So you want to use data on your smartphone overseas?
First step is making sure your phone is unlocked from any network provider (normally who you bought it from) - more info on that here (and maybe a future blog post on it too!).
There is also one more crucial setting that also acts like a gate to allow the data to flow, and is actually a setting on your phone called the APN (Access Point Name).
What is an APN?
A mobile device making a data connection must be configured with an APN to present to the carrier. The carrier will then examine this identifier to determine what type of network connection should be created - and whether they should send you data!
On a lot of modern day networks the phone will automatically pick up the APN from the SIM and network signal and automatically configure it on the device. Thats a great scenario, phone connects to signal, you open your browser and the internet just works!
The other scenario is your phone/SIM card connects to the network signal (if it doesn't get a signal- most likely your phone isn't properly unlocked!), but you can't get data to work.
Each network has a different APN, sometimes even different APN's for different SIM's or different data usage.
I have put together a summary page here of a number of networks/carriers and their respective frequency/bandwidths and their APNs.
From here the path divides divides down two similar but separate roads of either 1) manually setting the APN, or 2) locking the APN for some iPhones or some networks
1. Manually setting APN on smartphones and devices
Depending on the network, if the APN doesn't load most of the time iPhones can set manually (not requiring their APN to be locked). Sometimes it will actually depend on the model of the iPhone. An example of this is iPhone 4S or 5, with a Japanese SIM in can be manually set. An iPhone 5c & 5S on the other hand will require the APN to be set by the APN locking method (it actually provides no option to go into the Cellular settings).
To set the APN manually in the example of the Japanese SIM you do the following (more info and screenshots here):
- Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Network
- Enable 3G = ON, Cellular Data = ON, Data Roaming = OFF [data roaming will depend what type of SIM you using]
- Cellular Data Network > Enter the APN info:
- APN: bmobile.ne.jp
For most Androids setting the APN manually is all you need to do.
In the example of the Japanese SIM again, you would follow these steps:
- Settings > Wireless & Networks > Mobile Networks > APN
- Tap "Menu" button and select "New APN"
- Enter the APN info:
- APN: bmobile.ne.jp
Authentication Type = "PAP or CHAP"
- Tap "Menu" button and select "Save"
- Select the new APN you created
Hotspots aren't normally as smart as phones, and will require the APN to be set manually (however they are getting smarter and the E5372 here actually automatically picks up a lot of APNs).
Should the APN require manual setting on your hotspot or MiFi device- a great guide I recently wrote is here, but that basics follow as:
- Turn hotspot on and connect to its WiFi signal on a computer (or iPad or iPhone) > you will require the WiFi signal username and password as per any normal WiFi network
- Once connected enter 192.168.1.1 in the url/browser > This takes you to the settings interface of the hotspot device
- You then need to login into the device's admin control panel or 'backend settings' via 'Login' and normally entering the default admin username and password which is normally 'admin' & 'admin' (different devices it may vary..also a good idea to change this!)
- Then go to 'Settings' > 'Mobile' > 'Profile management' > 'Create new APN' > enter the correct settings
More detail and screenshots on doing this for the Huawei E5372 here.
2. Locking the APN on iPhones
As mentioned in the above example referring to Japanese SIMs, sometimes an iPhone won't 'hold' the APN or sometimes won't even allow you to set it. If this happens your best bet is to 'lock' the APN.
Before I go any further on actually how to do this though, there is a point that is important not to forget. If you lock or install the APN, you should also remove it once you finish using that SIM/network. If you leave the APN installed/locked, and revert to your normal SIM when back home, data on your phone won't work.
Locking or installing an APN
Going back to the Japanese SIM example (covered in more detail on the setup page here), you should do the following:
1. Find a WiFi hotspot & navigate to:
www.unlockit.co.nz > Then Select 'Japan' [as the country] > Select B-Mobile (bmobile@fr) [as the carrier]
It is important to select the correct carrier which in turn loads/installs the correct APN... sometimes it can get confusing when not completely listed or named correctly on unlockit. An example of that is the correct APN for using a Globalgig SIM in Australia is 'connect' but this is actually listed under the 'Optus connect' profile on unlockit
2. In the "Install Profile" screen, tap "Install".
3. Tap the "Done" button on the upper right corner of the screen to complete the installation.
Removing an APN profile
Please delete the APN Profile after you have finished using your SIM.
1. Navigate to the "Profile" screen on your iPhone: "Setting" → "General" → "Profile"
2. Tap "Remove"
So there you have it - that should get your data running on the right APN on your next trip!
Let me know your tips and tricks on setting APN settings when you travel?
Written by Peter Cain
Peter Cain is the Founder and CEO of dataGO.co, a company committed to making it easier and cheaper to stay connected whilst travelling. You can find him on Twitter and Google+. You can also find dataGO on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ for all the latest info on local and roaming SIMs and data hotspots.