Does GPS Use Cellular Data

Since the 1980s, the GPS has been made freely available to users anywhere in the world. Initially, it was optional but recently mobile phone manufacturers have been mandated to make cellular phones GPS enabled.

Cellular phones like the Thuraya were among the first cellular phones to fully feature GPS. Most or if not, all phones today now are GPS enabled and can receive data from the GPS data for location, time zone, and images.

How does GPS work on cellular phones?

Although GPS data is completely free to everyone you need a GPS receiver to be able to access the data. A GPS enabled phone sends a signal to the closest cell tower which relays it to at least three satellites and receives location information which the phone decodes accurately.

A GPS receiver or can receive and decode data from any satellite by the push of a button. It is that easy to acquire GPS information like latitude, longitude, and altitude which delineates locations accurately.

Where can GPS work on a cellular phone?

GPS reception is available in every location around the world. For accuracy, you would need to have a clear view of the sky in order for the receiver to triangulate at least three satellites for data.

Although it works inside a building the signal may not be as strong compared to the outside. Metals and bricks and can impede GPS signals but woods, plastics, and glass cannot block GPS signals.

Types of GPS units

Integrated GPS antenna

This is the kind of GPS that is incorporated in cellular phones that receive and decodes data from GPS satellites for the phone. It is used for synchronizing accurate location and time zone settings for the phone. The basic GPS data from the satellites do not require data or incur any cellular data charge on the phone.

Battery operated handheld GPS receiver

This is common with surveyors, expeditors, and seafarers who spend a long time on the sea. It is ideal for small boats because it can be placed in the pocket and not mounted. No data charge is incurred or required to obtain GPS data for this kind of device.

Mountable portable GPS receiver

This unit has a larger screen display and bigger buttons and may have additional features than the conventional GPS units. They are powered by 12 volts batteries which can be rechargeable in most cases. They usually come with a wall bracket for easy mounting and hanging on the ship trucks and also for safe keeping during cruising.

Fixed-mount GPS receivers

This kind of GPS receiver is designed to be mounted permanently in a location. They have a bigger display interface and may have additional features. There is no cost or data charge for the usage of this GPS unit and they are installed in some base stations and shipyards.

A standalone GPS

This is often referred to as chart plotters and they are usually permanently mounted at a station. They work in combination with satellite navigations to offer several functions like radar, sonar, VHF radio, and even boat autopilot.

Differentiating GPS From Other Data

Cellular phones running on operating systems like Android, iOS, and Windows are integrated with GPS antenna that connects to the transceivers to gather GPS data like latitude, longitude, altitude and time.

These basic data acquisitions do not use the cellular data of the phone, they rely only on the cellular tower to transmit data. This is the same technology that emergency calls use so it doesn’t incur data charge but can send your exact location via GPS.

GPS operates on a different frequency outside the cellular signal by communicating directly with GPS satellites to determine accurate location and time zone. It is often integrated to work with the maps on the cellular phone to create a rudimentary GPS. So, in a nut shell, GPS does not use cellular data.

Other features that use cellular data

On the cellular phone, there are other features that work with in conjunction with GPS that uses cellular data.


Both Android and iPhone phones, often use GPS data for location services. Accessing the location via this app does not use cellular data but the graphic images of the location use data.

Graphic images of the location must be downloaded using Wi-Fi or mobile data via the phones Maps app. It can only be updated when connected to a Wi-Fi network, and this often takes part of the data allotted by the interest service provider.

Newest update on this app has made a provision for an offline update of location using GPS. This does not accrue data charge as it communicates directly with cell towers and not mobile data or Wi-Fi service. The downloaded map data can be used without any data charge but a subsequent update would require data service.

Assisted GPS

On the iOS, there is a feature called the Assisted GPS which works in conjunction with the integrated phone GPS antenna and mobile data connection or Wi-Fi connection. This app uses some amount of data to send and receive bits of location services from the cell tower closest in proximity.

Navigational GPS

Navigational GPS is used to get directions when driving long distances from a cellular phone. This one uses high data volume because new sections of the map are download as you move from point to point. This is the part of GPS service that consumes large data on smart phones both on Android and iPhones.

In conclusion, GPS is free to use on cellular for pinpointing the location, no data is consumed for this usage. Other third-party apps and services on the cellular phone often use the GPS and data service simultaneously.

Some of the apps like NavFreeGeolife Ltd, CoPilot GPS, Sygic, and Navigon all use GPS and data service to update location on smart phones.

These apps can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store and do the work of a GPS receiver. Some modern phones like Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy versions and iPhones have GPS receiver built in features.

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