Are GPS-tracking apps data dependent or will devices use GPS signals alone, to notify their locations?

I am looking for a GPS-tracking app to track family members on a trip where we gonna have limited network coverage, and in some areas no coverage at all.

I am not sure if these apps need data connection to send the location to another device, or they would only use GPS signals.

2 Answers 2


It's not entirely clear from your question what exactly you mean by "tracking". If you only wish to record a log of where the device has been (so you can look at it later, or retrace your own steps), then you don't need any internet access for that. The device just receives the GPS signal, calculates its position, and saves that position to a file every so often. There are many apps that can do this: some of them are intended for sports, and offer features like finding your top speed, or comparing your time over a certain route with your friends; others are designed for making your own maps, or geotagging photos made on a real camera.

However, it sounds like you might want different devices to tell each other their positions, using something like Google Maps "location sharing", so that you can find where family members are right now. Obviously that would require internet access (whether that's 3G or Wi-Fi) so the devices can communicate with each other. The GPS receiver is exactly that: it receives signals from satellites to determine its position, without transmitting anything. GPS only tells you where you are, not where anyone else is.

  • Yes, we need to know each other's location. I didn't know smartphones are only receivers... thanks for the help.
    – Omne
    Oct 13, 2013 at 20:25
  • 1
    @Omne It's not just smartphones. All GPS receivers are only receivers: even the ones you get in your car, or the handheld units you use for hiking. Only the satellites transmit anything.
    – Dan Hulme
    Oct 13, 2013 at 22:20

While a data connection might prove helpful for a faster fix (see: AGPS), it's not strictly necessary to have one. There a a lot of "Offline GPS Apps" available. I personally e.g. used Locus Maps successfully for that in the past, but there are plenty of similar apps available.

Tracks can be stored on the device, of course, and do not need to be sent to a server for the tracking process itself. Most apps allow to export them later in GPX or KML formats.

If, however, you want to now the position from a "remote device" (as your updated question shows, to e.g. know where your kids are at the moment), that cannot work via GPS alone, as GPS signals are only received by our devices, not sent. So this requires at least some kind of coverage: solutions are available to exchange data by different means, e.g. via internet (requires mobile data) or by SMS (still requires a network signal).


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