How to Choose The Right Dog GPS Tracker: Subscription-Based vs. Non-Subscription


Many dog parents are confused as to how they should choose between a dog GPS tracker without subscription or a dog GPS tracker that requires subscription. Something that should be so simple is confused by so many unprofessional websites and information. We try our best to answer your questions about subscription or no subscription trackers in this post.


1.What is the difference between a dog GPS tracker without subscription and a dog tracker that requires?

The latter relies on a cellular network, a SIM card, and a subscription/monthly fee to transmit the dog's location information from the tracking device to the user, while the former does not need any additional network or device support to send the location information, and thus does not incur any other fees.
You can refer to the following simple diagram to understand how they work differently.

2.The working principle diagram of dog GPS trackers without subscription and a dog tracker that requires(the essential difference)

First of all, the tracker contains a GPS chip, get its current GPS data(location coordinates) from the GPS satellites in the sky through the GPS system;

Secondly, the tracker needs to transmit the GPS data(location coordinates) back to the user. The specific methods are:

1) Dog GPS tracker required a subscription:

i. The tracker uses its built-in 4G module to transmit the GPS data through the cellular network to the nearest base station;
ii. The base station then sends the data to the operator's data center through the their network;
iii. The data is then transferred to the vender's data server(e.g. tractive);
iv. User downloads the data to cell phone via a 4G/Wifi network and displays it via an APP.

2) Dog GPS tracker without subscription:

The tracker communicates directly with the your handheld device (e.g. Aorkuler controller) through proprietary wireless technology and shows the location information.
difference between subscription-based and non-subscription-based trackers

From the figure, without a cellular network, the GPS data cannot be transmitted back to the user in real time for a subscribed tracker . (See step 2 to 4 in the picture on the left above)

Moreover, subscription-based trackers have many data transmission steps, which increases the risk of privacy leakage and reduces the experience of LIVE tracking.

3.Is there a dog GPS tracker that can perfectly solve all these problems?

Unfortunately, no.
Subscription-based trackers, which are inexpensive to build, cannot work in places with poor cell phone reception. At the same time, they require users to keep paying the monthly fee; otherwise, they become useless;

GPS tracker without subscription can work in places with poor cell phone reception and do not require monthly fees, but they are more costly and do not perform as well as subscription-based trackers in dense urban areas with good cellular coverage;

The combination of both systems leads to a significant increase in energy consumption, size, and cost of the tracker. It is not suitable for daily use except for large hunting dogs and similar cases.

4.What are some brands of dog GPS tracker without subscription and the tracker with subscription?

Subscription: Tractive, Fi, Whistle, Fitbark, etc.
No subscription: Garmin, Aorkuler, Dogtra, Findster, Petfon etc.

5.Is the dog GPS tracker with subscription tracking really unlimited?

Often  the introduction pages of a dog GPS tracker with subscription will give you a satisfying Yes, and search engines will tell you so without hesitation. But in reality, it's a misleading answer.

Unlimited range?

The dog GPS trackers with subscription depend on cellular coverage to function, so the real question should be: is cellular coverage unlimited, seamless, and stable enough?
Obviously, we can all answer NO, especially dog parents who live in suburban and rural areas or who like to take their dogs out on hiking adventures.

In addition, due to the size of the tracker and other limitations, its antenna sensitivity is significantly weaker than that of a cell phone. This is one of the reasons why many dog parents have found that the cell phone has enough signal to make a normal call, but the subscription tracker does not work properly.

If a seller of subscription-based tracker only emphasizes unlimited range or distance and does not talk about cellular coverage, then from a certain point of view, it is a shameful act of concealing the facts and evading responsibility. The pre-sale is only for the money (hardware profit and subscription commission), and the after-sales transfer the user's dissatisfaction to the cellular operator.


6. Does cellular coverage map guarantee that I can use a dog GPS tracker with subscription?

Most sellers of dog GPS tracker with subscription will only emphasize unlimited range, Tractive will provide a cellular coverage map on its website or promotional page. But this may not solve the problem. Here are the reasons:

Firstly, the data for the coverage map is supposed to come from the FCC, which believes that the carrier's coverage data does not accurately represent the actual situation. For more information, check out SIM-based GPS Trackers: A Risky Choice for Rural and Suburban Dog Owners

We can't confirm carrier coverage accurately, but we can get a rough idea from some public data:
-Austria covers 84,000 square kilometers and has the number of mobile base stations/towers is 41,600(*data source 1);
-*Data source 2 is showing Drei's CEO Jan Trionow telling RCR Wireless News that the carrier has nearly 6,000 base stations across the country in October 2019, in Vienna, Austria. Based on Drei's market share of about 26%, the total number of base stations in Austria should be greater than 23,000.

Combining these two sets of data, Austria has an average of 0.3 to 0.5 base stations per square kilometer, while the United States, with 9.2 million square kilometers, has 410,000 base stations, an average of 0.04 base stations per square kilometer.

The United States is more than 110 times larger than Austria, but the number of base stations is only 10 to 17 times that of Austria. So the Austrian network coverage situation may NOT be directly applicable to the US.

Secondly, cell service coverage is actually resilient. The propagation distance of almost all radio technologies is affected by the space and the amount of load. Just as light is blocked by a heavy, opaque substance, the flow slows down by the widening of a river channel. The coverage of cell tower can be diminished by tall, heavy buildings, or by the increasing number of users serving at the same time.

Therefore, it can be confusing to settle an coverage map based on a purely theoretical calculation method in a hypothetical ideal environment.


7. What kind of positioning is more accurate?

First of all, the accuracy of positioning depends on the quality of the GPS signal.

Assuming that each manufacturer strictly controls the GPS hardware, antenna and GPS algorithm, the accuracy of GPS positioning in the same environment is similar. For example, it will be very good in outdoor open areas, but it will be seriously affected in dense urban areas, dense woods or indoors. Especially indoors, the GPS signal is more unstable and can drift easily.

This is also the reason why many dog parents find that 'the dog actually did not move, but the app's electronic fence repeatedly indicates that the dog ran away for a while and then came back'.

Secondly, in areas with good cellular coverage, cellular base stations can provide assisted positioning to correct or slightly improve the accuracy of the location. This is indeed one point where the dog GPS trackers with subscription have a slight advantage over non-subscription-based trackers in terms of location accuracy. However, the important premise to keep in mind is that this is only effective in areas with good cellular network coverage.

8. How should I do when making a purchase? 

1) Do you have a well-covered cellular network? and how do I know if my cell signal is good enough for a subscription-based tracker?

The easiest way to confirm this is not by filling in your zip code through the coverage map website (which is likely to mislead you), but by taking out your cell phone and observing how many bars the signal has or recalling how it works when you normally use your phone.

If the cell phone signal in your area is very poor or unstable, we do not recommend that you go for a subscription-based tracker. On one hand, your subscription tracker may not work; on the other hand, even if it barely works, the subscription tracker will frequently activate 4G to try to stay connected to the base station due to poor cellular signal, which is one of the most power-hungry situations in cellular technology.

2) Where is the primary location of use?

-If your dog usually stays at home and your home has good Wifi coverage, then most of the time your tracker will maintain a wifi connection; and if there is a relatively reliable cellular signal around your property, then you may want to consider a dog GPS tracker that requires subscription. It is usually very power efficient and can track your dog relatively quickly in case of an occasional escape.

-If you live in a dense city with good cellular coverage, but GPS is sometimes less reliable, it is also worth choosing a subscription tracker, because the better cellular coverage combined with the assisted positioning of the base station makes for a relatively good tracking and security experience.

-If you have a poor signal at your place, a subscription tracker is not a good choice for you. A GPS tracker without subscription is your best choice.

-If you usually have a good signal at home, but like to take your dog out for hikes or even adventures on the weekends where there is no good cellular signal, then you may also want to consider a non-subscription tracker for use during your excursions. It is like commuting to work in a Camry on weekdays and going out on the weekends in a Ford pickup or SUV.

-One last thing to keep in mind is that if you need to use it in dense woods, inside large buildings, then all GPS trackers may be affected. This is due to GPS characteristics.

3) Dog size

Rule out oversized devices based on the size and weight labeled on each tracker. Trackers from brands such as Garmin and Dogtra, for example, are large in size and weight and are not suitable for common small to medium sized companion dogs.

4) Budget

It is important to note that subscription trackers usually require a one-time subscription fee of at least 1 year in addition to the purchase price of the hardware, and you will not be able to use the hardware when the subscription fee stops.

This is not the case with GPS tracker without subscription. Subscription trackers usually cost in the tens of dollars, and subscription fees are usually $100 or more; the most expensive of the GPS trackers without subscription is Garmin, which is usually around $600 for the smallest kit, and is also relatively large, making it better suited for larger dogs such as hounds.

5) Some must-have features depending on your use case

For example, if your dog runs into mud or a ditch from time to time, a good waterproof tracker is a must; If you mainly want to use an e-fence(virtual fence) at home, and the GPS signal in your home is good (there will be no frequent wrong APP alerts due to GPS drift), then the function with flexible and accurate electronic fence is a must-have.





Other questions to be answered soon

Which one has a longer battery life?how to maximize battery life?
is there enough distance without subscription?
why are there more subscription-based ones?
advantages/disadvantages of using a dog GPS tracker without subscription
advantages/disadvantages of using a dog GPS tracker with subscription
Which has more features? The more features the better?

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