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Does GPS Work Without Internet Access?

With constant advances in modern-day technology, most people will own a smartphone. One of the most commonly used apps that comes with a smartphone as standard is the navigation services. These services can be really helpful if you get lost and can’t find your way home, or even if you go on holiday and need to get from A to B. No matter where you are, you can use a navigation system to get you to places that you need to go. Well, that is if you have internet. Or so we thought.

Lots of people will pay for their mobile data along with a phone contract, or they will pay extra for data bundles if they paid for the phone outright. Everything is so dependent on the internet these days that we would be totally lost without it at times. But what happens if you run out of data or you can’t connect to a source of wifi? Can you still use your GPS to get around? We are here to answer any questions that you might have about your smartphone navigation system. 

What is GPS?

GPS is a Global Positioning System, which is a navigation system that uses satellites, a receiver, and algorithms to synchronize location, velocity, and time data. The satellite system that is used consists of a constellation of 24 satellites that reside in six Earth-centered orbital planes and each plane has four satellites. We only actually need three satellites to produce an exact location on the Earth’s surface, but the fourth satellite is in place to make sure that the information that is being produced from the other three satellites is correct. The fourth satellite actually moves us into the third dimension and allows us to calculate the altitude of a device.

There are three segments that make up the GPS network. The first of these components is the satellites that orbit Earth. They work to transmit signals to users about their geographical positioning and the time of day. 

The second component is ground control, which is made up of Earth-based monitoring stations, master control stations, and ground antennas. These are in place for tracking purposes and for operating the satellites that are up in space. There are monitoring stations all over the world on every continent. 

The third and final part of GPS is the user equipment, which is the GPS receivers like smartphones and other items that include navigation software. It’s important to understand that smartphones and many other devices are receivers and not emitters. Just like your radio receives a signal from a radio station that is emitting a signal, GPS enabled devices can be thought of as an antenna that receives a signal that is emitted from the GPS satellite network and a computer chip that allows the device to process the GPS signal in order to calculate a location. 

Does GPS Work Without Data?

Thankfully, you can actually use a GPS without having any connection to the internet. This applies to both Android and IOS devices, and it can do this for different reasons. Maps on your phone do not require the use of the internet to work because the routes do not change very often, and there is no need for services like live updates. That said, unless you have downloaded and saved these maps on our device for use offline you will not be able to see them because without a data connection your device will be unable to stream the map onto your device. If you needed to know information like live traffic updates and road blockages, you would need data to receive these updates. 

So without a data connection to the internet, your device will still be able to locate itself using GPS unable to give you the context of that location unless you have maps or other location data on your device that can be used offline.

When you have a connection to the internet, your phone will use a feature that is called Assisted GPS, which uses the location of nearby cell phone towers and other wifi networks to determine your exact location. A GPS service will not technically work without the internet, but the GPS radio can still be detected via satellites for those occasions where you do not have access to data. It will take much longer for your phone to figure out where you are this way, and the accuracy can depend on the terrain and the location that you are in. The GPS feature will still work, but perhaps will not always be as accurate as you would like it to be.

Can I Use GPS in Flight Mode?

It is usually assumed that when you put your phone into airplane mode, you won’t be able to use your navigation, but this isn’t actually the case. You won’t be able to use most of your phone’s normal services like calling, internet, or Bluetooth, but you can still use your GPS. 

This is because the GPS radio can only receive and not transmit, so it isn’t always necessary for it to be disabled if you are on a flight. This means that you can still use your GPS as it will not automatically turn off when you put your phone into flight mode. It might not work on older versions of smartphones, but it will certainly work for more recent models. 

This can be highly beneficial if you don’t want to spend lots of money on paying for data abroad. With this feature, you can still use your GPS, while all of the other features that will cost money abroad will be disabled.

Google Maps

Google maps is one of the most widely used navigation apps on cell phones and other devices, especially in the last few years. No matter where in the world you end up, you can always rely on Google Maps navigation to help you to find your way around. 

However, you cannot fully use Google Maps without Wi-Fi or a data connection as the app requires the internet in order to work. This is how they provide you with services like traffic updates and road closures. However, not all is lost. You can still download the maps for specific areas that you can then use when you are offline. This does take quite a long time, as it is downloading a lot of information, but it might be worth the wait if you need to get somewhere and you don’t know the route. 


You can always find a way to use a GPS navigation system when you don’t have any connection to the internet. If you know in advance that you won’t have any data or wifi connection, you can download a map from Google Maps so that you will be prepared for the situation. If you do find yourself stuck on your way to somewhere new without any data, there are some apps that you can install on your phone beforehand to navigate your way around without it.

About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.