Whenever people buy things online and enter their home address on an e-commerce platform, one box leaves many scratching their heads－the six-digit postal code, nearly four decades old but rarely used in recent years.
The State Post Bureau's development and research center and Peking University's Beijing Institute of Big Data Research have been developing exclusive address codes, a type of postal code that offers a new approach.
The bureau, China's postal service regulator, is stepping up its efforts in working on unique personal address IDs in a bid to lower delivery costs and speed up the development of automated delivery services. They could also be of use to the public security authorities.
The new address codes are based on three-dimensional mapping technology, which splits the terrestrial space into nonoverlapping and seamless multilayered grids, similar in size and shape, and gives each grid a unique code, said Cheng Chengqi, director of the institute.
The codes are multidimensional, indexable, and computable. They could accurately locate a home address, whereas the traditional postal code only indicates a rough mailing area.
Chen Bo, the institute's deputy director, said there would be two types of address codes for every geographic location: a complicated code for high-precision location and computing; and a simpler code for people's daily use that would help standardize the location systems used by couriers.
Once the new address code system is complete, individuals and institutions would be able to use their identity documents to apply for exclusive address codes under the unified coding rules.
Zhou Xiaoguang, a professor at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, said an individual would be able to apply for multiple location codes, and the bureau would establish a public platform for individuals to manage their personal address codes and mobile phone numbers. When using a delivery service, people would only need to send their code to the courier.
China's courier sector has grown rapidly thanks to the e-commerce boom. The bureau said 27.1 billion parcels were handled during the first half of the year, up 25.8 percent year-on-year.
For courier companies, the new address code system could cut the space needed in distribution warehouses by 27 percent, the number of delivery vehicles by 71 percent, couriers by 41 percent and total delivery costs by 44 percent, Zhou said.
Current address information, which was complex and inaccurate, posed great challenges to automated delivery services, he said. The new system, easily computed and able to recognize a precise address, would streamline the delivery process and help such services grow rapidly.
With the new postal code still under research, the country will not abolish the six-digit postal code at the moment, according to the bureau.