Sometimes google maps gives a notification that goes something like:

"for increased accuracy please turn on the Wifi"

I can understand if it said "For faster loading of map layers....", but how can a better internet connection result in increased accuracy by the GPS?


2 Answers 2


You might be interested in Assisted GPS

Assistance falls into two categories:

  • Information used to more quickly acquire satellites
    • It can supply orbital data or almanac for the GPS satellites to the GPS receiver, enabling the GPS receiver to lock to the satellites more rapidly in some cases.
    • The network can provide precise time.
    • The device captures a snapshot of the GPS signal, with approximate time, for the server to later process into a position.
    • Accurate, surveyed coordinates for the cell site towers allow better knowledge of local ionospheric conditions and other conditions affecting the GPS signal than the GPS receiver alone, enabling more precise calculation of position. (See also Wide Area Augmentation System and CellHunter.)
  • Calculation of position by the server using information from the GPS receiver
    • The assistance server has a good satellite signal, and plentiful computation power, so it can compare fragmentary signals relayed to it by GPS receivers, with the satellite signal it receives directly, and then inform the GPS receiver or emergency services of the GPS receiver's position.

Many mobile phones combine A-GPS and other location services including Wi-Fi Positioning System and cell-site triangulation and sometimes a hybrid positioning system.[4]

  • "Assistance falls into two categories" ← None of these described categories need Wi-Fi. Only the last sentence has something to do with Wi-Fi, but it is very vague. Sam's answer should be the accepted answer. Commented Oct 21, 2013 at 1:20

If I'm not mistaken it is to access Google's (presumably large) wireless MAC address location database which like Skyhook (a competing service, also previously used on iOS devices) allows a handset to scan for wireless networks nearby and send their MAC addresses (possibly SSIDs as well, I haven't looked into it too depply) off to Google to compare to their database and fire back an approximate location based on their data collection (which you consent to help provide by enabling this feature).

To the answerer mentioning A-GPS, I think the OP was already using A-GPS and using Google Maps over a 3G connection but had Wi-Fi disabled.

I believe this technique is achieved similarly with the use of cell towers, measuring the signal strength between the connected and neighbouring towers and comparing it to a stored database (such as Ofcom's attempt available in the UK), Location Area Code (LAC) and Cell ID (CID). For anyone curious you can find these on most Android phones using the *#*#4636#*#* code in your dialer although for whatever reason it's encoded in hex so just convert it back to decimal if you like.

TL;DR - Triangulate your location quicker using Wi-Fi signals while your GPS gets a satellite lock, A-GPS serves the same purpose but achieves this using a different method (Secure User Plane Location I think, if anyone wants to read up on it).


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