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Do you need wifi/internet to fly a drone?

Updated in 2022 by Paul Posea
Do need Wi-Fi to fly drones?

Most drone pilots will say that you do not need wifi or internet to fly a drone. You can fly a drone without wifi or internet as long as you have a clear line of sight to the drone. However, there are some drones that do require wifi or internet in order to function properly. 

Flying a drone does not require an internet connection. However, there are some drones that come with features that do require a connection, such as live streaming video or downloading updated maps. For those drones, you will need to be connected to a Wi-Fi network.

For example, the DJI Phantom 4 requires wifi or internet in order to connect to the DJI GO app. The DJI GO app is what you use to control the drone and it also provides you with a live video feed from the drone's camera. Without wifi or internet, you would not be able to fly the Phantom 4. 

How does a drone operate without Wi-Fi?

The drone only needs its controller to fly and can operate well without wi-fi as long as you have pre-downloaded the flying app and the map. However, it can still fly using radio waves to communicate with the controller even without a flight app.

An invisible electromagnetic waveform, radio waves, enables wireless communication between the drone and its controller by sending messages to the transmitter and the receiver. Each device has a unique identification code so that someone else with a remote controller will not interfere with your drone when you are flying it. 

Flying the drone manually is only possible when it can be seen clearly. If it’s a bit far, you will need help determining its location. Most are equipped with a GPS, which will perform such functions. The GPS signal will also aid in:

  • Preventing you from unintentionally flying higher than the recommended altitude.
  • Better navigation between different waypoints.
  • Making it easier to have a steady flight.
  • Finding the drone in case it accidentally crashes.
  • Creating a flight log that you can use for record-keeping.
  • Recording the exact location where you took a photo.
  • Letting the drone hover in a specific spot when you need it to.

Some manufacturers have installed GPS on both the drone and its controller. Nonetheless, if your controller isn’t equipped with GPS, you can use your mobile phone’s GPS signal. Put the phone in a no disturbance mode to avoid texts and calls for better concentration. Luckily, the phone's GPS doesn't rely on cell service or wi-fi to function.

Once the drone receives the signal, it can operate functions such as ‘follow me’ and dynamic home point. The ‘follow me’ mode is useful when you want the drone to tag behind, especially when on a bike or skating.  

By updating the UAS’ home point location, the drone will fly back to you, even if it loses connection with its remote control. This might be among the most crucial GPS abilities because no one wants to lose their drone. 

Another crucial capability is geofencing, which ensures you don’t fly the drone into restricted or unsafe areas. 

How Does A Drone Work With Wi-fi?

As much as you don’t need Wi-fi to control a drone, some of its functions require an internet connection. The type of Wi-fi is determined by the data transfer speed and the distance at which the signal can communicate.

A drone works with WiFi by connecting to a remote server. The server then processes the data and sends it back to the control device. This is how you are able to see a live video feed from your drone’s camera while you are flying it. 

Types of wifi offered in drone technology

There are two main types of Wi-Fi used in drone technology; 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Both are ideal depending on what you want, e.g. whether you want the drone to fly for a longer distance to shoot clearer videos. 

2.4 GHz

The 2.4 GHz signal travels further and is ideal for sending your drone long distances. The DJI drone is automatically set to this signal, as it is the most stable. However, most wireless technologies such as baby monitors and old garage doors use the 2.4 GHz signal making it crowded.

When using this frequency, you are more likely to get interference, and your connection might not be very stable. Moreover, the quality of the image on the controller’s screen will not be very clear.

5.0 GHz

The 5.0 GHz signal is faster than the 2.4 GHz. This makes the data transferred between the drone and the controller to be at high speed, hence making the image on the screen more ‘real-time.’ It also does not get much interference, thus having a more stable connection.

The disadvantage is that the frequency has a lesser ability to get through solid objects such as walls. However, if your country's laws do not allow flying out of your line of sight, then this is nothing to worry about. 

If range issues are on this signal, solve them using range extenders.

How to connect a drone to Wi-Fi?

Connecting your smart device to the drone using wi-fi is easy and only takes the following steps:

  1. Power on the drone
  2. Ensure your drone’s wi-fi is enabled.
  3. In your smart device’s available networks, find your drone’s name.
  4. Select the drone and choose to connect.
  5. Open your drone’s app. When you enter ‘fly’ mode, a video stream from your drone through wi-fi will be enabled. 
  6. Operate any other function on your drone’s mobile app to ensure the drone has been properly connected.

When Does A Drone Require Internet?

To fully enjoy all the drone’s features you will need Wi-Fi or any internet connection. This is because some optimal functions require regular updates while others are designed to operate with an internet connection.  

Here are cases when you really need your drone to operate on a Wi-Fi or mobile connection: 

Update Firmware

All the essential features and components on your drone run on software. When the manufacturers release the upgrades and improvements, it is important to update the firmware to the latest versions. 

This will get you the latest updates and fix bugs on the drone and its remote control. As new advancements are discovered, having the latest updates means getting the best flying experience.

Keeping the firmware up to date also ensures your drone's safety. Regular security updates will help stop hackers from taking control of your drone or installing malware on it.

Updating Maps

Even though the GPS helps fly the drone smoothly without Wi-Fi, you still need to update the map regularly. An up-to-date map will help to know any new changes, such as new no-fly zones, hence keeping you on the safe side of the law.

Updated maps also aid in the self-navigation and automation of commercial drones to return safely. 

Getting the latest version of the app

Controlling the drone with your phone screen is very convenient and inexpensive because all you will need is the app. The drone manufacturers constantly update it with new and exciting features, like the smart capture options. 

Apart from adding exciting releases, the apps get new updates with improved security and are rid of bugs that users have reported. You will need a Wi-Fi or internet connection to ensure the apps are always up to date to enjoy the new changes.

Getting accurate location information

A Wi-Fi signal will help give the drone a more accurate location of where you are. Only costly GPS features can provide the precise location as accurately as Wi-Fi, so an internet connection will come in handy for a consumer-level drone.

With Wi-Fi, you can set a new home point while flying so that the drone won’t have to go back to where it was launched. This means that all the drone needs is your phone’s wi-fi to get your exact location and come back.

Streaming live videos

Nowadays, most people want to capture events such as cycling or skating competitions live for their followers to watch. Shooting a video with your drone and streaming it live on a third-party site like Facebook require Wi-Fi. 

Ensure to have a strong internet connection and lots of available data as it will consume a lot and fast. A 5.0 GHz frequency will be ideal for getting a better connection without losing the signal. 

Conclusion

You can control your drone with or without a Wi-Fi connection. However, for optimal use of all the features, you will need an internet connection every now and then.

author-paul-posea-picture
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.
paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.

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