The economic value of surveying and GNSS positioning services

March 17th, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT


by Chris Kirchhoff, Kirchhoff Surveyors

For those questioning the economic value of surveying and particularly GNNS positioning services the Australian Government has prepared reports on the economic benefits which highlight the value of both augmented GNSS services but more importantly the critical role that positioning services and specifically surveying or geomatics play in the economic growth of a country.

There is an overall economic report and then industry specific reports providing an overview of economic and social benefits, experience, and prospects for the use of augmented GNSS in agriculture, mining, construction, utilities, surveying and land management, road transport, rail, maritime, and aviation activities.

Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) refers to constellations of satellites that provide a signal that enables users to determine their position anywhere outdoors. Augmentation services ( such as the VRS or CORS services in South Africa ) provide greater accuracy and reliability to the signal and are delivering significant economic benefits in several key sectors of the economy, as well as environmental, safety and other social benefits.

The report estimates that :

  • By 2012 Australia’s real GDP was been between $2,3-billion and 3,7-billion higher than it would have been without the accumulated productivity improvements arising from augmented GNSS.
  • By 2020 our projections are that real GDP could be between $7,8-billion and $13,7-billion higher than it would otherwise have been without the availability of augmented GNSS.

Realisation of the additional benefits reported for 2020 will depend on several factors.

  • It will require the extension of augmentation services to fill gaps in coverage together with increased compatibility between systems.
  • It will require an increased pace of adoption. This could be driven by further demonstration of the benefits of augmentation services in practice which in turn builds greater confidence in to potential users.
  • It will require on-going integration with other systems such as geographic information systems (GIS), sensors, vehicle mounted cameras and applications that process location information.

Emerging location based applications

Chris Kirchhoff

Chris Kirchhoff

The use of machine guidance supported by augmented GNSS in both the mining and the construction sectors.

The emergence of Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) in managing traffic movements and linking road users to the road environment through real time sharing of information of vehicle and infrastructure status, road traffic conditions and potential hazards.

The use of augmented GNSS with vehicle mounted cameras and remote sensing for rapid acquisition of location related data.

Augmented reality is an emerging innovation where accurate positioning combined with digital mapping and simulation technologies is revolutionising planning and design of infrastructure. Future developments in the application of augmented reality offer potential for improved community consultation at the planning stage of major infrastructure developments. This has important implications for the interaction between the community, planners, architects and engineers in planning new developments.

The report is the divided into detailed considerations of how Augmented GNNS can benefit various sectors. The surveying section is a detailed report providing insight into both the value of GNSS and multiple appendixes that provide insight into innovative surveying solutions.

The position requirements of surveying are one of the most demanding of all of the land related activities. The cadastre, which is the spatial, textural and temporal record of property generally requires centimetre accuracy. Similar levels of accuracy requirements arise for surveying and setting out of infrastructure and in land development.

The provision of three dimensional spatial data services by surveyors is drawn on by developers, architects and engineers and forms the base data for conceptual and detail design for major infrastructure projects. Surveying also involves the construction phase and plays a role in the creation and formatting of spatially accurate and reliable “as constructed” and asset management records.

The surveying sector has been an early adopter of augmented GNSS. Surveyors use augmented GNSS in combination with other geospatial technologies to support accurate location of points in setting out engineering and other infrastructure. This saves significantly on labour costs reducing the number of surveyors and technical staff required on site. In addition, position data that is embedded in digital mapping data supports the construction phase of projects and also supports maintenance and management of the infrastructure once built.

Important applications of augmented GNSS include regional surveys where the availability of control benchmarks is limited, engineering surveys, accurate sea level monitoring, infrastructure condition surveys and sub-divisions. Augmented GNSS is also actively used by the offshore sector in geophysical surveys.

The report provides detailed case studies of these applications that provide a powerful insight into new surveying methodologies and how the use of modern surveying approaches, specifically the use of augmented GNSS can provide growth opportunities to all involved in the geomatics field.

Productivity improvements are significant in surveying and land management, ranging from about 20% to 40% in 2012 with a further 20% likely by 2020.

Levels of adoption of augmented GNSS in the surveying sector are estimated to have been around 20% in 2012. Future levels of adoption will depend on the availability of augmentation services across the country. They could be as high as 70% or more by 2020 with further expansion of CORS networks for example.

The key findings of the report with respect to the survey industry are:

  • Surveyors’ use of augmented positioning tends towards the precise end of the spectrum, with precision at the centimetre level normally required.
  • The use of augmented GNSS is extensive in the surveying industry. Augmentation signals are provided through stand-alone RTK systems, CORS networks and space based augmentation services.
  • Precise GNSS is already being applied in engineering and construction surveying and is finding further applications in regional surveys, infrastructure surveys, sea level monitoring, and sub-division and land development activities.
  • The use of precise GNSS with innovations in geospatial technologies is delivering significant productivity gains for surveying of infrastructure. Tasks that traditionally took weeks can now be completed in days. These productivity gains also deliver economic benefits to a number of other sectors including the construction, mining and utilities sectors.

Augmented GNSS can improve the way industries operate and provide new approaches and economic growth to surveying operations and asset management. Those who think ahead of the pack will do well from finding further advances made.


This summary is directly based on the report available at The Australian Government’s Space Coordination Office recently engaged ACIL Allen to prepare reports on the economic benefit of precise positioning to a number of different sectors across the Australian economy. Those reports have now been completed and are available at the IGNSS Society where they can be downloaded.

Contact Chris Kirchhoff, Kirchhoff Surveyors, Tel 082 773-4868,

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