The video store test

Back in the day, I recall proposing that a test for whether the Internet has arrived is whether it would be quicker to download a movie or take the time to go to the video store and pick the DVD up. We aren’t there yet. Indeed, according to this story in The Age, it’s worse.

A South African information technology company proved it was faster for them to transmit data with a carrier pigeon than to send it using Telkom, the country’s leading internet service provider.

Internet speed and connectivity in Africa’s largest economy are poor because of a bandwidth shortage. It is also expensive.

Local news agency SAPA reported the 11-month-old pigeon, Winston, took one hour and eight minutes to fly the 80 km from Unlimited IT’s offices near Pietermaritzburg to the coastal city of Durban with a data card was strapped to his leg.

Including downloading, the transfer took two hours, six minutes and 57 seconds — the time it took for only four percent of the data to be transferred using a Telkom line.

And you wondered why owls were still used in Harry Potter’s world. Nothing magic about that.

2 thoughts on “The video store test”

  1. There is actually an internet standard for using carrier pigeons as part of the internet, RFC 1149 (http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc1149) a.k.a. “Avian Transport Protocol”.  There have even been some very successful tests (see http://www.notes.co.il/benbasat/5240.asp) “the bandwidth achieved by the pigeons was significantly larger than that available through commercially available ADSL broadband Internet connections: about 2.27 Mbps as compared to 0.75 – 1.5 Mbps”
    Yes, it’s an April 1 RFC, but it is a good way of teaching packet transmission principles.
    From the overview of the standard:
    Avian carriers can provide high delay, low throughput, and low altitude service.  The connection topology is limited to a single point-to-point path for each carrier, used with standard carriers, but many carriers can be used without significant interference with each other, outside of early spring.  This is because of the 3D ether space available to the carriers, in contrast to the 1D ether used by IEEE802.3.  The carriers have an intrinsic collision avoidance system, which increases availability.  Unlike some network technologies, such as packet radio, communication is not limited to line-of-sight distance.  Connection oriented service is available in some cities, usually based upon a central hub topology.
    It is a short RFC, with quite a few more laughs.
    And from another implementation story: “One of the last frames (i.e. pigeons) we released actually crashed into a neighbor’s bathroom window, after which Alan Cox himself commented ‘Oh no! Windows causing problems again!’ ”
    With a bit of hunting you can find people talking about audit logs for dropped packets, optimization by use of racing ducks rather than pigeons, etc, etc.

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