Watch out for data charges on your GPS phone

Thanks to the an almost undocumented feature on the Nokia 6110 Navigator, we unwittingly racked up over AU$50 in data charges the first month we used it. Read on to find out how to avoid our fate.

Derek Fung
Derek loves nothing more than punching a remote location into a GPS, queuing up some music and heading out on a long drive, so it's a good thing he's in charge of CNET Australia's Car Tech channel.
Derek Fung
5 min read

Thanks to the an almost undocumented feature on the Nokia 6110 Navigator, we unwittingly racked up over AU$50 in data charges the first month we used it. Read on to find out how to avoid our fate.

Pay attention when first using the 6110's GPS feature, otherwise you might a rude shock with your next phone bill

We got a rather rude shock when we checked our phone bill last month: almost AU$50 in unexpected Internet data charges. We didn't once surf the Web when reviewing the Nokia 6110 Navigator, so we were surprised and had to dig a little deeper to discover the root cause of our Internet expenditure.

The big attraction of the 6110 is that it is one of the first phones to double as a GPS navigation device. GPS devices normally don't cost you anything to use, but the 6110 has a little feature called 'assisted GPS' which can cost you -- if you pardon the pun -- a packet.

What is GPS? And what is assisted GPS?
In a nutshell, GPS determines your location by communicating with three or more satellites in orbit around the Earth. Because these GPS satellites are in a fixed orbit around the little blue globe we call home, your GPS receiver can triangulate your location based on the time it takes for signals to get to and from the satellites. The more precise your receiver's clock and the more satellites it can communicate with, the more accurate your location will be. Receivers in typical consumer GPS devices, like the 6110 or your run-of-the-mill TomTom, Navman or Mio, are accurate to within a few metres.

Everyday GPSes work fine in relatively clear areas, like the bush or the suburbs, but they are easily confused in city centres where signals bounce off the tall concrete and glass buildings. And forget about using them inside any building.

This is where assisted GPS is designed to help out. If your GPS device has assisted GPS, it can send the little bits of GPS signal that it receives to an assistance server on the Internet. The server is thousands, if not millions, of times more powerful than your GPS and, in theory, can paste together your little bits of GPS data to figure out your location. Naturally, to communicate with the assistance server, your portable GPS device will need access to the Internet. In the case of the 6110, Internet connectivity is via your mobile network, which is where the Internet data charges come in.

Avoid getting charged in the first place
We were understandably very keen to get cracking on our review of the 6110, so the first time we fired up the Navigator application -- it's activated by pressing the compass button below the five-way control pad -- and were presented with a few obligatory setup questions, we just blindly clicked Yes to everything. Don't do this. This is not some software licensing agreement where you just click Yes and go on your merry way without reading the fine print.

One of those Navigator start-up questions was "Access point is required for secure position. Define now?" By selecting Yes instead of No, we set ourselves up for the data charges that shocked us come invoice time.

If you select Yes, you'll be presented with a list of methods for accessing the Internet. At this point you can still avoid using assisted GPS, and the associated charges, by pressing Cancel.

But I've used the Navigator already...
Don't fret, you can still disable assisted GPS. You should also follow these steps if you aren't sure what you did when you first fired up the Navigator or want to make doubly sure that assisted GPS is turned off.

  • Exit the application you're currently in on your 6110.
  • Click the Menu button -- it's located underneath green accept call button.
  • Then click Settings, Phone Settings, General, Positioning and then Positioning Methods.
  • Uncheck the item Integrated GPS with Assist
  • Uncheck Network based

That's it. If you want to re-enable assisted GPS, make sure you re-check the items Integrated GPS with Assist and Network Based. Also make sure that under Positioning Server you've defined a method for accessing the Internet under Access Point.

But isn't assisted GPS meant to be better?
Devices with assisted GPS are supposed to provide more reliable positioning when you're driving around the city canyons. They're also meant to be able to calculate your position even when you're inside a building. Both of these situations usually have your run-of-the-mill portable GPS device flummoxed.

Try as we might, even with assisted GPS on, we've never been able to get a lock on our position when inside a building, be it an office block, apartment or free-standing house. Even if this feature worked as it's meant to, we're not sure when we'd ever need it except for showing off in front of friends.

When driving around Sydney's CBD, the 6110 suffered the same problem as all the other portable GPS devices we've tested, regardless of whether we had its assisted GPS off or on. We'd be driving along George Street, for example, and one moment the 6110 would be happily tracking our progress and the next it'd believe that we'd teleported ourselves onto a parallel street or up some dark, dingy alley.

So, we effectively spent upwards of AU$50 for nothing.

Editorial comment
We're fine with extra functionality. It's what gets us going in the morning and what, in the end, CNET reviewers are paid to test. What we don't like, though, is functionality that adds little benefit to a product. It riles us that this feature can end up costing users a fair wad of cash and they won't know it until they get their first bill. But what we find particularly irksome about the 6110's assisted GPS feature is that it's hidden. The only mention of it in the manual is this line on page 18:

"Your device supports assisted GPS (A-GPS) service which utilizes packet data connection, and your network operator may charge you for this according to your network subscription. Contact your service provider for the correct internet access point and charges related to the service."

There's no mention of how it gets activated, what it does or, importantly, how to turn it off.

Granted, as professional product reviewers we should have paid more attention when starting up the Navigator application for the first time. And the alarm bells should have been tolling at full blast when we were presented with the option of selecting an Internet access point.

Nonetheless, if we can be suckered into paying AU$50-plus in data charges, we're sure that more than a few 6110 Navigator owners have too. We'd love to hear about your experiences with the 6110's assisted GPS feature. Just leave your comments below.