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GPS without using data and the Internet: FAQ

Updated on Wed, 12/02/2020 - 10:42

GPS is an essential technology which is intensively used on mobile devices. However, at the same time, many users have questions on the operation of GPS together with a navigator. Whether this technology uses data from the Internet, whether it can work without Wi-Fi, etc. – we're going to answer these questions in this FAQ. 


    Does GPS download data from the Internet?

    There is no clear answer to the question: does GPS work without data? 

    If you use a navigation app (such as Google Maps or Waze) on your phone, the app will download data from the Internet. If your phone is connected via a Wi-Fi, this will happen automatically. If mobile Internet is enabled, a navigation app will ask you whether it can download maps to your device. In some cases, this doesn't happen.  

    At the same time, GPS technology itself doesn't use data from the Internet, obtaining information (longitude and latitude) directly from satellites. 

    How to use GPS without Internet

    If you download offline maps of the required region / city to your phone, a navigation app will display your location without the Internet. 

    This is easy to verify: 

    1. Download maps to your phone (the easiest way to do this is via Google Maps), 
    2. Turn off the Internet on your device,
    3. Enable GPS,
    4. Check if the opened navigation app is running, 
    5. Go to the statistics of Internet data consumption,
    6. Make sure that you don't need the Internet for GPS to work. 

    By the way, car navigators are equipped with offline maps, so their built-in GPS system doesn't require an Internet connection to operate with GPS data – unlike many mobile navigation apps running under Android and iPhone, which highly depend on an Internet connection. 

    Please also note that the accuracy of a navigator without the Internet is 5-10 meters. 

    Equipment required for GPS operation without data

    You will need a satellite receiver for a GPS-navigation. Most modern smartphones have it built-in. Pixel, Samsung, HTC, Huawei and other Android and iPhone models support GPS from out of the box. 

    However, "cut-down", i.e. budget versions of the equipment don't always please its users with a built-in GPS receiver, so read the device specifications carefully. 

    In an extreme case, an external GPS receiver will help out which you can connect via a free USB-port. 

    Is GPS for free?

    All information received from satellites to a GPS receiver is free of charge. 

    However, if you use a mobile navigation app, make sure that the cost of mobile Internet traffic allows you to safely download maps and other data necessary for displaying and downloading additional maps. 

    Where can I use GPS?

    GPS navigation is available everywhere, all over the globe. 

    However, you may face some difficulties if: 

    • there is bad weather, 
    • you are in a place where there is no good satellite access, 
    • it's more challenging to receive a signal inside an isolated room – usually, the connection to a GPS satellite is worse than in an open area,
    • metal overlaps, hard and dense materials can impair the device communication with satellites. 

    How does GPS work on phone

    1. GPS receiver (integrated or external module) connects to a satellite. 
    2. The satellite transmits the current coordinates (longitude / latitude) to your device.
    3. Google Maps, Waze (or other software) navigation apps use the coordinates in order to display the location of a user at a map.
    4. Maps are downloaded directly to your device. 
    5. When a user moves data on the location of a receiver change in real-time. 

    Are there any alternatives to GPS?

    In addition to GPS (in the USA), GLONASS (Russia), BeiDu (China), and Galileo (EU) can be used for navigation. 

    Do I need to install maps?

    If you use a separate device for navigation (for example, Garmin or Navitel), maps and other software are already included, and they usually don't need to be pre-installed. 

    With mobile devices, you can use the software offered for Android or iOS. 

    How much data can Google or Waze consume when using GPS?

    Even though many apps for navigation are free to use, the Internet traffic that is actively consumed by the software is not free. 

    How much traffic can a regular navigation app like Google Maps consume? About 100 MB per hour is a minimum with a reasonably economical approach. Please note that in addition to loading maps, navigation apps receive additional information in real-time, which may also incur additional costs. 

    If you download offline maps on your device, a GPS-navigation app will only use data received from your smartphone memory. We recommend disabling mobile Internet too, just to be sure, primarily if you use roaming with GPS and a navigation app. 

    Do I need roaming for GPS operation?

    If you need the Internet to upload maps to a navigation app, then you may need roaming. Please note that the cost of services can be quite shocking. So the best thing to do is as follows:

    1. Download maps to your device and make them available offline.
    2. Buy a local SIM-card with prepaid Internet traffic.
    3. (and / or) If applicable, use Wi-Fi points to view and download navigation maps to your device.

    Thus, roaming isn't required for GPS-operation. For comfortable work, it's better to download offline maps and avoid using roaming. Do this only in an emergency such as to find out your location or get directions. 

    Will GPS work appropriately without a navigation app and maps?

    In fact, only the GPS-receiver will work, determining your coordinates (longitude and latitude), i.e. your location. 

    To work in the full mode, you'll need one app: either a navigation app or a reference guide, which will show you exactly where you are in an accessible visual form. 

    The best solution for these tasks is a free navigation app. Depending on the device and platform you use, this may be Google Maps, Waze or Apple Maps.

    Related articles:

    1. How Does GPS Work?
    2. What is GPS?