How To Use Location Services On Your Mac Without Wi-Fi

If you want to use Location Services on your Mac in the Maps app, web pages and elsewhere, you need to have Wi-Fi turned on. But if you use a wire connection, you may not want to have Wi-Fi enabled. You can, however, turn on Wi-Fi and tell your Mac not to connect to your home network. This leaves Wi-Fi on, but not connected, which is just fine for using Location Services.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: How To Use Location Services On Your Mac Without Wi-Fi.

On your Mac if you want to use Location Services, in other words have your Mac automatically determine where you're located, you need to have WiFi turned on. Why is that? Well, there's no GPS chip in your Mac. It can't detect your location from reading the information from a GPS satellite. So instead it looks at the local WiFi networks and uses them to actually figure out where you're located. This is also what mobile phones, like the iPhone, do primarily but they have GPS and also cell towers as other sources.

So if you have WiFi turned off your Mac doesn't know where it is. Now why would you have WiFi turned off? Well in my case I have a desktop Mac and I have it right next to my actual internet connection so I just have it wired connection over there instead of using WiFi. People have a variety of reasons why they want to use a wired connection rather than WiFi. But if you do and say you're in Maps and you hit the little location button you're going to get this message saying you need to turn WiFi on. Or you may be on a webpage, like say you want to look up movie times, and you decide yeah what are my closest theaters and hit the button that then should just show you your closest theaters but it doesn't because your Mac doesn't know where it is. So you have to type in an address or zip code or something like that.

But here's the problem. If you turn on WiFi you'll find that you're suddenly connected to your local WiFi networks. So in my case I'm connected to WiFi and my wired connection. I don't want that. I just want to be connected to my wired connection. There is a way to do this.

What you want to do is to go into System Preferences under Network and here you'll see all of your connections listed on the left. You can see, indeed, I've got Ethernet and WiFi. Both are on and working. If I disable WiFi I have that same location problem. Now I look here and I see WiFi connected and it shows me my network name. So what I want to do is I want to keep WiFi on but not be signed into this network. There is no choice here for saying I don't want to be on this network.

But there is if you go up here. As a matter of fact you have to hit the Option key before you press and you can see you get a whole bunch of different things like Diagnostic and such. But you also get Disconnect from. So I can disconnect from this network. You can see it disconnects. So that would seem to solve my problem. WiFi is on. You can see it's kind of grayed out up here. It says it's on. I can get location using a website and Maps and all that but I'm not connected to the WiFi network.

However, what's going to happen is I'm automatically going to connect the next time something changes because I had this checked. So before you turn off the WiFi connection uncheck this, Automatically join this network. Now that that's unchecked I can go here, Option click Disconnect. It disconnects and it won't reconnect to that network. So for instance I can say Turn WiFi Off and let me turn it back on again. What's going to happen now? It's going to remain on No Network Selected.

But even with No Network Selected, as long as WiFi is on, it's going to know my location.That's because the WiFi chip in your Mac is going to be able to see all of the different WiFi routers in the area. It's going to figure out, based on which ones it can see, what your location is. It doesn't have to connect to them. It doesn't need to know the passwords. It just needs to know that they exist and that there's a signal strength. That is what is uses to figure out location. That's why you can use WiFi to figure out your location even when you're not near your home or any WiFi network that you can normally connect to. It just knows the locations of these WiFi hubs and it uses those to figure out your location.

So this is how you do it if you only want to use a wired connection but you want to have all those location services available on your Mac.

Comments: 11 Responses to “How To Use Location Services On Your Mac Without Wi-Fi”

    9 months ago

    Does it cause any problems with having wifi connected to my internet provider as well as cable connection both turn on?

    9 months ago

    mvignola: that’s no problem, as it will use the first one for your connection.

    9 months ago

    Thanks – that explains why my wife’s Mac always has both on.
    What about sharing Itunes ? Can you still share Itunes and hard drives from that Mac without the wifi on ?

    Bruce Mann
    8 months ago

    Thanks! Great tip. FWIW, on MBP 2016/Retina/Touchbar with macOS 10.13.6, when I left click (without Opt) on the WiFi logo in menu bar, I see a “disconnect” option right under the current network. Opt-click also has disconnect, but adds a ton of tech specs about the network like IP address, signal/noise ratio, etc.

    Edward Moroch
    8 months ago

    Thanks, great tip! Will this technique allow me to unlock my iMac with my Apple Watch?

    8 months ago

    Terry: For iTunes sharing, File sharing or anything like that it doesn’t matter if you use Wi-Fi or ethernet, as long as you are on the same network as the other device. One device can be wired and the other wireless.

    8 months ago

    Edward: Good question. You do need to be using Wi-Fi to use the feature that allows you to unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch. But I’m not sure if simply having it on, without it being your network connection, will be enough. Apple has a page about it here, but I’m not sure this will help:

    8 months ago

    Will AirDrop still work using this idea (WiFi on but not connected to home network?)

    8 months ago

    Larry: Yes, I believe so. Try it.

    8 months ago

    Gary: is there a similar option in iOS? – thx

    8 months ago

    nick: iOS is completely different, First, you have real GPS (receives data from satellites), and then you have mobile phone towers (triangulation to determine location). Wi-Fi is a third source to determine location. But there is no WIRED connection option, normally. So I’m not sure what you are asking.

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