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Pigeon Turns Out To Be Faster Than S. African Net 406 writes "The results are in: it's faster to send your data via an airborne carrier than it is through the pipes. As discussed Tuesday, a company in South Africa called Unlimited IT, frustrated by terribly slow Internet speeds, decided to prove their point by sending an actual homing pigeon with a "data card" strapped to its leg from one of their offices to another while at the same time uploading the same amount of data to the same destination via their ISPs data lines. The media outlet reporting this triumph said that it took the pigeon just over 1 hour to make the 80km/50mile flight, whereas it took over 2 hours to transfer just 4% of that data."


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Pigeon Turns Out To Be Faster Than S. African Net

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  • by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) * <bittercode@gmail> on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:58AM (#29376801) Homepage Journal

    Suck it, non-pigeons.

    • by Chatsubo ( 807023 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @09:00AM (#29377321)

      Patent application granted to "Telkom Communications" for a "method for transmitting data via avian carrier", even though lots of prior art exists.

    • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @09:01AM (#29377329) Journal

      I fear that this might have been an unfair comparison, though. The pigeon was, after all, dedicated to only that one transfer.

      For a more apples-to-apples comparison with most companies' networks, the pigeon should also be transporting:

      - a porn DVD or two

      - half the collection of lolcat movies on youtube

      - and half the collection of funny clips

      - a periodic refresh of Slashdot, in 1 second intervals.

      - an IRC session on sexnet for the network admin. Logging connections doesn't apply to him, after all. You can contact him under the nickname Linda1991 faster than through the internal channels.

      - a couple of managers' correspondence with the distressed widdow of a nigerian prince. Hey, they're only trying to help her.

      - a trojan download or two, from those guys in marketing who got admin rights on their computer because they can't work without it. And now can't work without the latest animated gizmo off

      - the keylogger traffic in the other direction from the couple more who already downloaded it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Barny ( 103770 )

        Yes but this was just ONE packet, I am sure you can fit more than one pigeon into the air ;)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mcrbids ( 148650 )

        Of course it's unfair. You can get a *LOT* of data on a flash card nowadays. They're selling 8 GB cards at the store I'm standing in for $25. And a pidgeon could easily carry 4 of these. Go 16 GB cards, same size, double the capacity.

        It's the common confusion of speed vs latency. Speed is how much you can cram through the pipe in a given period, and at this, pigeons excel.

        Latency is end-to-end, unloaded communication lag, and this is where pigeons do very poorly.

        Stunts like this one purposely confuse the tw

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by JavaBear ( 9872 ) *

      I must applaud the IT company for trying out a 'green' alternative to large volume data transfer, but I wonder how long it will take for Telkom to get new legislation passed that will outlaw this form of data transfer.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:59AM (#29376811)

    What's the speed of an unloaden African swallow?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by mokus000 ( 1491841 )

      What's the speed of an unloaden African swallow?

      Replacing "speed" with "data rate" and making a few other substitutions, we have a question I find interesting. "What was the data rate of that particular laden African swallow?"

      The story is missing an absolutely critical piece of info though - how much data there was. Without that knowledge, the story is pretty meaningless. If I transport 30 GB of data by thumb drive physically (whether by pigeon or car or whatever) in an hour, I can get it there far faster than my home cable modem. If it was 1 MB of d

      • Why the linked to the yahoo page is beyond me, the full details are at BBC []

        The card that 4GB on it (pidgeon) and took 1 Hour. The DSL line transfered 4% of that (163.84MB) in 2 hours (double the time) before I'm assuming they gave up and cancelled the upload.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by mdwh2 ( 535323 )

        Indeed - the problem here is conflating bandwidth with latency.

        The fact that offline methods can have higher bandwidth is nothing new or surprising - just shove a hard drive in the post or whatever, as you suggest, or for even more dramatic examples, the classic is a van or jumbo jet full of DVDs/hard drives.

        There's nothing here that suggests the S African network is slow. Indeed, even on my home wifi, I can trivially move a hard drive, thumb drive or flash card between my two computers, much faster than th

  • by localman57 ( 1340533 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:02AM (#29376825)
    Fine. So your data rate is higher. But the fact is, a carrier pigeon is only half-duplex, whereas your network connection, though slower, is full-duplex. I bet your carrier-pigeon vendor didn't talk about that part, did he?
    • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:09AM (#29376897) Homepage

      I bet your carrier-pigeon vendor didn't talk about that part, did he?

      Not only that, but his assistant kept touching my wife's ass, and after he wrapped up his sales presentation and left, we noticed all the silverware was gone. I'd advise all to keep well away from these carrier pigeon vendors, even if they seem slick.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mokus000 ( 1491841 )

      Huh? You can't send pigeons both ways at the same time? As far as I know, you can pipeline pigeons too. I guess if you're talking about the one pigeon it's not gonna "home" both ways, but one data packet doesn't go both ways on an electronic network either.

    • If full-duplex is all you care about, a dial-up line will suffice. But if you want high-bandwidth, pigeons is clearly the way to go in South Africa.

      I'm looking forward to a follow-up three-way race that includes bongo drums.

  • by Errol backfiring ( 1280012 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:03AM (#29376827) Journal

    This give a new meaning to "cloud computing". Just look at the clouds to see the results coming in!

  • Take that! (Score:5, Funny)

    by palemantle ( 1007299 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:03AM (#29376833)
    They forgot to mention that they also got the pigeon to stop and poop all over the Telkom bosses enroute.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:05AM (#29376847)

    Never underestimate the datarate of a truck loaded with CDs. The latency is a bitch, though.

    Seems the same applies to pigeons with flash cards.

  • Underwater Fiber (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:08AM (#29376875)
    From TFA:

    Internet speed is expected to improve once a new 17,000 km underwater fiber optic cable linking southern and East Africa to other networks becomes operational

    I thought this "contest" measured the speed of an internal data transfer within SA.

    • More to the point: I'd like to see that pigeon deliver a single byte of information 17,000km away!

    • Perhaps the network is congested with traffic going to other continents travelling across the same networks as used for this experiment. Once the fiber is installed then this international traffic will be routed more efficiently to the outside world, lowering network congestion and allowing higher speeds to transfers between peers in SA.
  • That was Telekom, the government owned telephone and internet semi-monopoly.

    They don't have to compete.

    40 years ago it was put your name on a list and wait up to five years to get a (wired) phone.

    Now it's put your data on the wires and wait for it to get delivered.

    But I wonder why I can get to SA web sites and search engines like and fairly quickly.

  • by dreemernj ( 859414 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:09AM (#29376903) Homepage Journal
    They've been Pigeowned.
  • by Bicx ( 1042846 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:11AM (#29376921)
    with the size of USB drives you can buy for under $20, I would dare to say that the same experiment would probably have the same results over here in the states (at least with cable and DSL). If I strapped just an 8GB USB drive to a pigeon's leg and had it fly the same distance in around an hour, there's no way my internet connection could beat ~8GB/hr, or approximately 18Mbps (if I calculated correctly).
    • by delt0r ( 999393 )
      Well its not bad here. I just downloaded the slackware 13.0 iso (3.5GB) in 8 min from Switzerland to Austria. Faster than a pigeon.
    • According to the story the ISP delivered only 4% of the data in the one hour the pigeon took to deliver all of it. That would be 720Kbps by your figures.

  • ... when I had to move this RFC [] to the "useful RFC's" bookmark folder
  • ISPs hire snipers to defend themselves from homing pigeon carrier competition.
  • by jabjoe ( 1042100 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:14AM (#29376937)
    A trained pigeon with a large enough capacity USB stick stuck to it will be faster than the internet in almost any country. It scales great too, just add more pigeons. It's a pipe. The problem is the latency sucks. The post office (or in this case pigeon army) has unlimited bandwidth, but terrible latency. If you want to send some one a few blue rays' worth of data, do you email it? Then your fired. Just put them in the damn post, it will get there much faster.
    • by Pulse_Instance ( 698417 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:51AM (#29377231)
      If you want to send some one a few blue rays' worth of data, do you email it? Then your fired. Just put them in the damn post, it will get there much faster.

      If you email it most likely your email server rejects it, at that point you try FTP which sucks because the remote office around the world has a terrible link speed and your outgoing FTP is throttled so you suggest to your IT department that you set up bittorrent at the offices with fast connections because this data must be transferred weekly. Finally after 3 weeks of back and forth you settle for the post office because while everyone including your boss has come up with 5 better solutions than mail the IT guys refuse to implement any of them.

      • by colmore ( 56499 )

        How exactly to in-house IT guys implement a fatter pipe? You can't create more bandwidth locally.

        "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway." - Tanenbaum, Andrew S.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jabjoe ( 1042100 )
        Good for the IT guys. You know you have good people if they don't impliment a bad solution that won't work, regardless of pressure from above. It's a bandwidth/latency issue. It gets to a point where you are better of sending lots of data slowly then small amounts fast. No amount of screaming, shouting and jumping up and down at IT is going to help.
  • Loss (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bibz ( 849958 ) <seb2004&hotmail,com> on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:14AM (#29376945)

    It's a nice demo of pigeon power, but did they think about pigeon packet loss ? I'm sure it'll be a little more important than cable packet loss

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by LaminatorX ( 410794 )

      You mean hawks?

    • Re:Loss (Score:5, Funny)

      by muffen ( 321442 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:20AM (#29376987)
      >> but did they think about pigeon packet loss ?

      The carriers have an intrinsic collision avoidance system, which increases availability.
      Because IP only guarantees best effort delivery, loss of a carrier can be tolerated. With time, the carriers are self-regenerating. Audit trails are automatically generated, and can often be found on logs and cable trays.
    • Yes, that is one way of describing what pigeons do. Drop packets! I hear in some countries it is good luck if a pigeon "drops a packet" on you.
  • by CapnYarrrrrr ( 1092907 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:15AM (#29376953)
    Excellent proof of concept by Lord Vetinari. I do hope Moist Von Lipwig gets this contract as well. Increased pigeon poo fertilizer along the main trunk lines should help agriculture in the region as well. Remind me to participate in the subsequent land-snatching.
    • Pigeon poo will strip the paint from your car.

      God knows what effect it would have on soil in large enough quantity.
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:24AM (#29377011)

    Would have made a good premise for a Goodfeathers episode.

  • Interestingly, the /. quote at the bottom of the page when I was reading this story was:

    It's not against any religion to want to dispose of a pigeon. -- Tom Lehrer, "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"

  • PTAM (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rick.C ( 626083 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:26AM (#29377023)
    Back in the day (mid 1970s) when IBM appended "AM" (for Access Method) to all of their protocols, we had BTAM (Basic Telecommunications), TCAM (TeleCommunications), and VTAM (Virtual Telecommunications, which is still around today) to move data. It was widely acknowledged that when it came to raw bandwidth, even over long distances, PTAM (Pickup Truck Access Method) beat them all. You load up a pickup truck with hundreds or thousands of 200MB tapes and drive it across the country.

    With 16GB micro SD cards, the statement holds true even today.
  • by amn108 ( 1231606 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:29AM (#29377051)

    What about latency? Surely it is orders of magnitude larger with pigeons than with even worst possible fiber connections? We are talking minutes versus tens to hundreds of a second. Something anybody with knowledge on networks knows already. Then again, since for most IT companies bandwidth is more important than latency, I guess pigeons make more sense to them. In fact, that is what I would have used. Every time I had to send a gigabyte of media data back when I was in advertisement media business, I wish I had remembered about pigeons. So, for any case where latency is not a factor, pigeons rule. In all other cases however we need any kind of fiber.

    • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:42AM (#29377143) Journal

      Well, yeah, you're not likely do do VoPTP (Voice over Pigeon Transfer Protocol) or play an online game using pigeons as packet carriers. The latency is bad. But this was a POC (Pigeon of Concept) that will lead to an RFC (Request Flying Carrier) and eventually it will go Beta (Birds Enabling Telecommunications Applications).

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 )

        play an online game using pigeons as packet carriers.

              You can if you're a falconer...

    • They generally use motorbike couriers for that sort of thing. They can carry about 10TB or so of data. Time taken depends on traffic and distance.

      • by amn108 ( 1231606 )

        Humans want money for everything. Pigeons don't. They are cheap in getting and owning :p They're also cute and assuming they don't become disease carriers, are good pets.

  • Haha (Score:3, Funny)

    by kieran ( 20691 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:30AM (#29377055)

    50 Win points (TM) to whoever tagged this "half-duplex"

  • Apparently it took about 57 minutes to get the data off the card onto the recipient computer. So it was hardly a trivial amount of data. Maybe they confused mega bits with mega bytes like so many other ignorant lusers.

    In a (very) rough calculation I worked out that if they sent an 8GB card, then their net connection was a little over 43Kbps. I don't think even SA has stuck to modem implemented internet, so I would say they were probably sending more than 8GB.

    • Until I dumped them last month for cable, Verizon DSL "broadband" was often slower than dialup - probably more than half the time... and when working, the fastest I ever got was 180kbps. That's bright, shiny "Made in USA" bandwidth which despite countless calls to Verizon complaining, they claimed was just fine and not a problem with their network.

      (Now I have cable at around 6-10 times the speed for about half the price. Suck it, Verizon.)

  • ... the bandwidth of a truck full of magtapes.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Already been tried and tested....

  • Hawks (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:44AM (#29377171)

    A major source of packet loss...

  • You've got two empty halves of coconuts and you're bangin' 'em together!

  • From the article:

    Telkom could not immediately be reached for comment.

    Well, that's because you used email. If you'd sent it pigeon post, it would have got through!

  • by Lord Bitman ( 95493 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:56AM (#29377275) Homepage

    I could transfer 4gb faster by tossing an SD card across the room than I could by sending it over our LAN, that doesn't mean the LAN is bad, or slow, it just means that "a Truck full of harddrives has more bandwidth than the whole of the internet"[admitting that "whole of the internet" is a meaningless term in terms of bandwidth]- point being that bandwidth isn't everything

  • ... of the quote at the bottom of the page as of 8:55AM (EST): "It's not against any religion to want to dispose of a pigeon. -- Tom Lehrer, "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"
  • Now all I have to do , is capture and train all the pigeons here in my downtown area, move to Africa, and start my own carrier pigeon company for all those interested in saving money and also having quicker file transfers, and I will be filthy rich!

    Seriously though, it speaks volumes that a pigeon can carry a card with data faster then we can download...oh wait, this is in Africa,
    so I guess its because its still a 3rd world country???

  • PR stunt (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Why is everybody discussing the technical validity of using pigeons to transfer data? (except of course to generate semi-interesting puns and whatnot)
    It is a PR stunt to get more non-technical people to take note of Telkom's practices putting a brake on parts of our economy. (nevermind the breaks our "government" is putting on...)

  • Sneaker net has always had the highest bandwidth recorded. Want to send 10 TB of data across the world? Would you try uploading it to their server, or sending 5 2TB hard drives by Fed Ex? Which one do you think will get there faster?

    People have been doing this for quite some time.

  • What... (Score:4, Funny)

    by viridari ( 1138635 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @10:09AM (#29378117)
    .. is the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Pigeon?
  • Obligatory RFCs (Score:3, Informative)

    by hsa ( 598343 ) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @10:35AM (#29378461)

    RFC1149 - Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers []

    RFC2549 - IP over Avian Carriers with Quality of Service []

Kill Ugly Processor Architectures - Karl Lehenbauer