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Does unconnected WIFI help pinpoint your location and why?

  1. Nov 19, 2016 #1
    I use waze and/or googlemaps to navigate. When I plan a route I 1st turn GPS on on my phone. Phone then always asks me to also turn on WIFI, but I always ignore this and leave it off because I thought its pointless if you're not actually connected to wifi. But does WIFI being on (without being actually connected) actually help pinpoint your location? How does it do that? My phone loses my location about 25% of the time, and I'm wondering if this is why? thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 19, 2016 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Google maps can use local wifi signals to pinpoint your location. I found this out when i used my ipad to get a map to my friends house and while was driving my map location updated matching the street and where on the street i was. It really surprized me because my ipad only works on wifi. Theres no cellular or gps chip in it. Its an old ipad2.
  4. Nov 19, 2016 #3

    Andrew Mason

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    Science Advisor
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    You don't have to be connected to WIFI to use the WIFI Positioning System - WPS - to determine your location. The GPS app on your phone can determine how far you are from a WIFI hotspot and use a database of WIFI locations to determine where you are.

  5. Nov 20, 2016 #4
    Android phones and tablets periodically check to see what wifi access points are visible to your device (the SSID & MAC address of the access point). This information is recorded. If your GPS is also on, then the location of your device is also recorded. This data helps accurately map the location of all the WiFi signals around. With every android device doing this, google (and every other provider) already has an accurate location of all the wifi in cities using this technique.

    Your devices are doing this in the background all the time, you don't need to be using your maps app or be on wifi. The phone/tablet is collecting this data always.

    When you turn your WiFi on but not connected, it is in scanning mode by default, i.e. it's looking to see what wifi signals are available. This data is used by google maps in addition to your GPS signal to accurately determine your exact location. The more points of data you have, the more accurately your phone can guess where you are.
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