In this day and age, everything is connected to the internet, and of course, drones are no exception. Modern consumer drones use Wi-Fi for a plethora of functions, but is Wi-Fi necessary for the basics?
No, drones from most mainstream manufacturers like DJI and Yuneec do not need Wi-Fi to pilot or record video. However, most drones require you to download an app before flying. After you download the app and the drone is activated, an internet connection is not required.
Since DJI drones are controlled using radio waves, the standard controller that comes with the drone is used to operate the aircraft. With that being said, other features like DJI FlightHub and live video streaming do require some form of internet/cellular connection.
You don’t need Wi-Fi to pilot a drone, but what are some features that do require Wi-Fi or a cellular connection? I mean, you already bought that brand new Mavic 2 Pro, you might as well use that baby to its full potential.
DJI GO 4 and DJI Pilot
DJI GO 4 is the app used to fly DJI’s consumer and prosumer drones.
DJI pilot is the app used to fly DJI’s enterprise drones.
You will need Wi-Fi to download either of these apps. It’s important to note that most mobile phones require you to connect to Wi-Fi because of the large size of DJI apps. Once downloaded, you need to activate your drone with the corresponding app, which also requires Wi-Fi or a cellular connection.
It’s also worth noting that if the DJI GO 4 or DJI Pilot apps update, they will require you to log-in before you can use them again, which can only be done with an internet connection. If you will be in a location where internet is spotty, be sure you turn off auto-updating on your phone to prevent any unpleasant surprises.
It is possible to use a third-party app with your DJI drone, such as Litchi. The moral of the story here is that you will need to use an app when flying your DJI drone. The good news is that these apps run on most devices on the market and are available on IOS and Android. If you don’t own a smartphone or can’t download these apps, I included a small section about smartphone optional drones at the end of this article.
Do You Need Internet for GPS to Work?
By far, one of the biggest advancements in drone technology is GPS. Modern drones sport many different GPS functions that make flying a drone safer and more convenient. The great news here is that you don’t need Wi-Fi for GPS to work.
So what’s the catch, you ask? Well, you don’t need Wi-Fi, but you do need a GPS signal. Some drones have GPS receivers in both the drone and the controller, while some only have one in the drone itself.
In the case where there’s only a receiver in the drone, your phone will be used to collect GPS signal when needed for functions like Follow Me, and Dynamic Home Point.
DJI specifically uses GPS for many pivotal features. Geofencing, for example, is used to block drones from flying in unsafe or illegal areas. Geofences are virtual borders that block drones from flying through them. Now, this may seem like a negative, but geofences are put in place to help the consumer avoid flying into no-fly zones and running into legal issues.
Geofencing is like a child lock, but much more advanced and much less condescending.
Even then, geofencing is just the tip of the iceberg. GPS can be used to record the exact location that a still image was captured. Arguably the most important use of GPS is to update the home point location for your drone to return to if the connection between the RC and drone is lost.
Losing your drone can be a nightmare, but with GPS, some drones can regularly report their location in case of a crash. DJI drones can also use GPS for “Follow Me” mode, which, as the name implies, makes the drone follow you. Shocking. Click here to read an article on Let Us Drone about DJI's Find My Drone feature, and click here to learn about Follow Me.
For other manufacturers, GPS functionality varies. Most newer Yuneec drones like the Breeze4k include basic GPS features like geofencing and follow me mode as well as the option to orbit an object or person.
For more information on what your drone can do with GPS, check out its respective features and specs on the manufacturer’s website. For more information on how GPS works with DJI drones, check out this article here on Let Us Drone.
With a DJI drone, the best way to live stream is by using SkyTalk with the DJI Smart Controller. With this, you can stream HD audio and video directly to Facebook, Youtube, etc. You can also directly upload short clips and pictures as well.
Chances are though that you don’t have a DJI Smart Controller, as its only compatible with a select few drones. Fear not, there are more cost-effective options than shelling out the cash for a brand new Mavic 2.
The DJI GO 4 app supports live streaming. It requires some setup and the quality is shaky at best, but if you’re interested, you can check out a quick setup guide from DJI here.
As for other manufacturers, there isn’t as much support as there is for DJI, but many of the other big drone companies have solutions. Drones like the Breeze4k have built-in live streaming, but as is the case with DJI GO 4, the quality is inconsistent.
DJI FlightHub is DJI’s solution to managing drone operations on a larger scale. Think of it as a way to remotely access all of your active drones at a glance. If you’re just a casual drone fan, this isn't absolutely necessary, but FlightHub will make managing multiple drone operations a breeze.
You will need an internet connection to sync and access flight information on DJI's FlightHub.
There are three different versions (Basic, Advanced, and Enterprise), so it is possible to find a price that works for you.
Basic is the most barebones edition with a maximum drone capacity of only 5 and the absence of critical features like live view and device maintenance.
Advanced doubles the drone count to 10 and adds live view. Enterprise removes the drone limit and adds six new features, among those, are firmware management, mission planning, and private cloud access.
If you’re looking to purchase FlightHub, I would go for Enterprise, as it’s easily the most bang for your buck. Again, the pricing is very flexible so I would evaluate your current situation and go from there.
Recording Video and Taking Pictures
It’s common knowledge, drone shots are awesome, but does the quality go down when not connected to Wi-Fi? Thankfully, no.
All captured footage is stored locally on a drone’s SD card and not on an online cloud, so the quality will remain the same regardless of whether or not you have internet.
If your drone isn’t recording any new footage, its SD card may be corrupted or out of storage. Check out this article about how to format the SD card.
Note that quality is dependent on the camera you have on your drone, and you should report any drop in quality to your drone’s manufacturer.
Can you fly a drone without a smartphone? Yes, there are many different options to choose from, and while these drones may have a little less functionality than their smartphone contemporaries, there are still quality options available.
The brand that I recommend to help you along in your search is HolyStone. They make cheap recreational drones that have optional smartphone compatibility. Also, I commend you for being able to survive without a smartphone in 2019; you are a brave soul.
How much data does a drone typically use? The answer to this is that it depends on what you are doing. I would say that if you want to cut down on data usage, turn on airplane mode when you fly your drone. For live streaming, I would look at the data usage for your respective live streaming platform and method. Again, finding exact numbers for this is difficult, but I encourage you to do a little research to see if you can find a solution that fits into your current mobile plan.