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Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS): Errors


1.   Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) positioning is based on the pseudorange between satellites and receivers.

2.   The ‘time of flight’ of radio signals from several satellites to a receiver is used to calculate pseudorange or pseudo-distances. The term ‘pseudorange’ is used to distinguish it from true range, as it may be affected by various sources of error in time of flight measurement.

3.   Even the smallest timing errors can result in large position errors: for example, a 10 ns timing error might imply a 3m pseudorange error.

4.   Various types of error may degrade precision, including the following:

  • Ionospheric and tropospheric errors

  • Satellite clock errors

  • Ephemeris data errors

  • Receiver quality

  • Multipath error

  • Dilution Of Precision (DOP)


5.   Ionospheric and Tropospheric Errors.   The ionosphere is the layer of the atmosphere between approximately 75 km to 1000 km above the Earth’s surface. This layer contains ions which are electrically charged.

5.1.   When the GNSS signal passes through this layer, its interaction with theses ions reduces its speed and therefore introduces an error.

5.2.   Ionospheric delay may vary depending on solar activity, the time of year, time of day or location, making it very difficult to predict the induced delay.

5.3.   On the other hand, the troposphere is the layer closest to the earth surface. It is approximately 8 and 14 km deep, depending on the location on the Earth’s surface. Tropospheric errors are caused by temperature, density, pressure or humidity changes.

Ref: http://www.brighthub.com/electronics/gps/articles/111933.aspx

6. Satellite Clock Errors.   Although GNSS satellites use the most precise atomic clocks featuring nanosecond accuracy, the clock drift phenomena may cause minute inaccuracies which can produce errors that affect positioning.

7. Ephemeris Data Error.   These are errors induced by the satellite’s location. An ‘ephemeris error’ describes the difference between the expected and actual orbital position of a GNSS satellite. Because GNSS receivers use the satellite's location in pseudorange calculations, orbital error reduces GNSS accuracy.

7.1. The navigation messages include ephemeris data together with information about the time and status of the entire satellite constellation, called the almanac. Ephemeris are used to calculate the position and the clock deviation of the receiver; the almanac is used to check the visible satellites from a receiver according to the moment of time and its position.

8. Receiver Quality.   The hardware used within the receiver may limit precision by introducing inaccuracies in receiver timing.

9. Multipath Errors.   Multipath errors appear when a GNSS signal arrives at the receiver GNSS antenna after having been reflected from an object such as the surface of a building (see diagram below). The reflected signal clearly has to travel further to reach the antenna and so it arrives with a slight delay. This delay can cause positional error.

10. Dilution Of Precision (DOP).   DOP error may be caused by the relative positions in three-dimensional space of the satellites used to calculate a position. To get a better understanding, the concept of Geometrical DOP (GDOP) is often used. Poor GDOP values mean ‘bad’ positioning of satellites. On the contrary, ‘well’ distributed satellites produce good values. See the Knowledge Base article Dilution Of Precision for further information.

This information is displayed by Visionair at the GNSS Status window.

11. Error characterization.   Small timing errors may produce large positioning errors. The accumulative effect of GNSS pseudorange error is described by a factor known as UERE (User Equivalent Range Error, sometimes referred to as ‘URA’ in some GNSS documentation). This value expresses the individual error contribution to the global error. The satellite provides a prediction of the maximum total UERE in every message sent.


Effect (m)

Signal arrival C/A


Signal arrival P(Y)


Ionospheric effects


Ephemeris errors


Satellite clock errors


Multipath distortion


Tropospheric effects







HDOP = 1.3 (provided by GNSS)

VDOP = 1.8 (provided by GNSS)

UERE = 5.1m (theoretical value)

Standard deviation (RMS error) in 2D Horizontal:

E_2d,rms= HDOP x UERE_RMS = 1.3 * 5.1m = 6.6 m

Standard deviation (RMS error) in 2D Vertical:

E_2d,rms= VDOP x UERE_RMS = 1.8 * 5.1m = 9.2 m