ER24 emergency personnel locate a patient using what3words addressing system. Picture: SUPPLIED.
ER24 emergency personnel locate a patient using what3words addressing system. Picture: SUPPLIED.

What3words, a British start-up that says it can find any location on the planet using three words, has signed a deal with mobile operator Vodacom to zero-rate its location platform in its latest move to shake up the traditional address system.

The start-up first came to prominence in SA in 2019 when emergency services group ER24 started to use the what3words mobile phone application to deploy emergency services to remote parts of the country using their unique location system.

What3words has divided the planet up into 3m x 3m blocks and has assigned three words for each block to help users find their locations. Using “rally.latches.steams”, for example, provides the precise spot in the Johannesburg Botanic Garden.

The start-up says its technology makes it easier to access areas with no street addresses, which is a big problem for businesses such as online retailers who struggle with undefined locations in SA.

Vodacom has now made the website zero-rated — accessible at no data cost — for its subscribers through the ConnectU platform, first launched at the start of April.

This adds to the growing list of zero-rated services offered by mobile operators in recent months that had mainly been driven by pressure from competition authorities and in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Lyndsey Duff, what3words country manager for SA, said their platform has also gained wide use in the UK with about 75% of emergency services in that country using it.

The platform has been adopted by emergency medical services in Gauteng and the Western Cape, she said.

It may be some time before the new addressing system is enough to send a letter, though some companies such as Avior Capital Markets have started listing their what3words locations as part of their address.

Jorge Mendes, chief officer for Vodacom's consumer business unit, said it would useful to have the option of registering new SIM cards using the system. But for now the focus is on letting people know about it and to have it available for emergency situations.

He told Business Day there are plans to roll out the ConnectU platform to other countries in which Vodacom operates, which means the partnership with what3words may extend beyond SA's borders in the near future.

gavazam@businesslive.co.za

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