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What is GNSS RTK


Throughout this post, we will explore the intricacies of RTK technology, comparing it to standard GNSS positioning and other high-precision techniques like PPP (Precise Point Positioning). We’ll discuss the essential role of base stations and reference networks in RTK, and examine the differences between single-frequency and dual-frequency RTK systems. Finally, we’ll shed light on the hardware and software requirements needed to implement RTK in various applications.

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What does it all mean?

GNSS RTK stands for Global Navigation Satellite System Real-Time Kinematic. It is a technique used in satellite-based positioning systems to provide highly accurate positioning information in real-time. GNSS is a general term for global navigation satellite systems like GPS (United States), GLONASS (Russia), Galileo (European Union), and BeiDou (China).

RTK works by using data from a network of fixed reference stations, which continuously transmit corrections for satellite signals based on their known positions. A mobile receiver, such as a surveying instrument or an autonomous vehicle, can then use this correction data to compute its own precise position relative to the reference stations.

What is the difference between RTK and standard GNSS positioning?

The main difference between RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) and standard GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) positioning lies in the level of accuracy and the methodology used to obtain position information.

  1. Accuracy: Standard GNSS positioning, also known as standalone or single-point positioning, typically provides positional accuracy in the range of a few meters. This level of accuracy is suitable for many common applications like navigation, tracking, and location-based services.

RTK, on the other hand, is a differential GNSS technique that provides centimeter-level accuracy. This high level of accuracy makes it suitable for applications that demand greater precision, such as land surveying, construction, agriculture, and autonomous vehicle navigation.

  1. Methodology: Standard GNSS positioning calculates the user’s position by measuring the time it takes for signals to travel from satellites to the receiver. The accuracy of this method is affected by various factors, including satellite clock errors, atmospheric delays, and multipath errors.

RTK enhances the accuracy of GNSS positioning by using a network of fixed reference stations with known positions. These stations continuously monitor satellite signals and compute corrections for the errors mentioned above. A mobile RTK receiver uses these corrections in real-time to improve its positional accuracy.

So, the main difference between RTK and standard GNSS positioning is that RTK offers a higher level of accuracy by using real-time corrections from reference stations, while standard GNSS positioning relies solely on satellite signals and provides less accurate positioning information.

What are the hardware and software requirements for using RTK?

To use RTK (Real-Time Kinematic), you will need specific hardware and software components to enable the high-precision positioning capability. Here is an overview of the typical requirements:

  1. Hardware:
    • GNSS Receiver: You will need an RTK-capable GNSS receiver that can process the satellite signals and correction data. These receivers often support multiple GNSS constellations (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou) and may be single-frequency or dual-frequency, with dual-frequency receivers generally providing better performance.
    • Antenna: A high-quality GNSS antenna is essential for receiving satellite signals with minimal interference and multipath errors. Antennas should be chosen based on the frequency bands supported by the GNSS receiver and the specific application requirements.
    • Base Station: For RTK to work, you will need a fixed reference station or access to an existing network of reference stations. The base station(s) should have a known position and be equipped with an RTK-capable GNSS receiver and antenna to transmit real-time correction data.
    • Data Communication: The correction data from the base station needs to be transmitted to the rover (mobile) receiver in real-time. This can be accomplished using radio modems, cellular modems, or internet-based solutions like NTRIP (Networked Transport of RTCM via Internet Protocol).
  2. Software:
    • RTK Processing: To process the GNSS measurements and correction data, you will need RTK processing software that is compatible with your hardware. This software is often provided by the GNSS receiver manufacturer or can be sourced from third-party vendors.
    • Data Logging and Analysis: Depending on your application, you may need additional software for data logging, post-processing, or analysis. This can include GIS (Geographic Information System) software, surveying software, or other specialized tools tailored to your specific needs.

These are the basic hardware and software components required to implement RTK.

Base stations and reference networks in RTK

Base stations and reference networks play a crucial role in RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) by providing the essential correction data needed for high-precision positioning. Here’s an overview of their roles:

  1. Base Station: A base station, also known as a reference station, is a fixed GNSS receiver with a known position. Its main role is to monitor GNSS satellite signals and calculate real-time corrections for various errors that affect positioning accuracy. These errors can include satellite orbit and clock errors, ionospheric and tropospheric delays, and multipath effects.

The base station transmits these corrections to the rover (mobile) receiver, which then uses them to improve its positional accuracy. The accuracy of the RTK solution depends largely on the quality of the corrections provided by the base station and the distance between the base station and the rover receiver. Generally, shorter distances (less than 20-30 km) result in higher accuracy.

  1. Reference Networks: A reference network is a system of multiple base stations that are strategically positioned to cover a larger geographic area. The stations in a reference network work together to generate more accurate and reliable correction data. This data can be used by multiple rover receivers, making it a more efficient solution for applications that require access to RTK corrections over large areas or for multiple users.

Reference networks can be operated by public organizations, private companies, or a combination of both. They use sophisticated software to process the data from all base stations, taking into account factors like the spatial distribution of the stations and the rover’s position. The corrections are then transmitted to the rover receivers using various communication methods, such as radio, cellular networks, or the internet (e.g., via NTRIP).

In summary, base stations and reference networks are essential components of the RTK system, as they provide the real-time correction data needed to achieve centimeter-level positioning accuracy. While a single base station can serve the purpose in some applications, reference networks offer a more scalable and efficient solution for larger areas or multiple users.

How does RTK compare to other high-precision positioning techniques like PPP (Precise Point Positioning)?

RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) and PPP (Precise Point Positioning) are both high-precision GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) positioning techniques, but they differ in their methodologies, accuracy, convergence time, and infrastructure requirements. Here is a comparison of the two techniques:

  1. Methodology: RTK is a differential GNSS technique that uses real-time corrections from a nearby base station or reference network to achieve centimeter-level accuracy. The corrections account for errors such as satellite orbit and clock errors, ionospheric and tropospheric delays, and multipath effects. RTK relies on the spatial correlation of these errors between the base station and the rover receiver.

PPP, on the other hand, is a standalone GNSS technique that does not require a nearby base station. Instead, it uses precise satellite orbit and clock information, as well as global ionospheric and tropospheric models, to correct for the errors. PPP can work with single or dual-frequency receivers and can provide high-precision positioning anywhere in the world without the need for local reference stations.

  1. Accuracy: Both RTK and PPP can provide high-precision positioning, but RTK typically achieves better accuracy. RTK can provide centimeter-level accuracy, while PPP can achieve sub-decimeter to centimeter-level accuracy depending on the specific implementation and the availability of correction data.
  2. Convergence Time: RTK generally has a faster convergence time, often providing high-precision results within seconds to a few minutes. This makes it well-suited for real-time applications. PPP, however, usually has a longer convergence time, sometimes taking several minutes to hours to reach its full accuracy potential. This makes PPP less suitable for real-time applications that require immediate high-precision results.
  3. Infrastructure Requirements: RTK requires a nearby base station or access to a reference network, which can involve additional costs and maintenance. This also means that RTK’s performance can be limited in areas where reference station coverage is sparse or nonexistent.

PPP does not require local reference stations, which can make it more accessible and cost-effective, especially in remote areas. However, PPP relies on the availability of precise correction data, which is typically provided by global or regional services and may involve subscription fees.

What is the difference between single-frequency and dual-frequency RTK systems?

Single-frequency and dual-frequency RTK systems refer to the number of frequency bands used by the GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) receivers in the RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) positioning process. The primary difference between the two systems lies in the frequency bands they utilize, which in turn impacts their performance, accuracy, and susceptibility to errors.

  1. Single-frequency RTK systems: These systems use GNSS receivers that track and process signals on a single frequency band, typically L1 for GPS or its equivalent for other GNSS constellations like GLONASS, Galileo, or BeiDou. Single-frequency RTK systems are generally more affordable and have lower power consumption than dual-frequency systems.

However, single-frequency RTK systems are more susceptible to ionospheric errors, which can affect the accuracy and reliability of the positioning solution. To mitigate ionospheric errors, single-frequency systems often rely on regional ionospheric models, which may not be as accurate as dual-frequency measurements.

  1. Dual-frequency RTK systems: Dual-frequency RTK systems use GNSS receivers that track and process signals on two frequency bands, such as L1 and L2 for GPS, or their equivalents for other GNSS constellations. By tracking signals on two frequencies, these systems can directly measure and compensate for ionospheric errors, resulting in improved positioning accuracy and reliability.

Dual-frequency RTK systems generally have faster convergence times and are less affected by multipath errors compared to single-frequency systems. However, they tend to be more expensive and consume more power due to the additional hardware and processing requirements.

In summary, the main difference between single-frequency and dual-frequency RTK systems is the number of frequency bands they use for processing GNSS signals. Single-frequency systems are more affordable and have lower power consumption, but they are more susceptible to errors and may have lower accuracy compared to dual-frequency systems, which offer better performance at a higher cost. The choice between single-frequency and dual-frequency RTK systems depends on factors such as the required accuracy, budget, and application-specific requirements.


What does RTK stand for?

RTK stands for Real-Time Kinematic. It is a technique used in satellite navigation systems, such as GPS, to enhance the accuracy of position data obtained from satellite-based positioning systems. By using RTK, positioning systems can provide real-time, centimeter-level accuracy in their measurements.
RTK works by using a network of fixed ground stations, called reference stations or base stations, to broadcast real-time corrections of satellite signals. These corrections are based on the differences between the known positions of the base stations and the positions calculated from the satellite signals. A mobile receiver, or rover, uses these corrections to calculate a more accurate position relative to the reference stations.
RTK is commonly used in applications that require high precision, such as surveying, precision agriculture, construction, and drone navigation.

What is RTK vs GPS?

GPS (Global Positioning System) is a satellite-based navigation system developed and maintained by the United States government. It consists of a network of satellites orbiting the Earth that transmit signals, which GPS receivers on the ground use to calculate their position, speed, and time. GPS is one of several Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) in operation, including Russia’s GLONASS, Europe’s Galileo, and China’s BeiDou.

RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) is a technique used to improve the accuracy of satellite-based positioning systems like GPS. It is not a separate navigation system; instead, it is a method that enhances the performance of existing GNSS, such as GPS.
GPS alone typically provides positional accuracy of around 3 to 10 meters (10 to 33 feet).
In contrast, RTK enables centimeter-level accuracy in real-time by utilizing a network of fixed reference stations, which broadcast real-time corrections based on the differences between their known positions and the positions calculated from satellite signals.
To summarize, GPS is a satellite-based navigation system, while RTK is a technique used to increase the accuracy of GPS and other GNSS. In applications requiring high-precision positioning, such as surveying, construction, precision agriculture, and drone navigation, RTK is often used in conjunction with GPS or other GNSS to achieve the desired accuracy.

What does RTK do?

Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) is a technique that enhances the accuracy of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) like GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and BeiDou. RTK improves the precision of position data obtained from satellite-based positioning systems, providing real-time, centimeter-level accuracy.
Here’s what RTK does:
Utilizes fixed reference stations: RTK relies on a network of fixed ground stations, known as reference stations or base stations. These stations have precisely known coordinates and continuously receive satellite signals.

Computes real-time corrections: The reference stations calculate the differences between their known positions and the positions derived from the satellite signals. These differences, called errors or corrections, result from factors like satellite orbit errors, satellite clock errors, and atmospheric effects on the signals.
Broadcasts corrections to mobile receivers: The reference stations transmit the computed corrections in real-time to mobile receivers, often called rovers. Communication can occur via radio signals, cellular networks, or other data links.

Enhances positional accuracy: The rover uses the received corrections to refine its calculated position, effectively eliminating or minimizing the errors affecting the satellite signals. As a result, the rover achieves centimeter-level positional accuracy in real-time, significantly improving the precision compared to standalone GNSS receivers.
RTK is widely used in applications that demand high-precision positioning, such as surveying, construction, precision agriculture, machine control, drone navigation, and autonomous vehicles.

About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.