The Big GPS Fix

As a land surveyor, one wonders how RTK GPS market prices are sustained at such high levels. A look at the world market reveals wide-spread availability of relatively cheap RTK GPS surveying equipment everywhere except here in the U.S. The market here is dominated by a few big players like Leica, Trimble, and Topcon, while cheaper international competitors are shut out. The big players keep buying each other up to the point that it is difficult to discern who is left. Many different brands are now manufactured by the same company. One senses that change is in the air, however. Monopolies cannot be sustained forever. Sooner or later, competition wins out, and price equilibrium will be achieved — absent heavy-handed legislation to prevent it. The folks at Deep South Robotics have posted an informative article, “Spilling the Beans on RTK,” about emerging GPS markets. I found their charts detailing the number of satellites observable from particular locations around the globe to be particularly eye-opening. What good does it do to have GPS capable of receiving multiple satellite networks (Galileo, BDS, etc.) if it can’t “see” them? Here again, we in the U.S. get the short end of the stick. Average total observable GPS satellites in China: 47, in the U.S. (Alabama):21. We surveyors can only dream of the benefits those extra 20 or 25 SV’s would bring.

In any case, I am seriously considering purchasing one of the overseas brands (South, Kolida, ComNav, SunNav) now available for 1/4 to 1/3 the price of similar U.S. brands. If so, I’ll post my experience here. I note that the recent release of Carlson SurvCE (5.0) is now incorporating drivers for some, if not all of these.

By | 2017-08-12T12:31:34+00:00 August 12th, 2017|Uncategorized|2 Comments

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  1. Roby September 28, 2017 at 12:14 pm


    Thanks for the mention — I’m the author of that article.

    It’s a wonderfully exciting time for RTK:

    — 450-900$ USD L1/L2 GPS/GLONASS cards from ComNav/Unicore
    — 200-300$ USD L1/L2 antennas
    — u-blox M8P L1 RTK @ 399USD for a complete base/rover set:
    — Emlid delivers polished L1 surveyor unit at 799USD:

    Rumor is u-blox has hired L1/L2 guys.

    If u-blox really does enter the L1/L2 market, it’s hard to imagine the fun we’ll all have.



  2. Ned Ferguson September 30, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Roby, my pleasure. I did purchase a Kolida K5 plus base/rover set for about 7k, including the data collector and Fieldgenius software, and all import duties. It still isn’t what I would consider cheap, but it is cheaper than comparable U.S. models by far. I just received it a few days ago. Performance and features are way better than my old Topcon Hiper Lite, I can already tell.

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