How many Satellites and Channels require in your DGNSS?

3 min readMay 20, 2024

In the realm of precision navigation and positioning, Differential GNSS (DGNSS) often emerges as a critical yet misunderstood technology. Despite its pivotal role in enhancing GPS accuracy, several myths persist, clouding its true value. Today, let’s discuss some common misconception in the survey world related to DGNSS (or DGPS).

You may have heard people emphasize the importance of having 400, 800, or even 1200 channels in a DGNSS receiver. Have you ever thought deeper to understand what this actually means? Let’s clarify this with some simple mathematical calculations.

There are a total of 120 operational satellites: GPS (31), Galileo (24), GLONASS (24), BeiDou (30), NavIC (7), and QZSS (4). These satellites are distributed across the orbital plane and are not all visible from a particular point on Earth.

What is an Elevation Mask?

An elevation mask is a threshold angle that defines the minimum elevation above the horizon that a satellite must have to be considered in the positioning calculations of a DGNSS receiver. The purpose of this mask is to filter out low-angle satellite signals that are more likely to be degraded by atmospheric interference, multipath effects, and obstructions.

Figure 1: Different Satellite Elevation Angles

What value to keep for Elevation Mask?

It is recommended to set the Elevation Mask to 15 degrees to use only high-quality satellites for positioning. However, even with an Elevation Mask set to 5 degrees, you wouldn’t be able to see even half of the satellites simultaneously.

How many satellites with Elevation Mask as 5 degrees?

With an Elevation Mask of 5 degrees, you would only be able to track a maximum of 14 GPS, 6 Galileo, 6 GLONASS, 11 BeiDou, and 4 QZSS satellites. Out of the 7 NavIC satellites, only 5 are operational, and many companies do not support NavIC.

So how many Channels?

Now, let’s talk about channels. The L1 and L2 bands require only one channel each, whereas the L5 band requires two channels. Interestingly, out of the 120 satellites, only 40–45 have L5 bands.

Here’s the mathematical calculation with a 5-degree Elevation Mask (in general, if you set it to 15 degrees, which is the industry standard, the number would be lower):

Total satellites being used: 14 (GPS) + 6 (Galileo) + 6 (GLONASS) + 11 (BeiDou) + 4 (QZSS) + 5 (NavIC) = 46 satellites. Not all of these would have L5 bands; let’s assume 20 do.

So, the total number of channels required would be: 46*1 (L1) + 46*1 (L2) + 20*2 (L5) = 132 channels. In reality, this is still an exaggerated number. In the real world, no more than 100 channels are typically required. Claims of needing 400, 800, or even 1200 channels are overly futuristic and marketing/selling strategy. It will take more than 10–15 years to even approach the utilization of 300 channels.

Does All Satellites Used in DGNSS Provide the Same Level of Accuracy?

The accuracy of signals from GNSS satellites can vary due to several factors, including the satellite’s position, health, and atmospheric conditions affecting the signal’s travel to Earth. Differential GNSS (DGNSS) enhances overall accuracy by correcting these variable errors. However, the effectiveness of DGNSS corrections is influenced by the quality of the correction data, which depends on the proximity and condition of the reference station, as well as the quality of the communication link between the reference station and the DGNSS receiver. Therefore, it is crucial to closely examine the quality of the satellites being used for positioning.




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