Does the latest iPad require a cellular subscription in order to use its GPS for location services?
July 13, 2012 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Does the latest iPad require a cellular subscription in order to use its GPS for location services? (oh, and any reason to select AT&T over Verizon, or vice-versa?)

I've been given a wi-fi only iPad ("iPad 3") as a gift, and I'm considering exchanging it for a 4G LTE version. The 4G version has a GPS chip, the wi-fi only does not.

The main reason I'd like to upgrade is the possibility of using the GPS location fuctions offline (without a cellular data plan), so I might use it with map apps, etc, without requiring a data connection to Apple or Google.

I don't want to have a cellular data plan in general; I plan on primarily using the wi-fi connection only (although I would like the option if needed). Mainly, I want to have the precision of the GPS location services instead of the inferior wi-fi location functions.

I've found several websites (for example, here) stating that I don't need a cellular subscription in order for the GPS to work (although the iPad will initially obtain satellite location information by pinging cell towers). However, the Apple employees I've spoken to over the phone have insisted that this isn't the case (one confirming his views with an in-store tech while I waited). Both have told me that I'd need a cellular subscription ("otherwise it's just like having a wi-fi only tablet").

Does anyone know the correct answer?

Finally, I don't have cell phone on either AT&T or Verizon's network. Is there one 4G network version to favor over the other? (I'm in PDX, local coverage should be fine for both and I don't travel much at the moment).
posted by Auden to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Lots of reports out there if you Google it. Looks like it'll work without cellular service.
posted by roomwithaview at 2:16 PM on July 13, 2012

Yeah, that's what I thought (I did Google around - I mentioned the websites I'd found in my question), but after two separate calls to Apple to verify this led to two different people insisting that this wasn't the case (the second one, as I said, "confirming" it with his techs), I was feeling a little bewildered.
posted by Auden at 2:26 PM on July 13, 2012

You won't be able to use GPS navigation apps that load dynamically like the maps app or waze. You may be able to get reasonable GPS performance in apps where the maps are already loaded onto the device.
posted by slkinsey at 2:28 PM on July 13, 2012

I have personally used an iPhone 3GS in an area with no cellphone reception to get GPS data, which leads me to believe that an iPad that has cellphone capability but does not have active cellphone service would achieve the same results.
posted by sacrifix at 2:29 PM on July 13, 2012

yeah, the techs don't really know what they're talking about when it comes to GPS, I've found. I've had them tell me that my iphone gps won't work if I switched from AT&T to an off-brand GSM service provider. I own a ipad 3, and the GPS does "work" without cell service, in that you can get a position, but obviously not data. You can use this with offline maps, or fitness trackers, etc.

As for AT&T or Verizon, it's not a big deal, but I found Verizon's pricing structure to be slightly better. If you're not streaming video or audio, I found 1gb lasts all month quite easily using the service anytime you want. For Verizon, you could do that for $20.

The big plus for a Verizon Ipad (though it's not really that big), the Verizon Ipad still has a SIM slot that you can use if you ever want to use a GSM carrier (like AT&T, or others around the world). It's unlocked, so you don't have to hack or jailbreak or anything. You won't get full-fledged 4g speeds like with Verizon, but you can get HSP+ speeds, which are a pretty big step up from 3g.

Conversely, if you go AT&T, you can't switch to Verizon.
posted by skewed at 2:36 PM on July 13, 2012

thanks, skewed, you answered both my issues. I didn't know about the Verizon SIM slot, and I think the fact that I can have one device which can access either CDMA or GSM networks makes it the best choice. 4G Verizon it is.
posted by Auden at 2:50 PM on July 13, 2012

As others have indicated, the GPS radios in the iPad are independent of the WiFi and cellular data radios. I've been very impressed by how quickly my iPad 2 can get a GPS signal, even in a TGV train going 280-300 km/h (170-185 mph). In France, I use an app called Iph├ęGeNie, which can download maps from IGN (the French equivalent of the Ordnance Survey or the USGS) and cache them for offline use. Similar apps are available for the US, and I think that the maps app for the iPad can now also cache map tiles for offline use. There's no need to have a cellular subscription for GPS usage as long as you can get your map data on the device otherwise (if you need map data at all).
posted by brianogilvie at 3:06 PM on July 13, 2012

Sort of a tangent to the question but another nice feature of the Verizon iPad is that it allows for tethering. My understanding is the AT&T version does not allow this (out of the box at any rate).
posted by moxiequz at 3:10 PM on July 13, 2012

You could buy a mapping app like Copilot which uses map files loaded on your device and doesn't need a data connection to work.
posted by rfs at 6:57 PM on July 13, 2012

Navfree is a free GPS app which we used successfully for navigating around the US for five weeks using an 3G ipad 2 with no SIM inserted. You just need to download data by state in advance.
posted by xiw at 4:26 AM on July 14, 2012

I'll just chime in here for any latecomers and say, I don't believe it's true GPS. Based on what my (mac genius) friend said when I asked him "What are the chances of gettting my stolen ipad back?" Well, IF they connect it to a WiFi network, then you might get a message from "Find my iPad" but otherwise, not bloody likely.

So useless for asset protection.
posted by BleachBypass at 2:33 PM on December 18, 2012

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