What is an Access point name (APN)?

An Access point name, often abbreviated as APN, is the name of a gateway between a data-transmitting mobile network and another computer network, frequently the public internet.

A mobile device making a data connection must be configured with an APN to present to a carrier.

Mobile devices connected to data-transmitting carriers must be configured with APNs to transmit data. Carriers identify these devices to determine what network connection should be attributed to them (IP address attribution, security methods, and how and whether they should be connected to private customer networks).

APNs identify the packet data network (PDN) that mobile data users wish to communicate with. In addition to identifying a PDN, an Access Point Name may also be used to define the type of service (e.g., connection to a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) server, Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS)) that the PDN provides. APN is used in 3GPP data access networks).

How is an APN structured?

An Access Point Name has a specific structure that helps mobile networks identify and connect devices to the appropriate data networks.

Network identifier: Specifies which external network the device is connecting to. This determines where to route the device’s data traffic.

Operator identifier: Identifies the specific Mobile Network Operator (MNO) associated with the gateway.

Example of an APN structure

A standard Access Point Name structure looks like this:


  • Internet: Network identifier (connecting to the public internet)
  • mnc280: MNC for Vodafone in this example
  • mcc234: MCC for the UK
  • gprs: Indicates the connection uses a GPRS data standard

What’s the difference between a private APN and a public APN?

Public Access Point Name

  • Access: The default APN on most cellular devices. It allows access to the public internet for general browsing and app use.
  • Traffic routing: Public Access Point Name traffic goes through the carrier’s public internet gateway and all other internet traffic from their subscribers.
  • Security: Less secure. Since traffic travels over the public internet, it’s potentially more exposed to interception or monitoring.
  • Ease of use: Very user-friendly. Usually configured automatically on the device with no custom settings needed.
  • Best for: Individuals and businesses that need basic internet connectivity for web browsing, email, etc.

Private Access Point Name

  • Access: Provides access to a private network, often a company’s internal or dedicated network separate from the public internet.
  • Traffic routing: Private Access Point Name traffic usually goes through a dedicated gateway/VPN, isolating it from public internet traffic.
  • Security: Much more secure than public APNs. Encryption and access controls protect sensitive data within the private network.
  • Customization: Private APNs can be customized with specific security protocols, IP addresses, or restrictions for granular control.
  • Best for Businesses and organizations that handle sensitive data, need secure remote access for employees, and prioritize direct connection to on-premise or cloud-based resources.
FeaturePublic Access Point NamePrivate Access Point Name
AccessPublic InternetPrivate network
Traffic routingCarrier’s public gatewayDedicated gateway/VPN
SecurityLess secureMore secure (encryption, access controls)
CustomizationLimitedHighly customizable
Best forGeneral web browsing, individualsBusinesses handling sensitive data, secure remote access

Do I need a private Access Point Name for my IoT deployment?

Whether you need a private APN for your IoT deployment depends on a few crucial factors:

  • Security: If your IoT devices handle sensitive data (customer information, financial transactions, healthcare data, etc.), a private APN is highly recommended. It isolates your traffic from the public internet, adds encryption, and allows you to implement stricter access controls – significantly reducing security risks.
  • Reliability: When connectivity is paramount, a private Access Point Name can offer better reliability than relying on public networks. You can negotiate dedicated connectivity and avoid congestion issues with public APNs.
  • Customization: Private APNs let you customize network settings, firewall rules, IP addressing, and more to suit the specific needs of your IoT deployment.
  • Remote access: If you need secure remote access to your IoT devices for management, troubleshooting, or updates, a private Access Point Name can facilitate this via a VPN connection.

Challenges with incorrect Access Point Name settings

Here’s a breakdown of the challenges you might face if your APN settings are incorrect:

Core connectivity issues

No data connection: The most common problem. With the wrong Access Point Name, your device won’t be able to establish a data connection with your mobile carrier’s network. This prevents you from accessing the internet or using data-related apps.

Connection instability: In some cases, an incorrect APN might let you connect, but the connection will be unreliable, with frequent drops or slow speeds.

Service-specific failures

MMS issues: Incorrect MMS settings within the APN can block you from sending or receiving picture and video messages.

Tethering problems: If you want to use your phone’s data as a hotspot for other devices, incorrect APN settings can prevent this from working.

Carrier-specific services: Some carriers have unique services (like visual voicemail or specific apps) that rely on configuring the correct APN.

Unexpected charges and usage

Roaming charges: If traveling, an incorrect APN might prevent your device from connecting to the optimal local network, leading to unexpected and costly roaming fees.

Data overages: Without the correct Access Point Name, your device might inadvertently connect using a network with data charges different from what you expect.

Troubleshooting difficulties

Isolating the issue: When your internet doesn’t work, an incorrect APN might not be the first culprit that comes to mind. This makes the problem more challenging to diagnose for users not familiar with APN settings.

Additional considerations

The severity of the problem depends on how incorrect the APN is. A single typo might cause limited issues, while a wrong APN usually blocks data entirely.

Some carriers auto-configure APN settings, but there are still situations where manual input is needed (e.g., custom APNs, some MVNOs).

Resolve APN-related challenges in four steps

Here’s a step-by-step approach to resolve APN-related challenges on your device:

Step 1: Verify settings

Find the correct APN: Start by checking that the APN settings match those provided by your carrier. You’ll usually find this information on the carrier’s website or by contacting their support.

Check for typos: Carefully compare your current Access Point Name settings against the correct ones, watching for typos or incorrect values. Even a minor error can cause connectivity issues.

Step 2: Reset to default

Built-in reset: Most devices can reset Access Point Name settings to their default. This can often resolve minor discrepancies if the correct values aren’t readily available.

Caution: If you have a custom Access Point Name, resetting to default might clear the settings you want to keep – make a note of them first if needed.

Step 3: Configure settings manually

Careful input: If you have the correct APN information from your carrier and previous steps didn’t work, input everything manually. Ensure all fields are filled in accurately.

Double-check: Before saving, meticulously compare the values you entered against the information provided by your carrier.

Step 4: Contact your carrier

Persistent issues: If the above steps fail to resolve the problem, contacting your carrier’s technical support is best. They may have additional troubleshooting steps or device-specific guidance.

Account issues: Sometimes connectivity problems stem from account or provisioning issues, which only the carrier can address.

What is the difference between an APN and a VPN?

An Access Point Name is a gateway that allows you to connect to the Internet through your carrier network. In comparison, VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, a technology that creates a secure connection to another network over the Internet.


Mar 18th, 2024
6 min read

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