Name changes makes SA mapping 'difficult'

2014-01-28 09:30
Nokia's Here Maps offer an alternative to Google's software. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Nokia's Here Maps offer an alternative to Google's software. (Duncan Alfreds, News24) (Duncan Alfreds)

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Cape Town - You're driving along an unfamiliar road, but you are relaxed because you have navigation assistance. But then, the road stops, or there's an unfamiliar name, and instantly, you're lost somewhere in South Africa.

Road name changing and changing road conditions are some of the major challenges that mapping companies in SA face.

"One of the biggest challenges here is the road name changes. We have many roads that, every month, change to different names and we have to stay up to date. We get our information from councils and municipalities and obviously driving as well," Irvin Atchison, sales director for Here Maps in Sub Sahara told News24.

Here Maps is a division of Nokia and the company has made a significant investment into independently mapping roads throughout Africa.

"It’s a complicated process: Mapping; driving is not as easy as it appears to be. In South Africa, you have a lot of roads that are simply unnamed," said Atchison.


While some South Africans may continue to use - or even prefer - older names of roads, Atchison was unapologetic about the naming process.

"Our policy is that we name the road in its official name – that's what it is, get used to it – however, the navigation system will actually navigate you to the road, irrespective of what you call it."

The company has a team of 18 vehicles that patrol South African roads, and regularly repeat trips in more populated areas to ensure accuracy.

"We have a field team and they have a schedule and they will work their way around South Africa. They will do maintenance on areas; depending on where the area is, will do Johannesburg a lot more often than Kakamas or whatever," Atchison said.

The operations work in similar manner to internet giant Google, but unlike its competitor, Here Maps for the entire country can be downloaded and used offline.

The company has also expanded into mapping roads throughout Africa, but the process is not without risk as many countries are lacking in government infrastructure, especially in rural areas.

In African countries, mapping can be a dangerous exercise. Large animals, ad hoc road blocks and closures are some of the hazards that drivers face.


"And of course, getting into Africa is another story. It's a safety issue in a lot of the northern African countries. We're a roving autobank in most countries because the guys will see us driving and come and get their coffee money; and they'll come and see you again in the afternoon and come and get their beer money, and so it goes on," said Atchison.

Google also seems to be aware of risk to its drivers and several township areas are not mapped in the company's Street View programme.

Atchison couldn't resist a swipe at Google, which admitted that its Street View cars unwittingly collected personal data over open Wi-Fi networks, suggesting that Here Maps was more sensitive to privacy than the US-based internet giant.

"We believe that we do it better, and we just have more privacy policies that we believe are more suitable to the consumer."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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