What is an APN?
An APN (Access Point Name) is the name for a link or point of entry from a mobile network (2G, 3G, 4G or 5G) to either the public internet or private network infrastructure. When a mobile or IoT device attempts to connect to the internet, private enterprise networks or to cloud infrastructure, the APN provides the context and information necessary to create that connection.
Here’s an overview of APN types, the differences between APNs and VPNs, and how choosing the right deployment model can ensure stable, secure connectivity for your IoT projects.
What is an APN?
Here’s an example of an APN:
To the untrained eye, this might look like a random string of characters. However, an APN is structured to provide an MNO with all the information it needs to determine:
- Which IP address should be assigned to the device
- Which network the device should be connected to
- Which security methods should be used
An APN consists of two parts:
This specifies which external network you are seeking to create a gateway to (e.g. the public internet or a specific business/IoT network).
This identifies the MNO the gateway is identified with. It consists of a mobile network code (MNC) and mobile country code (MCC).
Types of APN
A public APN connects a mobile or IoT device to the public internet. Each time a device attempts to make a connection, the MNO/MVNO assigns it with the next available IP address from a pool of addresses.
Public APN with a public static IP
As with a standard APN, this model connects devices to the public internet. However, once an IP address has been assigned to a device, that device uses the same address each time it makes a connection.
With a private APN (sometimes called a corporate APN), the gateway is configured so that data can flow directly to and from a device to a company’s own network, via the MNO/MVNO network. There’s no need for data traffic to travel across the public internet.
Private APN with a private static IP
In a standard private APN setup, devices are assigned a private static IP address for connecting to private networks. It’s also possible for devices to be assigned a public static IP address.
The difference between APNs and VPNs
An APN is a gateway. It sets out the rules your MNO needs to know in order to establish a wireless connection. An APN also enables you to configure the type of connectivity path that best meets your business requirements. With a private APN for example, it enables IoT devices to use mobile network infrastructure to connect to a enterprise network, without having to access the public internet.
By contrast, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) acts more like a tunnel than a gateway. Its job isn’t to provide you with an internet connection; rather, it provides a layer of security to create a safe data transfer channel across a public or private network.
A VPN links two or more devices, enabling them to access a shared system. Data packets transmitted by a device are encrypted before they reach your MNO’s network, which means that even if someone were to intercept the data in transmission, that information is indecipherable.
The benefits of APNs
With multiple APN options available, businesses have greater scope to configure their connectivity methods, taking into account factors such as budget, coverage requirements and data sensitivity.
A priority for many businesses is to ensure reliable connectivity, but without exposing the company’s data infrastructure to the entire public internet. In these cases, a private APN solution often makes sense. It means data can stay confined to private MNO/MVNO and Enterprise networks, while also providing scope to apply your preferred security and usage policies.
A private APN can also be a good option if your IoT devices and users are deployed internationally across the globe. Using a roaming SIM with the same Private APN means devices can access the enterprise networks or cloud infrastructure reliably and securely, regardless of which country or MNO network devices are connected to.
Find out more
For an expert assessment of your connectivity needs and to discover the best fit M2M options for your business, speak to Wireless Logic today.
For more information about networking, VPNs and all other aspects of IoT connectivity, explore our glossary.