Does an AirTag use cellular service?


Quick Answer: No, AirTags do not use cellular service. Instead, they use a combination of Bluetooth, ultra-wideband technology, and NFC.

Whether the AirTags use traditional technologies (GPS, cellular service, WiFi) for tracking or a uniquely Apple technology is a question that pops up from time to time.

Many believe that it is a combination of GPS and cellular service. Interestingly, AirTags relies neither on cellular connectivity nor GPS.

Rather, they depend on Bluetooth, ultra-wideband technology, and near-field communication (NFC) to interact with devices that are close by. Doing so eliminates the need to rely on internet connectivity at all. 

an apple airtag on a keychain
Image: Unsplash

As mentioned above, the Apple AirTag relies on Bluetooth technology. It transmits a secure Bluetooth signal received by Apple devices that are part of the Find My network.

According to the official statement, the Find My network constitutes billions of Apple devices. 

These devices work together to locate the AirTag, which updates the Find My app with the latest tracking information. 

AirTags also use ultra-wideband technology, which sets it apart from its competitors, especially at the $99 price point.

What is ultra-wideband technology?

Ultra-wideband technology (UWB) has been around for a while. Still, it was not until its incorporation in Apple AirTags did it become a subject of discussion in mainstream tech circles. 

UWB differs from Bluetooth and Wi-Fi because it doesn’t rely on the 2.4 GHz frequencies. There are fewer chances of inference, plus an added advantage of bandwidth and fast data transfer.

It transmits signals containing your precise location every nanosecond making it the ideal technology for a tracking device that demands frequent updates on real-time data.

How does ultra-wideband technology work in AirTag?

Ultra-wideband technology facilitates Precision Finding with AirTags. This feature allows accurate tracking up to inches from as far as 15 ft away.

iPhone screen showing airtag locations placing on the background

Image: KnowTechie

The AirTags use the U1 chip inserted within its steel frame to employ Precision Finding. This technology may, however, be hindered in some countries due to international protocols.

Apple has always been innovative with its products. It has opted for cost-effective yet powerful technologies instead of increasing its reliance on resource-hunger solutions like GPS and cellular data. 

The absence of a built-in GPS allows the AirTag battery to last for longer periods of time.

In contrast, Bluetooth, UWB, and NFC allow AirTags to communicate with compatible devices without needing cellular service.

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