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Virtual post office solves Kenya’s location problem

Having a formal postal address has been impossible for many across Africa, until now.

Who needs a post office box when your packages and letters can be hand-delivered with the aid of GPS?

Kenyan start-up MPost (‘mobile post office’) has changed postal service dynamics with the development of a new mail delivery model. On registration, customers receive a unique postal code that follows them wherever their phone goes.

When a letter or package arrives for an MPost subscriber, the customer is automatically notified and can choose to have it delivered wherever they are through the direct delivery service guided by GPS. 

While the middle class is growing across the continent, scanty street mapping across much of sub-Saharan Africa has impeded e-commerce. MPost, however, provides cheap addressing solutions away from the traditional post office box concept.

Developed by Kenya’s Taz Technologies, the service works on smartphones as well as older generation entry-level phones.

Through the app, registered users get an instant virtual postal address with an option to change their postal codes for efficient delivery of their mail and parcels. They can also send mail and parcels of their own.

“This solution is set to enhance efficiency and convenience of mails and parcels delivery,” says Taz Technologies co-founder and chief technology officer Twahir Mohamed.

Like many hailing apps that have disrupted the market, Mpost’s charges are based on distance covered. Mohamed explains that once a customer receives a parcel or letter, a notification is sent inviting them to pick up the parcel for free at the nearest post office, or to have it delivered. “If the choice is delivery, MPost charges a base rate of USD 1.75 plus a per-kilometre rate.

An address for everyone

MPost addresses a problem that negatively distresses the lives of millions of Africans who do not have a post office box or a physical address by turning their mobile phone into a formal postal addresses.

Concerns have been raised over the future of the traditional post office if mobile phones can do the job just as well.

“MPost is not here to compete with the post office but to work in partnership with the post office,” says Taz Technologies co-founder and CEO Abdulaziz Omar.

“For the longest time the post office had the biggest network coverage but the issue has been how we give addresses to the 99% of people who don’t have postal addresses, and MPost has provided the solution.”

He says the service will be able to increase the revenues of the post office in terms of ‘last mile’ delivery and address subscription fees.

Security remains an issue with a conventional post service where the physical addresses of recipients can be altered at will.

“MPost is the most secure address, as the data collected is stored using blockchain technology,” says Omar. “The only section that can be changed wilfully is the postal code. Once you have registered for MPost, your data is stored and if you try registering a new address with another mobile number, your names and ID will be linked and easily identified as a duplicate.”

Barely two years after its launch, MPost won five continental awards, registered thousands of Kenyans to the virtual postal service, created over 3 400 jobs, and will represent Africa at this year’s Fenox Start-up World Cup in Silicon Valley for a chance to win US$ 1 million.

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Beautiful answer to that quintessential question for innovators, ‘what problem does your invention solve?’

Soon Dominos Pizza may soon adopt this technology to enhance their capability to deliver a pizza wherever you are with precision.

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