20/09/2017 – Science & Technology / what3words / Geo-referencing / Nigeria

The world in three words

Nigeria joins seven other nations around the world in adopting an intriguing new geo-referencing system – one that uses a unique, pre-assigned three-word formation to accurately pinpoint addresses – in preparation for the country’s imminent e-commerce boom. Yet for the four billion people on Earth that lack a reliable address – and even those that don’t – the simple app could deliver much more than parcels.


Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and, as home to around 184 million citizens, is also the continent’s most populous country.  Yet the West Africa nation’s postal service leaves much to be desired – its poor addressing system means that only 20 per cent of the country’s inhabitants receive mail at home.  Some 79 per cent of homes and businesses cannot receive deliveries direct to their door, and the remaining one per cent receive their mail using one of the 478,000 ‘PO Boxes’ throughout the Republic.  While a postcode system does exist in Nigeria, only a meagre five per cent of mail gets properly addressed with the postcode, hampering the efforts of NIPOST – the state-owned postal service – to improve the quality of its offering.


Nonetheless, NIPOST has set itself ambitious targets –to increase home delivery to 70 per cent within the next two years, and to 90 per cent by 2020, through its Mail for Every House Initiative (MEHI).  To achieve such a feat, the company has adopted what3words – an innovative global addressing system that has divided the world into 57 trillion 3x3m squares, each with a unique three-word address, pre-assigned by algorithm.  What that means is that every home and business in Nigeria now has an accurate address that is easy to remember and to use.  For example ///bracelets.hesitations.mutes refers to the exact 3x3 metre-square at the entrance to the main post office in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.


Addressing a global issue


Nigeria is the seventh country worldwide to adopt what3words – the system is already being used for mail deliveries in Mongolia, Sint Maarten, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Tonga and the Solomon Islands.  Yet what3words is today used, in some shape or form, in over 170 countries in total – by governments, postal services, logistics companies, emergency services and NGOs, as well as individuals.  The system is currently available in 14 languages, with many more iterations in development.


Far more accurate than traditional street addresses, simpler than landmark-based directions, and easier to remember and communicate than GPS co-ordinates, the appeal of the multi-award-winning global addressing platform is clear.  The system has built-in error detection and is available through a free mobile app and API integration.  It even works offline, without a data connection.


From e-commerce to emergency relief


For Nigeria, where young people make up 62 per cent of the population, adoption of the new postal system presents a huge opportunity to harness the growth potential of e-commerce, which many analysts believe to be on the cusp of a boom in the country.  Indeed, with improvements to infrastructure, innovation around payment systems and a reliable addressing system, Nigeria’s e-commerce segment – currently worth US$12 billion – could be set to take off at an incredible scale.


Beyond that, the four billion people on Earth that don’t have a reliable address would certainly benefit from improved geo-referencing.  Without it, not only are they unable to get deliveries – they are also unable to get emergency help. 


The Red Cross has seen first-hand how effective the new app can be, after it enabled the NGO to assist the residents of Luzon – the largest, most populous island of the Philippines – after Typhoon Haima struck in October last year, killing 20 and displacing more than 100,000 people.  Elsewhere, the latest release of UN-ASIGN – a free crowd-sourcing app developed for the United Nations by Norwegian firm AnsuR Technologies – integrates the what3words technology, meaning that all photos and reports will be geo-tagged with their unique three-word addresses.  In times of crisis, the communication of location is obviously key – and the memorability of using three words hugely simplifies this, reducing errors and ambiguity.


Hidden gems and uncharted territory


In developed economies too, the app holds much promise, especially in the transportation and logistics sector.  In April, for example, what3words closed an investment round with Deutsche Bahn (DB), Europe’s largest railway operator and infrastructure owner, which carried 4.4 billion people across its global rail and bus networks last year.  “There’s a clear need for the precision that the what3words system offers, as the world’s best addressed markets embrace technologies that require far higher accuracy than street addresses allow,” remarked Boris Kühn, Managing Director at Deutsche Bahn Digital Ventures – DB’s investment hub.  Indeed, in developed markets such as Europe and the US, where on-demand delivery is becoming the norm, couriers are using the three-word address system to save time on each and every consignment.  Consumers meanwhile are using three-word addresses to meet friends, find events and discover hidden gems in cities – from unaddressed locations in parks or beaches, to hard-to-locate entrances to Airbnbs and youth hostels.


Beyond that, the system has recently been built into drone delivery systems with Costa Rican courier GoPato and drone specialist Hylio.  Three-word addresses are also integrated into Jaguar Land Rover’s app Ardhi, which enables off-road thrill-seekers to plot new routes across the Middle Eastern and African landscapes – from the dunes of Dubai to the Atlas mountain range of Morocco in North Africa.  In addition, what3words is working with autonomous vehicle provider Net Future Transportation to provide the pinpoint – rather than pindrop – accuracy that tomorrow’s self-driving mobility requires.  Indeed, Emmanuele Spera, Next’s CEO and co-founder, has stated that what3words is “fundamental for driverless cars to be a success”.  Across all walks of life and industry then, expect to see many more random three-word configurations mapping out our world in the years ahead. www.what3words.com

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