While it may be tempting to find a tracking device that works without a subscription, it is best to know what to expect from it. Here are the strengths and weaknesses of each type of existing product.
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Nobody likes to pay a subscription, nobody. That drives many people, perhaps you who read these lines, to look for a GPS tracker without a subscription. Often this promise comes with long battery life or adds to the appeal of a mini GPS tracker. But beware, even the world's best subscription-free GPS tracker will have real shortcomings when it comes to tracking a dog or cat (or any other living thing), for several reasons depending on the technology used.
So, what about GPS collars for cats and dogs without a subscription? We present you with the different options available and their drawbacks.
Sigfox and Lora are two new networks that have emerged to accompany the development of connected objects. The principle is as follows: use open frequencies (to which everyone can connect) whose bandwidth consumes much less battery and data than a traditional telephone network.
As these frequencies are open, they do not cost any money to operate for the network providers (Sigfox and Lora), apart from the equipment itself (installation of antennas to cover a national territory). The rates offered to manufacturers are therefore extremely interesting. That is what allows manufacturers to provide GPS trackers without subscription or with subscription included during the first years of use (this is the case, for example, of the French company Invoxia).
Furthermore, the low battery consumption helps to limit the size of the battery, and therefore of the subscription-free tracker it provides. That is how we get attractive offers of miniature GPS tracker without a subscription. Attractive but...
It is essential to take into account that a lost cat or dog may continue to move around while we are looking for it. It is, therefore, necessary to have real-time GPS tracking. However, Sigfox and Lora networks do not meet this requirement.
As we have seen, the frequencies used are public. That results in a limited number of geographical positions reported every hour (everyone can connect, which clogs up the network and saturates it, so there is a limited number of messages determined for each connected device).
Moreover, this saturation leads to delays in the processing of messages sent by the tracker. Therefore, each position displays with a minimum delay of 1 to 2 minutes.
Let's take the case of a GPS collar for cats and dogs without a subscription that we have been able to test (and whose brand we will keep silent). If you lose your pet, it will take 3 minutes for the tracker to send a position, then at least another minute to finally see it displayed on your phone screen (this minute can regularly reach 15 minutes). The question then arises as to how far a disoriented animal can travel in 4 minutes... Finding it again will be difficult, not to say impossible, even in the case of a chipped or tattooed animal.
Finally, it is essential to specify that the time taken to transmit GPS positions can lead to the loss of messages if the pet moves. It is, therefore, possible that you may no longer be able to track your pet for several minutes or even hours. That is not really what we can call a reassuring product for the safety of your dog or cat. The problem is moreover the same for a kid (whether it is a GPS tracker or a kid's smart watch) or a relative who travels regularly; real-time should always be the norm for the geolocation of a living being.
We insist on the fact that we are talking about the GPS tracking of animals because the same technology can be totally unsuitable for one use and perfectly suited to another.
That is the case for Sigfox and Lora whose connectivity is ideal for a car or motorbike anti-theft device. In this particular situation, it is not dramatic to have a slight shift in the geolocation of the vehicle; the essential thing here is not to track the movements but rather to know the destinations of the car or motorbike (they will eventually stop moving).
If your vehicle gets stolen, you will then know where it is and be able to notify the police. The advantage of Sigfox and Lora will be to offer a tracker adapted to cars and motorbikes, so you won't have to take the bug out of your vehicle too often to recharge it. We consider this to be the best option for a GPS tracker for cars or motorbikes.
Users are not mistaken about this. Look at the two Invoxia products on Amazon (GPS Tracker for car, motorbike, bag & Pet Tracker, Activity tracking & GPS for animals). The two products receive opposed scores for the same technology and the same manufacturer. Only the use is different.
As with GPS trackers for car and motorcycle, it is not dramatic to have slight geolocation delays when trying to track a bike. In the case, the bike gets stolen, it will stop moving thus will allow you to get its position.
Also, a new generation of smart bikes is now sold with a range of features such as bike alarms, locks and trackers. This is, for example, the case of the Cowboy bike that includes a GPS tracker. For this new generation of bicycles, the anti-theft device integrated to the hardware is usually sufficient.
In the case of a bike that doesn't have tracking features integrated, Sigfox and Lora connectivity is more than enough to prevent the theft of your bike.
Anti-loss keychains are the smallest trackers on the market, with the most autonomy. That is a promising start. They come with Bluetooth GPS technology. But then, how does Bluetooth work?
The Bluetooth GPS receiver doesn't come with other technology. No GPS antenna, nor GPS module, nor sim card, nor even wifi. To locate itself it will communicate with your phone, if its Bluetooth is on, and retrieve its GPS position if its GPS is on.
That works because the maximum range of such a tracker is 50 meters (in an open environment, free of any wall or obstacle), which allows it to get the position of your phone which is inevitably next to him.
There is, therefore, a situation of dependency of the Bluetooth keychain with another device: if no phone communicates with it, it will be unable to obtain a location.
Many manufacturers have released Bluetooth GPS trackers in recent years, among which we can cite the American brands: Tile or Trackr, and the French brand: Wistiki.
The main issue with this kind of product is the dependence we have just mentioned to other devices: it is not a stand-alone GPS tracker. Outside of the range of your phone, it will be unable to geolocate your cat or dog, which is the very situation in which you will need it the most.
Manufacturers of Bluetooth keychains have therefore introduced the so-called "crowd GPS" or "community GPS" to address this concern. The idea is to rely on all the people who have the same Bluetooth GPS receiver as you (which raises the question of how big is the community). Thus, if one of these people walks by your cat or dog (equipped with a Bluetooth chip) and if the person has the GPS and Bluetooth of its phone switched on, only then the position of your pet will be updated using the geolocation of this same person's phone. In other words, too many conditions for such a connected keychain to work.
Besides, knowing that more and more people are turning off their phone's GPS and/or Bluetooth to preserve its battery, this reduces further your chances of finding your missing pet. The hope is even thinner if you take into account the total absence of real-time tracking of this type of product (because once the community member is gone, you will have to wait for another member to pass by to get a new location).
Taking into account the use-case a person has for its connected keychain, it is possible to change opinion on this kind of trackers without a subscription. Thus our opinion on Wistiki or Trackr will differ if you use the tracker for your pet or your keys.
It will not be safe for your cat or dog. On the other hand, it can be useful if you're forgetful and often forget where you've stored your keys or wallet. You will be able to ring the bell for the lost object in question and will quickly find it if it is at a reasonable distance (in theory 50 meters but beyond 25 meters this will rarely work).
It is even possible to find your phone that has fallen behind the sofa by using the object locator itself (it has a button that will make your phone ring).
In short, connected keychains are more comfort products (or even gadgets) than safety products.
It's hard to go into detail about each type of GPS tracker without a subscription without boring you or being long. But we wanted to mention two other options: radio GPS for cats or dogs and GPS trackers without sim cards.
Radiofrequency GPS work similarly to tracking collars used for hunting. A receiver and a transmitter both communicate by radio frequency, over a maximum range of about one kilometre.
That presents a similar issue to connected keychains, i.e. the distance limit. Beyond a certain distance, you will no longer be able to locate your pet. GPS tracking works in real-time, but you will not be able to use your mobile phone to track your dog or cat, only the radio receiver will do. At the same time, this limits the number of potential users on the same account to one person.
We do not recommend this type of real-time GPS tracker without a subscription; except perhaps for specific cases such as use in dense forests where the telephone network is almost non-existent.
At last, GPS trackers without a sim card are another type of subscription-free trackers. It works just like devices with subscription except that the manufacturer doesn't provide the sim card. That is a positive aspect since you have the freedom to choose the sim card and operator yourself.
However, this sim card will only benefit from a single network (unlike integrated sim cards which usually cover several countries and several operators in the same territory). So be careful in less-covered areas where the network connection of your GPS tracker will suffer from this limited number of operators.
The manufacturers of these low-cost trackers are mostly Chinese. There is no service attached to the product, which means that you will have no mobile application (GPS tracking only works through SMS request, for example) and no after-sales service. Also, note that the accessories are not very pet-friendly.
In short, this is a back-up option for the geolocation of a car or motorbike. But even in this case, prefer a Sigfox or Lora tracker, which has better battery life.
Choosing the right GPS collar for your dog or cat is indeed complicated. After all, before comparing the various products available, you first need to have an idea of which technology to choose. We have tried to explain here why GPS trackers without a subscription are not an option to consider, but then why GPS collars with a subscription would be a better option? Here are some of the advantages of this type of product.
The characteristic of this type of GPS chips is that they include a sim card, integrated into the product and sold with it. This sim card requires the manufacturer to enable a telephone line for each device sold. That explains why a subscription is required to access the service.
This sim card is almost always multi-operator and multi-country. Within the same country, it will be able to connect to the various national operators (limiting the risk of an area not being covered), and it will also allow you to bring your tracker abroad.
Note that the multi-country option may be essential if you live close to a border and the network alternates between your country and the neighbour country.
The sim card allows the tracker to remain connected to the manufacturer's server at all times. In other words, it will be able to send its GPS position continuously and thus guarantee real-time tracking of your pet, while being very easy to use.
You can thus get a position every 10 seconds; a real benefit when your dog or cat has disappeared. These regularly updated locations allow you to track your pet's movements directly from your phone, in real-time, without waiting endless minutes between each position update.
That is, according to us, the essential point to consider during your decision at the time of your purchase. A living being is continuously on the move, even more so if the dog or cat is lost or frightened; to be able to find it quickly, you need to have continuously updated information at your disposal.
A GPS tracker with a SIM card has the advantage of being fully independent: it will be able to communicate its position wherever it is, provided there is a GSM network.
For the same reasons, it will work without any distance limit. That means that your dog or cat can be kilometres away from you without affecting your ability to follow its movements.
Most GPS trackers with a subscription for cats and dogs even work in about a hundred countries at no extra cost.
Finally note that GPS trackers with subscription benefit from the strength of the 2G network: can send unlimited data and make phone calls. In addition to real-time tracking, this makes it possible to offer advanced features such as sound alarm or vibrations, which will prove useful for the education of your dog or cat, for example.
Thus, it is essential to ask what could be the reason behind getting a cat or dog GPS tracker? The answer is, of course, the safety of your pet. It is, therefore, recommended to select the GPS collar that meets best this issue.
In our opinion, no doubt that agreeing to pay a subscription fee for its geolocation system offers the best possible quality of service. What are a few euros saved compared to the relationship you have with your dog or cat?