Vodafone UK is giving away internet access between Christmas and the new year, but only to those who have their APN set correctly.
The promotional offer is an extension of the operator's free Fridays, and runs from Christmas morning until January 1st. But because it's aimed at those using the internet through a mobile phone, some customers might get caught out.
In Vodafone's world, there are two kinds of internet user: those browsing on a mobile phone and those surfing from a laptop. The operator distinguishes between them by offering two APNs (Access Point Names) - one called "WAP" and the other "Contract Internet", with mobile-phone users being directed towards the former and dongle users to the latter.
The problem is that the WAP APN, while it is packet based and offers the same speed, doesn't provide unfettered internet access. It routes everything through Vodafone's Novarra-supplied gateway which mangles content and puts additional
adverts navigation features into web pages. Those wanting to run their own instant messaging client, or applications that use HTTP transport and don't want it mangled, need to switch to the "Contract Internet" APN, which won't be free next week.
Using different APNs, billed at different rates, is a long-standing bodge job that attempts to create tiered billing without having to monitor the traffic. At one point operators offered special APNs for media streaming too, and the 3G UMTS standard envisioned handsets connecting to different APNs for different applications, all billed at different rates.