Having the right mobile network settings makes a difference. Here's how to change them if you need to!

Updated March 2017: Up-to-date information and changes.

Unlocked phones and alternative carriers are more popular now than ever before. Most every company makes an unlocked model or two that you can buy directly from their website or a retailer like Amazon with the necessary parts and software to use it on any GSM network around the world. And when you don't have a phone that's tied to a carrier through financing you're free to try other carriers and see who offers what's best for you.

Shifting things around and trying someone new for phone service is pretty simple and pain-free, but you might need to know how to set the APN on your phone. Let's take a look at what an APN is and how you go about changing or adding one.

What is an APN?

The Access Point Name (APN) is the name for the settings your phone reads to set up a connection to the gateway between your carrier's cellular network and the public Internet.

You carrier reads these settings, then does things like determine the correct IP address, connect to the correct secure gateway, and see if you need a private network like a VPN. All the heavy lifting is done on the carrier side, but we need to make sure the right settings are in place to get on the network we need, in the way we need to connect.

An APN has the network settings your phone needs to connect to your provider.

Depending on how your carrier's network is structured, different settings are mandatory. The rest can be slightly altered to change some of the parameters, but for most of us, we will need to use the exact settings provided by our carrier.

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The good news is that most of the time, your phone has several "default" APN settings and one will work for phone calls automatically. Very handy if you need to call for help because unless you're using one of the Big Four networks (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon) nothing else will work correctly and you'll need to add an APN yourself.

The bad news is that carriers can customize the software on any phone they sell, and that includes blocking the ability to change the APN. Even if your phone is unlocked. You might be able to find a workaround posted on the internet, but there is also a good chance that you're just not going to be able to use any other network. We suggest buying your next phone from someone else.

How to change your APN

The first thing you'll need to do is find the right APN settings for the network you want to use. You'll be able to find these at the support pages at the carrier website. The settings will look like this example for Mint SIM:

  • Name - Ultra
  • APN - Wholesale
  • Proxy - (leave blank)
  • Port - 8080
  • Username & Password - (leave blank)
  • Server - (leave blank)
  • MMSC - http://wholesale.mmsmvno.com/mms/wapenc
  • MMS Proxy - (leave blank)
  • MMS Port - (leave blank)
  • MNC - 260
  • Authentication Type - (leave blank)
  • APN Type - default,supl,mms
  • MCC - 310

These are the settings you'll need to enter for a new APN that can use Mint SIM's service for data and MMS. Now we just need to find where to enter it.

This is going to be different depending on who made your phone, but it's always going to be in the Wireless & networks section of the settings. You're looking for a setting for Access Point Names and it might be nested in another setting like Cellular Networks. That's where you'll find it on the Pixel or Moto Z, and it should be similar to your phone. Don't worry, you can't mess anything up by tapping the settings and looking inside. Just try not to make any changes while you're looking.

Once you've found the "Access Point Names" section. Tap to open it.

You should see a list with at least one APN on it. If things aren't working with the current APN, you need to add another. Don't modify or delete the one you see, instead make a new one and we can choose it when we're done. At the top of the page, or possibly in a menu if your phone has a menu button, press the plus sign to bring up the "Edit access point" screen.

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This is where you will enter the settings you got from your carrier's website. Two very important things here:

  1. Not every setting in the "Edit access point" screen will need to be filled in. Only fill in the items your carrier provides, and leave the rest as-is.
  2. Be sure to type in everything exactly as provided by your carrier. For example, default,supl,hipri is different than default, supl, hipri because of the white space between items. Your carrier's system is set up to read an expected set of values, and any changes — no matter how minor — can and will break things.

Once you have the settings provided by your carrier entered, you need to save the APN. You do that by pressing the three dots in the upper right (or the menu key if your phone has one) and selecting the "Save" option.

Once your APN information is saved, go back one screen to the list we saw earlier. On this screen, tap the new APN settings you just entered to make them active. Your phone will lose its data connection for a little while as it connects to the new network using the new network settings. If you can't get a connection after a few minutes, you might need to restart your phone.

And that's it! Now your phone should work for calls, SMS, MMS and data. Now be sure to set up any Data Saver or warning settings your phone might have to monitor how much data you use and if you are getting close to your allotment.