Vodacom helps South African emergency services with free data access to what3words | what3words
01/04/2020

Vodacom, the largest mobile provider in South Africa, has made it possible for millions of South Africans to find their what3words address in an emergency – without using data.

Over 43 million Vodacom subscribers in South Africa can now easily find and communicate their what3words address in an emergency, by using a free data access page.

Large parts of South Africa have inadequate addressing due to the legacy of apartheid spatial planning. This means that every month, thousands of people struggle to tell emergency services exactly where they are and how to find them. In areas without addresses, callers are often only able to provide vague descriptions or references to landmarks, which means emergency services spend vital minutes, and often hours, searching for those in need of urgent help.

what3words provides a solution to this problem. Every 3m square in the world has been given a unique combination of three words: a what3words address. This makes it possible for anyone, anywhere to describe their precise location using just three words and discover them in any of the four available South African languages: Afrikaans, Xhosa, IsiZulu and English. For example, instead of saying, ‘I’m in Mabopane township, near the church and opposite the field’ callers can now say ‘I am at archives kickers slides’ and be located accurately.

Many emergency services across South Africa now accept and use what3words to help locate callers who otherwise may be incredibly difficult to find.

How does it work?
When dealing with callers who are struggling to describe their location, call handlers can send an SMS to the caller’s phone with a link to the what3words FindMe website. This opens a simple web page displaying three words: the what3words address for the caller’s current location. The caller reads the three words to the call handler, enabling the emergency control room to identify exactly where the caller is and to dispatch help straight to the location.

Example here:

Example of 3 word address on what3words Find Me website.

Until now, however, emergency services have experienced a barrier to this process – data costs. In South Africa, data is expensive and often callers do not have the luxury of even the small amount of data required to open the what3words FindMe web page at the crucial moment when they need it.

To solve this problem, and to ensure millions of South Africans can give their location accurately in an emergency, Vodacom has zero-rated the what3words web page used by emergency services. Now any Vodacom customer calling for help will always be able to find those crucial three words that could save their life.

Chris Sheldrick, Co-founder and CEO of what3words said, ‘what3words has seen significant adoption by emergency services around the world, including the UK and South Africa. Unfortunately, the issue of data affordability in South Africa meant that many people were hitting a crucial blocker when calling emergency services and trying to provide their location. By zero-rating the what3words FindMe site, enabling all subscribers to find their what3words address without data, Vodacom has increased the potential for this technology to save lives.’

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