Though the acronyms look very similar, VPNs and APNs work very differently from each other. But first, let us cover what a VPN and APN are.
The term APN stands for ‘Access Point Name’, while VPN stands for ‘Virtual Private Network.’
Both of these tools allow data to be transmitted on a network. However, there are some significant differences beyond that base level similarity. When using an APN, it enables users to connect to a wireless internet provider which acts as a stand-alone internet connection. But when using a VPN, no internet connection is provided.
Instead, you gain an additional layer of security on top of your existing internet connection.
Which is the best option for you?
Let’s look at some significant differences to help you decide which type of connection you need depending on your situation and security needs.
Anybody with a wireless data plan has access to the APN of their mobile carrier. However, that means you are also connecting to the APN with everyone else that the company serves.
You may see the downside of this if you’ve ever experienced or read about cellular calls and networks being overloaded during national disasters or holiday events such as new years eve.
In short, when using an APN, you might experience load balancing issues depending on the number of users you are sharing the network with.
And when it comes to mobile internet providers, there can be hundreds of thousands of people using the same APN as you at any time. But when using a VPN, there are often multiple servers or access points that you can connect to.
For example, if you usually connect your VPN to a server on the West Coast of the United States, but for some reason that day it is loading very slowly, most VPN providers allow you to switch to another server that might be loading faster.
This is not to say that some VPNs might not have lots of users on the same network, as that largely up to which vendor or provider you use.
The purpose of VPN services is privacy and security, first and foremost. Meaning, VPNs are explicitly created to transmit private or sensitive information such as important communications over a network.
On the other hand, the level of security on an APN is mostly left up to the service provider or vendor. This can be a huge downside of an APN if security is what you’re looking for. That doesn’t mean that your APN is less secure.
If you are curious to see what level of protection your specific APN has, the best way is to contact your service provider to find out.
Sometimes, if you have what’s called a ‘Custom APN’, you may be responsible for configuring security and encryption yourself. Most businesses use VPNs for their employees because it allows the security policies to be more strictly regulated and changed at a company wide level.
A great example of an APN is your cellular data plan. This APN is programmed into your phone, enabling it to connect to the wireless network. A VPN client, on the other hand, does not provide an internet connection, instead just a layer on top of an existing connection or public network.
For example, if you have a mobile device without an APN and only a VPN, you wouldn’t be able to connect to the internet or the VPN itself.
In short, a VPN always requires an existing internet connection. This doesn’t mean that VPNs and APNs cant be used together because its possible to add a VPN onto a device that is already using an APN.
However, since APNs are used primarily for mobile devices, the chance that you will be able to use an APN with a desktop or laptop computer is very slim. That being said, APN’s are fast becoming a standard for IoT (Internet of Things) devices around the world, due in fact to an APNs ability to provide a stand-alone internet connection.
If you are looking for an internet connection with mobile connectivity, or to use IoT (Internet of Things) devices, an APN might be the right choice for you.
However, if you already have an internet or data connection that you want to even more secure, a VPN might be the right choice. And remember, just because you already are using an APN, doesn’t mean you can’t be extra safe and install a VPN as well.