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MiFi, GPS & the iPad

One thing that's been troubling me (but not too much), is how GPS will work on the WiFi iPad. I decided a couple of months ago to get one of the first WiFi iPads and get around the lack of 3G by getting a MiFi unit.

This has proved to be a great solution for more reasons that I expected (see previous blog posts under the category - MiFi).

However, I'm still confused by how the WifI iPad will handle GPS and the specs say that only the 3G model is Assisted GPS enabled. Both have a digital compass though.

I've heard lot's of speculation that the Wifi only model will still be able to triangulate location, based on the SkyHook service.

The particular MiFi unit I purchased (Novatel Wireless MiFi 2352 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot) has Built-in Assisted GPS. I have to say, I'm not sure if this is carrier dependent though.

So, to do some testing, I took my original 1st generation iPhone out with me on a short drive, powered up the MiFI and switched on Google maps.

Wouldn't you know, it found my location, and pretty accurately too!


Now it's probably not going to be suitable for Tom Tom, but I feel a bit happier that location based services will work just dandy on my WiFi iPad. That's of course as long as I remember to take the MiFi, an extra battery and a USB charger for the car.

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Reader Comments (17)

Great post Don!
I've been curious if my Verizon (US carrier branded Novotel) Mifi has GPS - the specs suggest it does. However, how is that GPS signal/data getting to the device via wifi? Do you think your iPhone was still using the local cell towers for position and not the MiFi's a-GPS?

March 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNick Dawson

Thanks, Don! Very helpful ... I went with the Mifi also vs the 3G because of the number of devices we want to hook up ...

March 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDebby

The phone definitely wasn't using local cell towers, there's no active celluar SIM in the phone - no voice service! The only comms was via WiFi out of the MiFi.

March 24, 2010 | Registered CommenterDon McAllister

Don I used the Google Maps and the Mifi going down to Wycombe last Friday, I was amazed how accurate the GPS was, however it can be slow when you drop to edge, but on 3 G it kept the location updating enough for me to use it.

March 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGazmaz

Whoops forgot to say of course that was using my iPod touch (1st gen) and also Don I have a car adaptor from Gear4 with 2 USB charge ports for all those devices we need on long journey's ;-)

March 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGazmaz

I'd really like to have the technical details here... I can't imagine how the MiFi can transmit the position data, it can't use the built-in gps here (how are the coordinates given to the wi-fi clients?).
Anyway, that's very interesting. I have a MiFi too, great little device!

March 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commentervegaz

I am going with the 3G version. Do not have the need to use MiFi on other products so makes no sense to me to pay for the unit and the service. ATT plan is pretty good and the ability to shut off or upgrade is what convinced me.

March 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRay

I decided on the WiFi version as well. I decided to wait until after I get it to figure how to get WiFi everywhere. I'm hoping Verizon will offer some tempting deals to compete for AT&T customers.

March 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

I have been using GPS devices for many, many years. In the armed forces, Mountain Rescue and leisure. Until I bought my iPhone 3G, none of the devices I used had either WIFI or 3G capability. They had satellite receivers.

When I am high on the Fell, miles from any where, my iPhone is capable of producing a very accurate position without WIFI or 3G or any indeed signal at all. This clearly means that the iPhone is capable of receiving satellite data.

I am at a loss to understand why the iPad would be any different?

March 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNick

I think the device will have been using the fallback method of using the wifi hotspot database to work out location. I think it's called SkyHook and is what was used on the first gen iPhone and iPod touch. In fact Don's normal wifi hotspot may have been mapped before and helped locate him using the MiFi.

I tried this on the Huawei mifi I have and it located me fairly close. And exactly the same via the normal WiFi router. And then I remembered I played with SkyHook before driving around. Without a WiFi signal at all (but cached maps) it could pinpoint me. It uses the WiFi router to work out where you are. Even routers that you cannot connect to.

So I suspect the MiFi does not show where you are. I am happy to be proved wrong but how would it tell the iPad or iPod touch where it is? It's just a router. The same as any WiFi router at home does not know where it is. SkyHook on the other hand might.

Just my 2p view.

Not made my mind up on getting an iPad or not. Trouble is I have an eBook reader already so harder to justify to my wife :-)

April 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob

How did this turn out? Did you ever get the Wifi iPad to go w/ your Mifi?

I just started using a Mifi and noticed, much to my surprise, that my iPod Touch (hello from iPhone-less rural America!) now knows my location. Diddo for laptops connected to the Mifi wifi. I found your post when trying to figure out how the location service works--is it actually GPS or something more primitive (cell signal triangulation? is that even a thing?). Still not sure, but whatever it is, it works pretty well.

October 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick


MifI and iPad are a great combination however, I did get a second 3G iPad as I needed to get an iPad to jailbreak for the ScreenCastsOnline show.

The convenience of having the 3G built into the iPad is way better than the MifI as it's virtually instant on, you don't need to worry about the battery in the Mifi plus there's no second device to carry around.

October 25, 2010 | Registered CommenterDon McAllister

So all you need to do is connect the iPad to the MiFi and it feeds the GPS data through? I have the iPad wifi and I am using it with a mobile broadband router (although not a MiFi) and I was pretty annoyed recently to find that it does not have proper GPS. Are you saying that all I need to do is replace my current device for the MiFi version, swap the sim card over and it should automatically feed the GPS data to the iPad with no further fiddling required?

December 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPete

Sounds like you answered this question but I'd just like to confirm before purchasing a MiFi. I have a iPad1 WiFi only. My plan is to use the MiFi and iPad in the car for GPS positioning during travel and use the MiFi as a hotspot at the house. I understand the MiFi positioning may be slower than the 3G iPad but it does in fact work, correct?

June 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

As far as I'm aware, that is correct.

June 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterDon McAllister

I google the Mifi 2352 and find here. You said that you just connected iPad to Mifi with wifi signal, and launch the location app then it worked. But did you try to make you iPad connect to other Mifi without Assisted GPS, was it work well?

I'm trying to make my iPad mini(wifi only) could know my position outdoor, I wondered if any Mifi work well or Mifi 2352/2372 works better.

Thank you so much.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBigBoy

I no longer have the MiFi so can't test it for you. Sorry.

May 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterDon McAllister

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