The accuracy that can be achieved using GPS depends on the type of equipment used, the time of observation, and the positions of the satellites being used to compute positions. In general, recreational and mapping grade receivers using C/A code without differential correction are accurate to between 5 and 15 meters. Many people using recreational grade receivers don’t realize they cannot get highly accurate readings using them autonomously (without differential correction).
Most mapping and recreational grade receivers with differential correction can provide from about 1 to 5 meter accuracy. Some receivers use what is called “carrier-smoothed code” to increase the accuracy of the C/A code. This involves measuring the distance from the receiver to the satellites by counting the number of waves that carry the C/A code signal. These receivers can achieve 10 cm to 1 meter accuracy with differential correction. Dual frequency survey grade receivers using more advanced network survey techniques can achieve centimeter to millimeter accuracy.
Some people wonder why GPS is better than Loran or other systems that use ground-based transmitters. The accuracy of ground-based location systems such as Loran, which uses low frequency radio signals, is affected by signal distortion, varied terrain, local atmospheric disturbances and limited coverage. Since GPS signals come from satellites, the problems common to ground-based systems can be avoided.