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SA's Largest Telecomms Provider vs. a Pigeon 149

Posted by samzenpus
from the may-the-best-bird-win dept.
dagwud writes "Just a few days after this Slashdot article, South Africa's largest telecoms provider, Telkom (which has been taking flak for years for its shoddy and overpriced service), is being pitted against a homing pigeon to see which can deliver 4GB of call centre data logs quickest over a distance of around 80km (50 miles). According to the official website, the race is set to take place September 10."

*

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SA's Largest Telecomms Provider vs. a Pigeon

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  • by UncHellMatt (790153) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @10:59AM (#29351421)
    ...African or European?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Yvan256 (722131)

      Soldier #1: Oh, yeah, an African swallow maybe, but not a European swallow. That's my point.
      Soldier #2: Oh, yeah, I agree with that.
      Soldier #1: But then of course African swallows are non-migratory.
      Soldier #2: Oh, yeah...
      Soldier #1: So, they couldn't bring 4GB of call centre data logs anyway...

      • Don't underestimate the throughput of a wagon full of data tapes speeding down a freeway.
        • Credit to Andrew Tanenbaum for that last quote..

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by MrNaz (730548) *

          If it's a South African freeway, you'll have to factor in some serious packet loss due to carjackings.

          Disclaimer: I'm from South Africa.

        • by goombah99 (560566)

          from wikipedia:

          Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway. â"Tanenbaum, Andrew S. (1996). Computer Networks. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. pp. 83. ISBN 0-13-349945-6.

          The original version of this quotation came much earlier; the very first problem in Tanenbaum's 1981 textbook Computer Networks asks the student to calculate the throughput of a St. Bernard carrying floppy disks (which are said to hold 250 kilobytes of data). The f

      • by Yetihehe (971185)
        But this is held in south africa, so they WILL use african swallow.
      • by joaommp (685612)

        My money is on the pidgeon.

        • by jamstar7 (694492)
          Agreed. I got 10 Euros on the pigeon as well. God bless offshore betting parlours...
          • by joaommp (685612)

            Dear Sir

            I'm contacting you in the name of the office of the Ministery of Transport, Pidgeons and Communications of South Africa. Recently, the former minister has been abducted by aliens and therefore considered Missing In Action. He has left a huge fortune that is to be placed in a bet in a pidgeon running against a telecom. For that, we come asking for your help, as we need a second bank account to transfer the money, since we are unable to do it directly because the minister used strange passwords. I kin

    • you win. My day is complete!
    • by LaminatorX (410794) <sabotage.praecantator@com> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:41AM (#29352081) Homepage

      I would assume African, given the locale.

    • Is there anybody else up there we could talk to?
    • by Abreu (173023)

      Terry Pratchett's Going Postal did this first!

  • Homers rule! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by certain death (947081) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:00AM (#29351433)
    I wonder if they will be using an RFC compliant pigeon... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IP_over_Avian_Carriers [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Aim Here (765712)

      From TFA:

      Anyway I read a Aprils fools white paper about Avian carrier networks a couple of years ago. Basically it is a protocol that uses racing pigeons as a network layer.

      So in all probabilities, yes, it's an RFC1149 compliant pigeon.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:02AM (#29351465)

    Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of pigoens hurtling down the highway.

    • - which presents a nice illustration of the difference between bandwidth and latency! :)

      • - which presents a nice illustration of the difference between bandwidth and latency! :)

        It presents to me more of an image requiring much cleaning up of bird crap.

        • by eta526 (833281)
          Audit trails are automatically generated, and can often be found on logs and cable trays.
    • by antdude (79039)

      Would there be a pigeon be driving too? ;)

    • by StikyPad (445176)

      Exactly.. the fact that you can out-bandwidth a network connection via Sneakernet [wikipedia.org] is not news, even for values of Sneaker == Pigeon. With a 2Mbit upstream, it would take me over 4.5 hours to send 4GB, which means it's faster to take a thumb drive for most distances < 270mi (60mph * 4.5h), and certainly all distances <= 50mi.. at least for points coinciding with the surface of the earth.

      The latency of Sneakernet sort of sucks though, and I wouldn't recommend it for anything other than the most casual

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        "the fact that you can out-bandwidth [SOME] network connections"

        A faster connection beats your sneakernet. The only meaningful comparisons are either state-of-the-art to state-of-the-art (fastest commercially available connection vs. as much high density storage as you can carry) or, far more interesting, equivalent cost transport media. Don't forget to factor in gasoline, wear and tear, insurance, cost of thumb drive, etc.

  • by jcochran (309950) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:07AM (#29351551)

    the order for a large shipment of Ospreys, peregrines, and other raptors to South Africa.......

  • by LordAndrewSama (1216602) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:08AM (#29351575)

    South Africa's largest telecoms provider, Telkom (which has been taking flak for years for its shoddy and overpriced service)

    It should be mentioned that they have a monopoly on landlines and that's why they're still the largest despite all the flak. 39% state owned, and ICASA(south africa's communications regulator) is practically telkoms bitch.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by JavaBear (9872) *

      They should have tested this on the Comrades Marathon 2009 (89km), giving one of the runners the memory stick, and see him/her finish before the 4GB download completes at the finish line.

  • This is really old news who cares?
      Any kind of memory can get lost ever hear of RAID?

  • When the telecom mysteriously transmits allegations from dead employees! Or fire raining down from the sky, that's a popular bet.
  • Will Telkom play fair? Or will they throw resources at the problem to ensure they win? I really don't know a thing about network transport, so what I suggest may not even be possible in the time alloted. The marketing aspects are interesting too. Does Telkom generate good will by taking its lumps good-naturedly and then make real efforts to fix its problems? I suspect that rigging the game could actually do more harm than good.
    • Re:Telkom play fair? (Score:4, Informative)

      by wvmarle (1070040) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:33AM (#29351957)

      RTFA: they had a trial (pigeon won), got in the news, quickly got a call from the telco's rep to get their circuit number so telco could make sure they had good service. Fair? Well not as long as telco is not giving them more bandwidth than they are supposed to have... in which case telco is just doing their job (which they are obviously not doing now). The best part of the article is the implicit suggestion to switch from ADSL to pigeons: the blogger claims they would save more than 80% cost compared to the existing line, or about USD 4600 per month savings.

    • by Rinkhals (930763)
      I doubt it.

      This is getting quite a lot of publicity and Telkom won't like the implications.

      I suspect that they are already hatching (sorry) schemes of which Terry Thomas would be proud.
    • pintpusher: Will Telkom play fair? Or will they throw resources at the problem to ensure they win?

      Interesting choice of words there... considering that "resources" which could help them win would include two shells full of birdshot...

    • by plover (150551) *

      Will Telkom play fair? Or will they throw resources at the problem to ensure they win?

      If by "resources" you mean "peregrine falcons", I wouldn't be surprised.

  • by Anonymous Cowar (1608865) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:12AM (#29351625)
    will they be counting the time it takes to get the data from the computer, put it on the 4gb media, strap it to the bird, send it off, retrieve it, and load it onto the end computer or will they just do a door-to-door race?

    RTFA? ME? Do you know what site you're reading?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AndGodSed (968378)

      Well the "get the data to the pigeon" is probably a moot point since you can release the pigeon from right next to the laptop where you will be sending the data from. Also you can start the send the moment you start uploading the data to a memory drive. 4gb should not take that long to load onto a newish flash disk...

      And then the pigeon will probably land next to the laptop receiving the data.

      And, come to think of it, who says the data via pigeon needs to be computer to computer? If a sysadmin receives it,

      • by xaxa (988988)

        The article is Slashdotted, but let's assume this is one working day's worth of logs, i.e. 8 hours. That's just under 300kB/s.

        How fast was the ADSL line? Perhaps they could get a slower one, and stream the log data as it's produced.

    • by coogan (850562)
      Believe me our access here is sometimes so crap that we could hand rear the pigeon and still beat the download speed.
  • Knowing Telkom, this is not a fair competition at all. The Pigeon have an unfair advantage of being faster, and not having the 3GB bandwidth cap that is (were 2 years ago) the norm on Telkom's ADSL accounts.
    And I know I mentioned the information was 2 years old, but when talking about SA Telcom, that makes the it practically fully up to date

  • by dreemernj (859414) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:19AM (#29351753) Homepage Journal
    pigeowned.
  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:26AM (#29351857)
    In their trial run, the pigeon took 48 mins to transfer 4 GB of data. That is a sustained 12 Mb. Quite a decent speed, even for a 80-km link that they are renting for roughly USD 6000 per month.

    The show-down is set for tomorrow (Wed 9 Sep) so we even don't have to wait long for the final results!

    • The telco should have to deliver lunch as well. mmmm pidgeon.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by wvmarle (1070040)
        Yes fried pigeon is quite yummy. Unfortunately since a serious bird flue outbreak a few years ago all over Mainland they tripled in price so we don't eat pigeon so often any more, maybe a few times a year, down from twice a month at least. They haven't come down in price really. You can still get them fresh in the market as well (the vendor will kill and pluck the pigeon for you). I live in Hong Kong, for the record.
        • Re:Lunch... (Score:4, Funny)

          by FireFury03 (653718) <slashdot@nex[ ]k.org ['usu' in gap]> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @12:51PM (#29353149) Homepage

          Yes fried pigeon is quite yummy. Unfortunately since a serious bird flue outbreak a few years ago all over Mainland they tripled in price so we don't eat pigeon so often any more, maybe a few times a year, down from twice a month at least. They haven't come down in price really. You can still get them fresh in the market as well (the vendor will kill and pluck the pigeon for you). I live in Hong Kong, for the record.

          And you have to remember to remove the SD cards from the pigeon before chucking it in the pan.

          • by eta526 (833281)
            Sounds like a valid durability test for a SD card. I'd be willing to bet that it would survive longer in the pan than the bird would.
            • by wvmarle (1070040)
              Not a fair test as the bird is usually already dead before it is put in the oil. I think that that has partly to do with the fact that you won't want all those feathers in the oil, and that when it comes to the plucking part a bird is most cooperative when dead. And it saves on protests from the SPCA and its ilk.
  • This sort of thing reminds me of an exam question ohe of my CS professors once asked on an exam.

    "Which is more efficient? (or has more bandwidth)

    1. An 18-wheeler truck hauling a full load of hard drives (filled to capacity) traveling from New York to San Francisco at an average speed of 50 mph.

        or

    2. A T1 line transmitting the same data data.

    (The necessary data was given as part of the exam question.)

    • by JavaBear (9872) *

      IIRC, Maersk Line did something similar, though they moved their US data centre to Denmark, but they loaded up a plane with hard drives instead of a truck.
      They had to move the data between COB Friday, and be ready to run Monday morning in Denmark.
      I can't remember if they succeeded.

    • The truck is going to be more efficient in burst mode, but the T1 is going to be more efficient in sustained.

      As to which is faster, then it is going to be the truck, on the condition you ignore the time to do the paper work, driver breaks, loading and unloading, so on and so forth.

      • by Skim123 (3322)

        As to which is faster, then it is going to be the truck, on the condition you ignore the time to do the paper work, driver breaks, loading and unloading, so on and so forth.

        As others have noted, the truck will be WAY faster, and could take an hour break every 5 minutes and still win hands down. Heck, a person with a small rig attached to a bicycle could beat the T1.

  • If the trial is any indicator, then the speed of the pidgeon was 4096MB / 68 minutes * 60 seconds/minute = 1.003921569 MB/s. Even if they fail, I wouldn't consider Telkom a terrible ISP, given this test alone.
  • by i.r.id10t (595143) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:30AM (#29351931)

    They should do it here in the US - dove season just opened in many states. Sure, you'll have a lot of packet loss, but the ones that make it thru will be going really really FAST

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      They should do it here in the US - dove season just opened in many states

      I really had no idea. I thought the US was full of hawks, not doves.

    • by lxs (131946)

      Dick Dastardly and Muttley may foil that plan.

    • They should do it here in the US - dove season just opened in many states. Sure, you'll have a lot of packet loss, but the ones that make it thru will be going really really FAST

      So this is just the avian equivalent of UDP?

      • by i.r.id10t (595143)

        Can you grill UDP packets after putting a slice of jalepeno pepper on it and wrapping in bacon? Because if so, then yes, the equivalent of UDP. Don't think UDP tastes as good though...

  • As has been said before, never underestimate the bandwidth of a stationwagon...
  • I hope they're properly using IP over Avian Carriers, as described in RFC 1149! Otherwise, it's definitely not fair.
  • by d-r0ck (1365765)

    The carrier pigeon is not a practical replacement for a high speed link. For one the latency is quite high compared to DSL. Also it may be less secure since it is using a wireless solution.

    • by Chatsubo (807023) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:47AM (#29352177)

      So now you won't using ethereal to sniff packets. But a shotgun.

      • by rdnetto (955205)

        So now you won't using ethereal to sniff packets. But a shotgun.

        I'm guessing a rifle would be better. A shotgun would probably hit the storage as well.

    • by natehoy (1608657)

      Latency is balanced with packet size. If you can send a single 16GB packet, it may be worth the additional latency, though a lost packet is bad and the delay until you know you need a resend could be counterproductive. Pigeons don't have monthly bandwidth caps - your capacity is constrained only by the amount of data you can fit into a lightweight package and waterproof it, and that combined with the latency relegates pigeons to high-capacity, low-priority data.

      As far as security, you'd want to encrypt th

    • by goodmanj (234846)

      Also it may be less secure since it is using a wireless solution.

      Ah, but the packets peep when you peek, and peck if you poke!

  • by woboyle (1044168) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:42AM (#29352107)
    In the 70's and 80's, HP in Cupertino used to send engineering drawings (as microfich) to a facility near Santa Cruz, on the other side of the Santa Cruz mountains using carrier pigeons. It was faster and more reliable than using motorcycle courier, and in those days the Darpa-Net wasn't fast enough for the purpose. CPIP - Carrier Pigeon Internet Protocol - good bandwidth, not so good latency, though a packet ACK is easily accomplished with a phone call... :-)
    • by Burning1 (204959)

      more reliable than using motorcycle courier

      Our hearts go out to all the dead motorcycle couriers littering Highway 17.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @11:43AM (#29352117)

    I've been a customer for years, and I haven't noticed any problems. (Oh, and first post BTW.)

  • No doubt Telkom will dig up some arcane legislation whereby it is illegal to pit a pigeon against this heavily state-funded telecoms provider. Further, the people organising this will be served legal papers from ICASA ordering them to cease their operations immediately. After many years of lawsuits (and counter-lawsuits) it will be deemed that the organisers do actually have a right to strap USB sticks to pigeons but by that time Telekom will have bred flocks of the creatures thereby preventing any meaning
  • Hope the pigeon wins, but this really does gives a new meaning to the expression 'dropped packet'...
  • In my 4th year "Computer Networks" course that was a final exam question except it was the school's T1 line (hey that was fast back then) vs an airplane full of CD-R's.

    The airplane won easily on total bandwidth, but the Doom2 ping times sucked.
  • My bet is on the telecom employee in the bush with the BB gun.

  • I wonder what's the MTU of pigeons these days. With modern micro-SD cards, it's got to be north of 8 GB. I'm pretty sure that's bigger than IPv4 can accommodate.

  • Just goes to show that the highest bandwidth device on the planet is a large container ship filled with hard drives. Of course if you need a lower latency device you can always use a cargo 747. If you do the math it blows fiber out of the water. If course of you have a container wash off deck the retransmit time for packet loss in rather high. The TTL for washed over cargo can be sometimes be in the years, such as for these rubber ducks http://rubaduck.com/news/rubber_duck_news-200302-duckies_around_the [rubaduck.com]
  • I was living in SA until last year. I skipped the landlines and went with Vodacom for my internet. IT WAS CHEAPER AND FASTER.

    This is not a joke. If they are testing a typical DSL landline (which costs a person about $100/month), the pigeon will win.

    BTW...Telkom charges you for the phone line, then an internet connection fee, and then you must purchase a "data bundle" which is all you are allowed to use before your internet is cut-off for the month. Most people stay around 1G or 2G of data. The 4G is
  • Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway. -Andrew S. Tanenbaum

  • by Ltap (1572175)
    Would IP over avian carriers be called "flappernet"?
  • I just realized - IP over Avian Carriers [wikipedia.org] could be considered a conceptual precursor of Delay-Tolerant Networking [wikipedia.org] and the Interplanetary Internet [wikipedia.org] (not to be confused with the Interplanetary Transport Network [wikipedia.org], which is a method for moving actual things around in the Solar System at minimum cost).

    Using pigeons as the transport mechanism would be a pretty good real-world test of the method. Sure, the transport methodology and the tests themselves ould be simulated in the computer, but where's the fun in that?

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      I can think of some older conceptual precursors. "Mail", for example. Also, "pony express" and "runner." That last one is pretty old. Games have been played by all those methods. "Runner" even involved early cryptography in the form of Caesar's Box.

  • Servicemen from Telkom were seen releasing large numbers of kestrels and falcons along the route of the proposed test.

    When asked for a comment, a Telkom spokesperson said "We intend to prove that IPoAC [wikipedia.org] is prone to sudden and catastrophic packet loss due to unanticipated natural events."
  • My moneys on the Pigeon, as long as there is more than one being sent out with the same packet. That whole Eggs/Basket thing makes me hedge my bet.
  • Where the postal carriage was pitted against the semaphore tower.

    And the semaphore company had /exactly/ the same "shoddy/overpriced" rep.

  • I wonder what their upload speed is? If it is asynchronus, they won't be able to touch the bird.

  • ...devoted to the development of trained Hawks/Owls to take out the competition.

    "In another IT development, local businesses are suffering data transmission losses at an unprecedented rate. One local health official (who asked to remain unidentified) attributed the losses to an increase in Avian Influenza in the region..."

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