ArcGIS Desktop suite can offer multiple ways of getting the information from your GPS Receiver and putting it on a map: you can download your waypoints, tracks and load them to ArcMap using Event layers, tables or by using custom applications to streamline the process. The easiest way is just to connect your GPS device to your laptop or desktop PC and access it using the GPS Toolbar in ArcMap.
However it is not that easy: ArcGIS still uses the COM-port to connect to the GPS receiver and from time to time we receive questions like: “How can I connect to my USB Garmin portable GPS receiver from ArcMap?”
First of all, ArcGIS needs a COM port connection to communicate with your GPS device and today new laptops do not even have a serial port. The problem can be solved by emulating a COM-port connection and linking your USB connection to this Virtual COM using a third-party software.
Some GPS device manufacturers provide drivers to map the USB connection to a virtual COM port that then can be used. Bluetooth devices also can be configured to use a virtual COM port.
So it is always a good idea to check the manufacturer’s website and download the latest set of drivers for your device. In this example we’re using a Garmin device, so we can visit their support webpage and get a latest driver pack for USB GPS receivers.
The next step is to get a the third-party software to emulate the USB port as the virtual COM-port. Few tools are available online but there is one which is particularly recommended by the GIS community – the GpsGate
After you install this software you can attach your GPS device and let the program detect it automatically or you may set the input manually: if you’re using a Garmin GPS device use the Garmin USB option
Then you have to set the output and specify a virtual COM-port, which will be used in ArcGIS to get the data from your GPS
After the GPS is connected and the USB port refers to a virtual COM you may use the GPS toolbar in ArcMap to connect your device and work with it in ArcMap.
Open ArcMap and bring the GPS toolbar to display.
Open the Connection Setup Wizard and select the communication port (a pre-defined virtual COM).
Click Test Connection to verify that is had been established.
Click Open Connection to connect to your GPS via the virtual COM-port.
Open the GPS Position window to view the connection status and current coordinates.
Please note, as the ArcGIS supports only the NMEA protocol you have to make sure that it is selected as a default data transfer protocol for your GPS device (check the device settings). ArcGIS appears to not get any data from the device when it requires a so-called cold start. So if your GPS receiver was moved far away from the last measured point, let it perform the start, download the required information and calculate your position before connecting the device to your ArcGIS machine.