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High-tech snail-mail service What3words goes big in Africa

The tech wraps the globe in addresses like "atomic.camera.poem." That's good news for Nigeria, where a poor address system has been a serious concern for citizens.

This Nigerian home can now get snail mail at "allotted.keeping.purchase." That's a bigger deal than you might at first think.

What3words

Nigeria has a snail-mail problem that creates serious issues, and it's hoping a high-tech address system can deliver a fix.

The postal service of Africa's most populous country is set to start using What3words, according to the same-named company behind the system.

The technology uses an algorithm to carve up the planet into 3-meter squares -- 57 trillion of 'em -- and give each a three-word label. Times Square in New York is "bolts.native.year," for instance, and Boston's Faneuil Hall is "atomic.camera.poem."

"Nigeria's poor addressing system means that only 20 percent of its inhabitants receive mail at home," UK-based What3words said in a blog post Wednesday.

That's a big deal -- even in the email age -- because it makes it tough for folks to receive packages, tap into government benefits, sign up for electricity and water utilities and get help from emergency services. It can hamper businesses too.

Through its Mail for Every House Initiative, Nigeria's NIPOST postal service hopes to increase home delivery to 70 percent during the next two years and to 90 percent by 2020, and it's looking to What3words for an assist, the company said.

What3words hopes to make money through use of its service, with big customers paying for access to its application programming interface. And its business hinges on adoption in developing markets, where postal service is poor.

Six other countries already use its system, the company said: Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Mongolia, Solomon Islands, Sint Maarten and Tonga.

CNET's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.