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whats3words, a solution to addressing Zambia’s unaddressed


Firstly, what3words? What is it?

What3words is a UK-based start-up with the addressing solution to service 75% of the world’s population without an address. That is 4 billion people without an address, or those with an address but no home delivery; Zampost, a leader in that field.

What3words is a simple solution built on the human mind’s predilection for words. Current addressing relies on 2 primary methods, Global Positioning System (GPS) or the good old compass. On their website What3words state,

Using words means non-technical people can find any location accurately and communicate it more quickly, more easily and with less ambiguity than any other system like street addresses, postcodes, latitude & longitude or mobile short-links.

People’s ability to immediately remember 3 words is near perfect whilst your ability to remember the 16 numbers, decimal points and N/S/E/W prefixes, that are required to define the same location using lat,long is zero.

No one can argue with that logic. Taken in our local context, ZICTA embarked on an expensive street naming and numbering exercise in 2015. The exercise benefitted communities by giving names to streets and affixing numbers to gates. However, that is where it ended. Good luck finding number 15 Joe Banda Road, because the exercise did not translate to any mapping technology.

How does what3words work? The solution is to take the entire globe and divide it into 3m x 3m squares. For the mathematically inclined that is 57 trillion, 9 square meter blocks. Each block is given a unique combination of 3 words. The application supports the following 9 English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Russian, German, Turkish & Swedish. More are on the way. 

A 3m x 3m square is tiny and will cover 99% of human dwellings enabling anyone to open a bank account, register a sim card or get post delivered. The image below shows the industries using the what3words service to expand their business to the unaddressed. The solution would do to home delivery and emergency services what mobile banking did to traditional banking services, shake it up and put the customer first.

Industries using what3words
Industries using what3words

According to this post, Mongolia will use what3words for its postal service,

Mongolia will become a global pioneer next month, when its national post office starts referring to locations by a series of three-word phrases instead of house numbers and street names.

For example, the new system would change the address of the US Embassy in Mongolia from:

US Embassy
Denver Street #3
11th Micro-District
Ulaanbaatar 14190

The new address will simply be: constants.stuffy.activism

The addresses are static and pre-assigned by the company. This structured approach will cut the potential for mix-ups from similar sounding addresses, for example, touch.alone.three compared to home.alone.tree. Where possible, similar sounding addresses are located on separate continents.

In this short 2 minute video the company CEO, Chris Sheldrick, explains why what3words works better than our current addressing solutions,



Image and Video credit: what3words