Garmin GPS: When Do You Need a Subscription?

By Richard Asmus

GPS satellites cover the Earth with navigation signals.
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The 24 navigation satellites placed in orbit around the earth by the U.S. Department of Defense transmit signals that anyone can use free of charge. Garmin manufactures a wide range of GPS devices that use the signals to identify locations, and no subscriptions are required to use these devices. However, Garmin offers optional products that may have a subscription fee.

GPS Operation

Each of the DOD's GPS satellites transmits signals in a pattern that provides information from at least four of them to touch every point on Earth at all times. A Garmin GPS receiver needs to pick up signals from only three to calculate longitude and latitude information. Some Garmin GPS products only provide numerical information but other superimpose their position onto various maps. More elaborate Garmin GPS receivers have additional software to plan trips and track and record progress along the maps.

Garmin Map Updates

Garmin GPS units that have map presentations need periodic updates because the information changes. Also, specialized Garmin products include more detailed maps for recreational areas such as ski slopes and golf courses. Garmin offers updates for maps on a single-purchase basis or by yearly subscriptions to receive automatic updates when they become available. Some more advanced models may include lifetime map updates included in the purchase price, giving you the service without charging a monthly subscription fee.

Garmin Traffic

Garmin offers subscription services that provide up-to-the-minute information to avoid traffic jams, construction delays or accidents. If your Garmin GPS model has the capability, you can add HD Digital Traffic or Garmin Traffic services and pay a monthly subscription. When purchasing a new Garmin GPS, the more advanced models may include lifetime subscriptions to traffic services. With any GPS, you can subscribe to Garmin Live Traffic to receive traffic updates via your smartphone. These programs are optional and you don't need to subscribe to any of them to use your Garmin for navigation.

Safety Camera Services

The Cyclops safety camera system has traffic monitoring cameras mounted in an increasing number of locations around the world that provide real-time visual information about various traffic conditions. When you approach one of these, your GPS sounds an alert and gives you access to the video from the camera's lens. You may use this service with a one-year subscription, a one-time purchase or a limited-time free trial offer. Prices vary for the specific area and the number of areas to which you subscribe.