Hoping to save lives, Vodacom zero-rates addressing service what3words for South Africa


When you’re stuck out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but two broken legs and a smartphone, how do you get medical care? It’s possible to contact someone but where do you send them? That’s the problem that addressing service what3words has attempted to er… address. And now, thanks to Vodacom, it may just save your life. The mobile service provider has zero-rated what3words on its network.

A global first

What3words is a technology that has divided the planet up in to areas of 3m x 3m — and each of these areas has their own three words as a descriptor. We’re not going to talk about Stuff‘s three words (though we’d dearly love to change them) but what it boils down to is that you can pass on those three words to anyone and, with the service’s help, they’ll find you.

Which is a great idea for South Africa, which has large informal settlements as well as large areas of wilderness. Sending medical care to a specific place in one of these locations just got a whole lot easier — following a pilot program involving the Gauteng Emergency Medical Services, Western Cape Emergency Medical Services and Sea Rescue South Africa, what3words will be free-to-use on Vodacom’s network.

How does it work?

Basically, the free what3words app functions even while offline, pointing out exactly which 3m x 3m square you’re currently standing on. That information can then be given to emergency services, your folks, friends, or Liam Neeson, and they can come directly to you.

The service also works on handsets that are just data-enabled (in other words, not a smartphone). According to Vodacom’s release, “…a caller does not have the app, emergency services text a link to the what3words emergency find me website which tells them the what3words address for the location. The caller then simply must read the three on the screen of their smartphone or data enabled phone.” Sounds simple enough.

If you want to check out what all the fuss is about (and, of course, to find out which three words you’ve got), you can check out the service either online, or via its iOS or Android apps.


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