Skip to Content

Can You Fly a Drone Without Wi-Fi or Cell Service? (Explained)

Our world is surrounded by technology. This has made it possible for billions of people to access the internet. All kinds of activities now require an internet connection. So it’s natural for drone owners to wonder if drones can fly without Wi-Fi or cell service.

A drone can fly without WiFi or cell service. Access to the internet is only required when downloading a program for your drone or doing a system update. Once the download is complete, the internet is no longer needed. However, some drone features are enhanced with WiFi or cell service.  

Before we continue, it’s good to understand that drones are not all standard, with different models having different requirements. They differ in connectivity and technology. Setting up a drone is technical and might be a challenge for a new drone owner. 

One source of confusion here is that the drone and the controller often connect with each other using a WiFi signal from the drone. That’s not to say that you need an external internet connection for your drone, rather the drone emits a WiFi signal to connect with the controller.

This article will help you understand if you can fly your drone without Wi-Fi or cell service.

Can the Mavic Mini fly without an internet connection?

You don’t need an internet connection to fly a Mavic Mini since you use its remote controller to control the drone. In fact, it is recommended that you turn the data connection off as you fly the drone. 

The only time when you will need to use an internet connection is when you want to activate your Mavic Mini drone or perform firmware updates.

Could you be wondering how you will access the map without the connection? Fortunately, the drone will still retain the cached map at the bottom part of the screen. This is good news because you can still conveniently return your drone to where you are. 

Can I fly a Mavic Pro without internet?

Yes, you can fly your Mavic Pro drone without internet. However, ensure that you have preloaded the map before launching your drone. You will need it in the absence of an active internet connection. 

Just like the Mini, the Mavic Pro has a standard controller that you use to pilot your drone, and it does not rely on an internet or WiFi connection. However, if the unit requires an update, the internet will be required.

Do drones need Wi-Fi to fly?

Drones do not require Wi-Fi to fly, including even the ones from the best drone manufacturers. Nevertheless, Wi-Fi will be needed for additional features or when downloading flight applications. Most of them require an application to fly, and that’s the only time when the need for Wi-Fi comes in.

If you haven’t downloaded the flight app, or don’t have a smartphone handy, you can still fly the drone using the controller, simply relying on radio waves. 

However, if you want your drone to give you the best experience, you will require Wi-Fi since some activities can only be carried out when an internet connection is available. A good example is when you need to live stream a video or update the map.

Flying a drone using a phone without internet

You can use a phone to fly your drone even if it is not connected to the internet. To avoid distractions from messages and phone calls, it’s recommended to put your phone in no disturbance mode. If the phone has a GPS signal, many of the drone’s features will rely on the phone’s GPS. The good news here is that the phone’s GPS doesn’t rely on an internet connection or on cell service. 

Can you fly a drone without cell service?

Yes, you can fly your drone without cell service. Experienced drone pilots advise that you put your cell phone on airplane or flight mode. The only circumstance in which you would need cell service is if you need to download an app or do a firmware update AND you don’t have a wifi signal. Then you would use the data provided by your cell carrier to do the downloads. 

If you have access to a WiFi internet connection, you don’t need to have cell service at all on your phone. This is also why it works to fly a drone with an iPad or tablet that doesn’t have a cellular plan. 

To learn more about how to fly a drone with an iPad, read this article » 

The other reason why cell service is not required when flying is that your phone can access the GPS without it. But to be on the safe side, you will need to cache maps in the background. Remember to confirm if the home point has been recorded properly before launching your drone. This will help you locate your drone easily in case you lose sight of it.

Why use Wi-Fi or cell service when operating a drone?

Most drones require Wi-Fi or cell service to perform certain functions. You also stand to enjoy a more exciting drone flying experience. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that drones can’t work without cell service or Wi-Fi.

Drones come with a controller, which is sufficient to operate them. But the operation will only be on a basic level, meaning that you will miss out on some key features that help the drone to function optimally. 

Notably, you will not be able to stream live videos or upgrade maps if your drone has no Wi-Fi connection.  Also, you will not be able to upgrade maps or get an accurate location of your aircraft.

Let me help you understand the various ways through which Wi-Fi or cell service will help you fly your drone better and get the most out of it.

Wi-Fi or cell service enables you to establish the location of your drone accurately

If you have any experience at all with drones, I am sure you have at some point tried to run a program that requested that you enable WiFi. The reason for that request is that a WiFi signal helps these programs to be more accurate. 

This is true of location services on your drone. While these primarily rely on the GPS of the drone or the phone, the WiFi or cellular connection of your phone will allow the device to triangulate for a more precise location. 

WiFi helps to stream live drone videos

This is another critical reason why using cell service or having a WiFi signal on your phone while flying your drone is helpful. Live streaming doesn’t refer to the feed being transmitted between the controller and drone. Such a feed doesn’t use Wi-Fi or cell connection; instead, it uses radio waves.  

Live streaming is sending a video captured by the camera over the internet without first recording or storing it. In order to live stream your drone footage to other viewers, you must have an internet connection, either through WiFi or cellular data. 

However, to be able to live stream consistently and smoothly, you must ensure you have a large or unlimited data plan, otherwise, streaming video can eat through your data plan in no time at all.

Internet connection enables the ‘’Follow Me’’ GPS mode

If you want your drone to follow you while you bike or skateboard, Follow Me mode is the ticket. The thing to know though is that in order to use this GPS feature, you need to have an active internet connection or cellular data. 

If you’re lucky enough to have a DJI drone with ActiveTrack, however, you don’t need the data plan, since ActiveTrack uses visual sensors to follow you rather than relying on a GPS signal.

Read more about ActiveTrack and Follow Me here » 

Drones require an internet connection to update maps

Internet connections make it possible for the drone to upgrade maps regardless of where you fly. If you have ever used Google maps, it’s the same idea. When the internet connection is available and strong, you will notice the map images being pulled from a server. 

After, that they will be displayed on your screen, and if you use the map frequently, they will be cached. You also have the chance to cache maps if you have the DJI GO app. You can even do this offline, but that depends on the program’s version.

But as I mentioned earlier, you will have to command the program to cache maps. If the location you are flying your drone to has no internet support, this is a good option to be able to view the maps.

How does a drone operate without Wi-Fi or cell service?

Drones operate by sending signals from the controller to the aircraft. The signals are wireless and are sent via radio waves, and this will be made possible by the drone and controller. The radio waves that send the signals must be in the same frequency as the drone and the transmitter.

Once the controller and the drone have linked together on the same radio wavelength, you can control the drone’s direction, altitude, and all the other functions that it performs.  

How much data is used when flying a drone?

There is no specific amount of data that a drone uses when in the skies. The data consumption depends on the number of activities requiring a data connection being performed by the drone. 

For instance, when doing a live stream, your device will use more data (quite a lot!) than when simply capturing photos or recording videos.

If you’re accessing maps or the drone is pinging the phone for a GPS location, this doesn’t use very much data at all.

However, if you want to reduce the data usage, you have the option of switching the phone to airplane mode before launching the drone.

Does geo-fencing require WiFi or cell service?

No. Since geofencing is a safety feature, it doesn’t require any internet connection. Your drone will still be able to avoid going to prohibited places whether there is WiFi or not.

Can a drone fail to pick up a WiFi signal?

Yes. Interference is the main reason that can prevent your drone from picking up a WiFi signal. This usually happens when flying drones in areas with many houses that have WiFi routers. Additionally, it will be hard to pick up a Wi-Fi signal if the antenna is not positioned correctly within the drone.