Global geotech firm What3Words poised to focus on the Gulf

What3Words already has a presence in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman

Two points in Riyadh city mapped out with What3Words.

Global geosystem company What3Words plans to ramp up activity in the Gulf in the next few months, according to the firm’s Middle Eastern market lead.

The UK-headquartered company, which enables users to identify and share any precise location using just three words, foresees major growth opportunities in a region where postal systems are often inaccurate or non-existent.

The firm already has a presence in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman, and is partnered up with major players such as ride hailing service Careem, logistics giant Aramex and Oman Taxis. What3Words is also built into regional Mercedes car models.

“We will be announcing tie-ups with more logistics partners soon in the UAE,” Firas Marafie, What3Words market lead – Middle East, told Arabian Business.

Marafie said logistics and ecommerce growth has been “massive” amid the coronavirus pandemic, adding that there has been a spike in demand for online delivery.

“As a location technology company, that spike has served us well because we serve the online market and make it easier for people to receive deliveries,” said London-based Marafie.

“With Gulf announcing conservative lockdowns during the coronavirus era, the last mile market has grown,” he said.

The World Economic Forum has estimated the UAE’s 2020 e-commerce market at $27.2bn, with similar growth across MENA.

A recent study by management consultants Kearney Middle East of ten markets in the region, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, revealed that up to 40 percent of Middle Eastern respondents are now shopping online more than they were before the coronavirus outbreak.

Wadi, one of the largest e-commerce providers in Saudi Arabia, has integrated what3words into its delivery process. People can now add a three-word address to the delivery information on their user profiles and receive their groceries at that precise location, instead of relying on descriptions and landmarks to say where they live.

Middle East problem

Founded in 2013, What3Words now has a team of over 120, with offices in the UK, USA, South Africa and Mongolia. What3words has a website, apps for iOS and Android, and an API that enables bidirectional conversion between what3words address and latitude/longitude coordinates.

The company’s revenues comes from charging businesses for high-volume use of the API that converts between three words and coordinates; services for other users are free of charge.

“The UK postcode is very strong but in Dubai they don’t have a proper system and you have to rely on verbal directions and the problem is even more pronounced in Saudi Arabia. Oman also has an address problem too. I’d argue that technically there is more of a need for the technology in the Middle East,” said Marafie.

“If you are a pizza company and someone is providing a three word address, from that point you will receive the converted address coordinates and we charge,” he said. “Instead of having to remember and speak an address into satnav, users can now just say three easy words like ‘phone – card – lamp’, it’s a much better experience.”

Growing awareness

In the UK, What3Words has found fame as an emergency services assistor. Its technology – which is accurate with a three metres by three metres square – enables lightning fast response times.

“This successful social use drove high awareness for us in the UK as it was covered extensively in the media. In the space of a week, we had almost a million downloads,” said Marafie.

The next step in driving What3Word’s success is growing global awareness, said the regional market lead.


Firas Marafie, What3Words market lead – Middle East.

“For someone to provide a three word address in the first place is they need to know about it,” Marafie said.

”The goal is to partner with the large players because we want to get to a place where there is good user awareness; working with big partners is a good way to do that and establish credibility.”

“We want to make using What3Words behaviorally accepted and common,” said Marafie.

“We want to develop a global addressing standard, by building a unified addressing system that works and is consistent anywhere in the world.”

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