Accuracy and error sources

11Jun07

The position calculated by a GPS receiver requires the current time, the position of the satellite and the measured delay of the received signal. The position accuracy is primarily dependent on the satellite position and signal delay.

To measure the delay, the receiver compares the bit sequence received from the satellite with an internally generated version. By comparing the rising and trailing edges of the bit transitions, modern electronics can measure signal offset to within about 1% of a bit time, or approximately 10 nanoseconds for the C/A code. Since GPS signals propagate nearly at the speed of light, this represents an error of about 3 meters. This is the minimum error possible using only the GPS C/A signal.

Position accuracy can be improved by using the higher-speed P(Y) signal. Assuming the same 1% bit time accuracy, the high frequency P(Y) signal results in an accuracy of about 30 centimeters.

Electronics errors are one of several accuracy-degrading effects outlined in the table below. When taken together, autonomous civilian GPS horizontal position fixes are typically accurate to about 15 meters (50 ft). These effects also reduce the more precise P(Y) code’s accuracy.

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