaming charges.

Learn how to change APN settings on your device to avoid problems and error messages.

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