RTK Corrections: What This Means & How It Works

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Mark Wilkerson
Mark Wilkerson

Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) corrections are redefining the capabilities of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) with unprecedented accuracy. A substantial advancement in precision positioning, RTK corrections are essential to a wide range of applications where even minor discrepancies in location data can have significant impacts. 

Understanding RTK corrections is crucial for professionals in geospatial sciences, surveying, construction, and agriculture. It’s also important for anyone keen on comprehending the technological intricacies behind advanced positioning systems. 

This article from Point One Navigation explores the core aspects of RTK corrections, offering insights into their fundamental mechanisms, operational nuances, and wide-ranging applications. 


What Are RTK Corrections? 

RTK corrections are a sophisticated enhancement used across various GNSS, including Global Positioning Systems (GPS), GLONASS, Galileo, and others. While these systems provide location data with reasonable accuracy, factors like atmospheric disturbances and satellite orbital variances can introduce errors. 

RTK corrections are designed to mitigate these inaccuracies by supplying additional data points. This refined data enables GNSS receivers, including those using GPS, to pinpoint their exact location with remarkable precision, often down to the centimeter. 

What is RTK GPS? 

When people use the phrase “RTK GPS,” they’re often referring to the fact that RTK technology plays an important role in elevating the precision of location data of GPS by using real-time corrections transmitted from a network of ground-based reference stations. These strategically positioned base stations receive signals from various GNSS satellites and compare them to their precisely known location. 

Discrepancies identified in the signal are used to compute correctional data. This data is then broadcast in real-time to RTK-enabled GNSS receivers. By incorporating this correctional data, GNSS receivers can significantly minimize positional errors, achieving unprecedented GPS accuracy. However, as noted above, RTK corrections can work for all GNSS constellations, including GLONASS, Galileo, and BeiDou.


How Accurate is RTK?

The accuracy of RTK is a defining feature that sets it apart from traditional navigation methods. While standard GNSS systems generally deliver meter-level accuracy, RTK enhances this to achieve pinpoint precision. This significant leap in accuracy is achieved by applying real-time corrections to the GNSS signals, effectively countering common error sources. 

For example, where a conventional GNSS receiver might offer location accuracy within about three meters, an RTK receiver can refine this to as little as one centimeter. Such exactitude is crucial in professional fields where accuracy is paramount. 


How RTK Corrections Work

RTK corrections act as an enhancer for GNSS signals, taking broadly accurate data from systems like GPS and refining it for heightened precision. This enhancement process involves several key elements, and each component plays a crucial role in ensuring the accuracy and reliability of location data. 

GNSS Technology 

The foundation of RTK corrections lies in GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) technology, which provides initial location data based on satellite signals. However, GNSS data can be affected by various environmental and technical factors such as atmospheric disturbances, multipath effects, and satellite orbit and clock inaccuracies. 

These common sources of error can ultimately lead to positional inaccuracies. 

RTK Network 

An RTK network is a group of ground stations that cover a large geographic area. These stations receive GNSS signals and calculate the errors in the data based on their known precise locations. 

RTK Fixed Base Stations

Each station in the RTK network acts as a fixed base, continuously monitoring GNSS signals. The station determines the necessary corrections to address any discrepancies in the GNSS data by comparing these signals with their known location.

NTRIP Services

NTRIP providers (Networked Transport of RTCM via Internet Protocol) transmit RTK corrections from the base stations to the RTK receivers. This service ensures that the correction data is delivered efficiently and in real-time to users, allowing RTK receivers to apply these corrections to enhance accuracy. 


RTK Correction Limitations

While RTK location services offer exceptional accuracy, understanding its limitations is important for optimal use and managing expectations in various applications, particularly when taking advantage of free correction services. 

  • Coverage and Density: The effectiveness of RTK corrections decreases with distance from reference stations. Additionally, the density of these stations in a given area is crucial. Areas with a dense network of stations will experience better accuracy, while sparse networks may lead to reduced precision. 
  • Reliability: While RTK systems are designed for high reliability, factors like station distribution, environmental conditions, and system maintenance can impact performance. Consistent and comprehensive coverage by base stations enhances the reliability of RTK corrections. 
  • Ease of Use: Modern advancements have made RTK systems more user-friendly. However, initial setup, calibration, and understanding the nuances of system operation can still pose challenges, especially for new users. 
  • Signal Obstruction: Urban structures, dense foliage, and significant atmospheric conditions can obstruct or degrade GNSS signals, impacting the efficiency of RTK corrections. This is particularly evident in urban canyons and heavily wooded areas, where signal interference is more prevalent.

Advanced RTK providers like Point One Navigation can help users overcome these challenges. The expansive Polaris network ensures broader coverage with a density of over 1,400 base stations (and counting), reducing the impact of distance from base stations to deliver cm-accurate positioning. 

While standard GNSS accuracy ranges from 1m to 10m and can be worse based on the operating environment. Point One’s high precision GNSS delivers accuracy from 10 cm to 1cm–and does so even in challenging environments such as urban canyons and occluded sky-views.


RTK vs PPP vs SSR 

The landscape of satellite-based positioning is diverse, with multiple GNSS correction methods developed to address specific requirements and operational contexts. RTK, PPP, and SSR represent key methodologies in this domain, each with unique attributes and applications. 

  • RTK (Real-Time Kinematic): RTK stands out for providing centimeter-level real-time accuracy. It achieves this using a ground-based reference station network that transmits corrections for immediate application. RTK is ideal for applications requiring high precision and instant correction, such as surveying, construction, and autonomous vehicle navigation. 
  • PPP (Precise Point Positioning): Unlike RTK, PPP does not rely on a network of ground stations but instead uses precise orbit and clock data from the satellites themselves. It offers global coverage and is not limited by the proximity to reference stations. However, PPP typically requires a much longer convergence time to reach the same level of accuracy as RTK. 
  • SSR (State Space Representation): SSR provides corrections in a format that models the GNSS errors as a state space and includes information about orbit, satellite clocks, and atmospheric conditions. It is used widely in commercial correction services and offers a scalable solution for wide-area coverage. However, many GNSS receivers are not equipped to process the extensive data SSR provides. This limitation can hinder the conversion of this data into precise and meaningful positional information. 

Each correction method – RTK, PPP, and SSR – has distinct advantages and suits different operational scenarios. RTK’s real-time, high-precision capabilities make it a preferred choice for many applications that require immediate and highly accurate positional data. 


Applications Using RTK

With centimeter-level accuracy, RTK corrections aren’t merely a technological advancement but a practical tool that has revolutionized numerous professional fields. Its implementation extends beyond traditional surveying, opening up new opportunities and enhancing efficiency in various sectors. 


In agriculture, RTK networks facilitate precision in farming practices, enabling farmers to optimize resource utilization, improve crop yields, and implement efficient management strategies. 

Autonomous Vehicles 

The technology is also crucial for autonomous vehicle navigation, providing the high level of positional accuracy necessary for safe and efficient operation in controlled and uncontrolled environments. 

Delivery Logistics 

RTK corrections enhance delivery logistics by enabling precise route planning and fleet management, improving operational efficiency, and reducing environmental impacts through optimized routing.

Mapping & Surveys

Surveyors and cartographers use RTK services for accurate topographic drone mapping and land surveys, significantly reducing the time and labor traditionally required.


In construction, RTK corrections help with site planning, machine control, and ensuring adherence to architectural designs, enhancing the accuracy and safety of construction projects.


RTK technology plays an important role in robotics, especially for outdoor applications where precise navigation and positioning are essential.

Damage Prevention

RTK is also employed in damage prevention, particularly in locating underground utilities to avoid accidental damages during excavation or construction activities.


Learn More About RTK Corrections

Understanding RTK corrections is key to understanding the advanced technology behind RTK. From helping farmers grow better crops to guiding robots and self-driving cars, RTK is an important tool for building a more efficient and high-tech future. It’s not just about knowing where something is – it’s about knowing exactly where, and this precision makes all the difference.

If you’re interested in exploring RTK corrections technology or want to know how it can meet your specific needs, the experts at Point One Navigation are here to help. We can help guide you through making the most of this technology with best-in-class RTK solutions and services. 

Contact a Point One Nav expert today. 

Mark Wilkerson
Mark Wilkerson

Mark is Point One's Product Manager. He's a veteran engineer & technical leader with more than 30 years experience in large, distributed, and embedded applications.

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