Crossroads Asia

A Change of Address for Mongolia

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Crossroads Asia

A Change of Address for Mongolia

Mongolia sets precedent with plans for adoption of new three-word address system this summer.

A Change of Address for Mongolia
Credit: Ulaanbaatar image via Mark Agnor /

The Mongol Post, the newly-privatized national Mongolian mail carrier, plans to adopt a new and wildly innovative address system this summer in partnership with what3words, a U.K.-based tech company. Each address will be denoted by a three-word phrase representing a specific 9-square-meter GPS coordinate. Effective on August 1, the Mongol Post’s new nomenclature aims to help remedy Mongolia’s widespread problem of inconsistent addressing and failed deliveries.

The what3words platform translates existing GPS information into a unique, easy-to-remember three-word code, which will be available in Mongolian as well as in English under the new system. For example, the new system would change the address of the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia from its existing address (U.S. Embassy, Denver Street #3, 11th Micro-District, Ulaanbaatar 14190, Mongolia) to constants.stuffy.activism.

In its press release, the Mongol Post cited the high rate of incomplete deliveries as a reason for adopting the new system. The national mail service argued that, as a rapidly emerging market, Mongolia needs “a functioning address system” to sustain its economic development and attract investment.

Mongolia is a country of over 3 million people, 30 percent of whom live nomadically—which presents serious challenges to traditional mail carriers. Even in urban areas, the lack of marked roads and addresses, in combination with poor infrastructure, leads to difficulties in completing deliveries.

It is common in Mongolia for phone numbers to be written on packages in order for deliverers to call the intended recipient for specific directions.

The mail carrier’s new partnership with what3words comes after a long search for improvements upon its existing address system. Batsaikhan Tsedendamba, CEO of the Mongol Post, said he believes “what3words is the most user-friendly and optimal technology” of the numerous options the organization considered.

According to the what3words website, about four billion people worldwide lack a consistent home address, and thus are unable to reliably get deliveries, report utility or service outages, or file official documents.

“Having an address is a human right,” said Ganhuyag Hutagt, CEO and founder of ARD Holdings, which currently owns a 17.5 percent stake in the Mongol Post.

“This will transform the lives of so many people,” said Hutagt, who is also a board member of the Mongol Post, over Skype. Rural and urban residents alike will not only have more reliable mail delivery but will be able to receive faster medical care, emergency services, and even e-commerce drone deliveries due to the more accurate address system, he argued.

Currently, in order to receive mail at residential addresses Mongolians must pay a premium for delivery service from carriers. Citizens often rent P.O. boxes kilometers away from their residences in order to ensure successful mail transport.

It is unclear whether the implementation of the new system would change the status quo of the pay-for-address norms. The Mongol Post did not immediately respond to inquiries regarding the specific details of policies and procedures of the new plan.

“Where addresses exist, they will of course continue to be used; however, Mongol Post will fill in existing gaps by gradually introducing what3words and corresponding technology into Mongol Post’s processes” Chris Sheldrick, CEO and co-founder of what3words, wrote in an email to The Diplomat.

Using “what3words will reduce frustrations for consumers, help businesses to be more efficient, and allow deliveries to unaddressed locations across the country,” wrote Sheldrick, in regards to the Mongol Post partnership.

The U.K.-based company has implemented its technology in over 170 countries, where it is employed by logistics firms, navigation apps, travel guides, and NGOs. Its technology has been utilized by the United Nations, the World Bank, and others. The system works without an internet or data connection and is available in nearly a dozen languages.

Though an official press release of the announcement was issued on May 23 in both English and Mongolian, news of the partnership in Mongolia has not been very widespread. Though the partnership with what3words was first covered by ikon, a tech-focused Mongolian media outlet, many Mongolians were not aware of the new development or its implications. On the contrary, this past week, the story went viral in the international media. NPRQuartzSmithsonianForeign PolicyLonely PlanetCBC News, and others covered the unprecedented national-level adoption of the new addressing method.

“Weird how its [sic] in [The] [G]uardian but not much in [M]ongolian media,” wrote Gantsetseg Gantulga in response to a video from The Guardian.

Not all Mongolians are happy with the upcoming change, or the press coverage of the development.

“I’m unimpressed by the whole thing,” said Michelle Borok, editor for The UB Post, who wrote a scathing opinion piece in Mongolia’s premiere English newspaper criticizing the new system.

“How is [the] Mongol Post going to make a name for itself by launching this software system next month when their post offices still use handwritten ledgers for every transaction and parcel they handle?” asked Borok in her article.

Nevertheless, those close to the matter are well aware of what is at stake in implementing the revolutionary new address system.

“The world is watching. We’re pioneering,” said Hutagt.