Tonga Adopts Geolocation Technology To Create Formal Postal System

British company helping country develop addresses 

By Lauren Beldi and Kerri Worthington

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Feb. 17, 2017) – The Kingdom of Tonga is getting a formal postal system for the first time.

The Pacific island nation has joined several other developing countries in adopting new geolocation technology developed by a British company to give everyone an address, just not one involving traditional street names or numbers.

The company, What3Words, developed an algorithm that can provide accurate location anywhere on Earth down to nine square metres.

Company spokesman Giles Rhys Jones said the developers wanted to simplify global positioning system (GPS) locations from a long chain of numerals to something people could remember — three random words.

"They realised that there were enough words in the English dictionary to give every three metre by three metre square on the planet a unique address," he said.

"We have a word list in English of 40,000 words ... 64 trillion combinations.

"Now, there are 57 trillion 3m by 3m squares in the world, so you can give every single one a unique three word address."

Deliveries in Tonga, like many Pacific islands, are usually made by a hit-and-miss series of directions using land marks and help from the locals.

It will be the first Pacific nation to adopt the What3Words system to develop a postal service, joining Mongolia, Ivory Coast, Djibouti and the Caribbean Dutch territory Sint Maarten.

The CEO of Tonga Post, Siosifa Pomana, said that in contrast to traditional addressing systems, the three-word approach is much cheaper and simpler to use.

It was tedious to have to ask for directions when making a delivery, he told Pacific Beat.

"It really is a nightmare," he said, adding that the new system is also more efficient.

"When mail gets to the post office, the sorting is much easier and faster for us because we know the What3Words belongs to Mr X or Mrs X," Mr Pomana said.

"And that will help our deliver guys go by the shortest route and make someone happy by delivering mail on time and probably in real time quicker than we used to do before."

Tonga Post becomes 'international.bashfully.placidity'

Tonga Post hopes to distribute three word addresses to most of the country by the end of the year.

"By Christmas, everyone should have a three word address or should know about it and should be able to use it either online or through the traditional mailing system," Mr Pomana said.

"We'll definitely see more undelivered mail delivered and see a lot more in-bound mail coming in through e-commerce orders.

Tonga Post's three word address is international.bashfully.placidity.

Speaking to the ABC from circles.vocals.office, the address of a hotel in Dubai, Giles Rhys Jones said the technology was free and available to anyone.

"Our algorithm sits on computer or device and all you need is a GPS connection. We have this equation that translated GPS into three words and back again."

Mr Rhys Jones said What3Words was available in 13 languages other than English.

"So you can talk about any location in French, Spanish, Swahili, Mongolian and others," he said.

"Simply put, the three metre square that you're standing in has 14 different layers to it, different languages. 

"[The three words are] all different and they're all appropriate for that language ... as soon as you start typing in the French three word address for that location, the system will recognise it.

"If you start typing in the Spanish three word — you don't need to say 'hey I'm now talking in Spanish' — the system will understand whatever language you're using automatically."

The postal service application of the three word address system is seen by the British developer as having the potential to bring billions of people basic citizen's rights, allowing those in the most remote places to participate in their country's community life.

Mr Rhys Jones said the technology also had a humanitarian application.

"We're being used by the United Nations, we're being used by the Red Cross in the Philippines for disaster response," he said.

"It's everything from finding your friend at a festival to getting packages delivered to aid and allowing people to vote or tell an ambulance where they are.

"So the applications are very broad."

Radio Australia
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