Uber drives Middle East mapping push ahead of IPO -source
By Munsif Vengattil
BENGALURU, March 25 (Reuters) - Uber Technologies Inc
is six months into a major mapping project that fills
holes in its coverage of Middle Eastern cities ahead of a
possible takeover of regional rival Careem Networks and this
year's hotly anticipated initial public offering, according to a
source with knowledge of the project.
A team of 28 engineers and other staff, working for Indian
tech sector outsourcer Wipro, are on the verge of completing
detailed mapping of businesses and public buildings in Saudi
Arabian cities and have been asked to accelerate work as the
company eyes a stock market launch in April, the source said.
The team in the Indian city of Hyderabad has also recently
been entrusted with mapping Egypt and is under pressure to speed
up the work, the source added, speaking on condition of
anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly.
The costly and time-consuming exercise is vital to moves to
scale up in what has become a crucial market for Uber, with the
takeover of Dubai-based Careem and progress there a litmus test
of Uber's global ambitions after ceding other Asian countries to
It may also have served to bolster the company’s position in
talks on buying Careem, which other sources told Reuters on
Sunday may announce a $3 billion takeover this week.
Mapping is a largely manual process done one block and one
neighborhood at a time, requiring heavy investment, and the data
must be updated regularly. Maps are the foundation of
ride-hailing apps that shuttle passengers from one point to
another via a navigation app.
Careem, which operates in the Middle East, Africa and
southern Asia, had said previously it was 45,000 miles into
mapping the region, saying that shortfalls in Google Maps in the
Middle East coverage had forced it to spend on the project.
Normally Uber uses a mix of mapping resources, relying
heavily on Google Maps and augmenting its knowledge of streets
and pickup points using its own mapping cars and equipment
carried by Uber drivers in their vehicles.
Uber's website says its dedicated mapping cars are currently
working only in Canada and around a dozen U.S. states, having
previously mapped the UK, France, Australia, Indonesia, South
Africa, Columbia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and Brazil.
Uber said the team in India was curating "Places" mapping
data in Saudi Arabia to back up the necessary field work as it
seeks to create its own set of locations against which it can
easily search for pick-ups and drop-offs. It is different from
vector mapping data and is a database of trip destinations, the
Uber said it had not started work in Egypt.
According to the source, the process at Wipro is threefold;
beginning from validation of existing data, to verification of
new data collected from fieldwork and finally manually tagging
each business and establishment on the proprietary map.
The fieldwork is done by Uber's people on the ground, who go
from business to business and take pictures from all the
exterior sides of a building, a requirement in tagging the
location of an establishment. Workers at Wipro use official
websites and social media handles, as well as other resources,
to fact-check data, the source said.
Wipro said it does not comment on specific client
engagements. It was not clear whether Uber had agreements with
other outsourcers for mapping the region.
In the run-up to its initial public offering next month,
Uber is expected to tout its global reach and strong overseas
markets to investors as a differentiation from U.S. rival Lyft.
An Uber purchase of Careem, after it gave up on markets in
China, Southeast Asia and Russia in the face of strong local
startups, has put the Middle East at the heart of that
A tie-up with Careem would also allow both companies to stop
spending so heavily on infrastructure, as well as subsidizing
rides for passengers and poaching drivers with bonuses, which
have generated losses for both firms.
(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; additional
reporting by Heather Somerville in San Francisco; Writing by
Patrick Graham; Editing by Dan Grebler)
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