back to article SA pigeon outpaces broadband

A South African IT outfit has shamed telecoms operator Telkom by sending 4GB of data 60 miles by pigeon in two hours - faster than it arrived by the ISP's broadband service. According to the BBC, Unlimited IT dispatched 11-month-old Winston from its call centre in the town of Howick to its Durban office. The bird carried its …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Troy Hector insisted.......

    Would that be one of those TELEPHONE support script that involves unplugging everything from your TELEPHONE socket and then awaiting further instruction from the person you are talking to on the TELEPHONE?

  2. J R Fry


    I don't think this was a fair test at all. Their methods didn't comply with the IETF standard as described in RFC2549 or RFC1149.

  3. Tim Baker
    Thumb Down

    woop de do

    Hardly a surprise, clearly they were just looking for some media attention.

    4gb of data is an awful lot and most broadband connections would struggle to transfer it quickly.

    If I found it was quicker to knock on my neighbours door to tell him something than it was for him to receive an e-mail I don't think anyone would care.

  4. stu 4

    over the moon

    think how much quicker he'd have been if he'd went direct.

    In another news shock:

    4gb data moved quicker from one office to another by man's hand rather than ethernet network.

    cisco blame 'f4ckwits not understanding simple technology'

  5. Lionel Baden
    Thumb Up

    oh this is good

    this is really good :)

  6. Steve Todd Silver badge

    Just to point out the bleedin' obvious

    But the A in ADSL stands for asymmetric. It's not supposed to be good at uploading data. Here in the UK we get 512K bits upload (or there abouts), which would take over 17 hours to send 4GB. If they want to send large quantities of data then they need a symmetric DSL line or dedicated leased line.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    That's nothing

    I can burn a DVD and give it to my pet frog to take it next door and it get there quicker than I can FTP it to the same place.

    Completely meaningless unless we know what speed their broadband is meant to run at (I mean the service they're realistically paying for, not 20Mb for £10/month).

    As in, I realise that my ADSL has limited upload speed... and I accept that, but I know people that pay for 100 or even 1000 Mbps symmetrical fibre links between cities... they obviously don't have the same limitations.

    Also, if it took them an hour to read 4GB off a USB stick, I'm not surprised theire internet is shoddy - they obviously have very slow computers!

    Of course, Tux could've beaten the flying rodent.

  8. Anonymous Coward


    "Several recommendations have, in the past, been made to the customer but none of these have, to date, been accepted."

    Was one of those "change your provider"?

  9. Dave Bell

    Everything OK

    It's an "up to 8 megabits" account.

    Nothing wrong with the line at all.

  10. Richard Jukes

    That old saying still rings true....

    'Never underestimate the bandwidth of a van full of magtapes'


  11. The Dorset Rambler
    IT Angle

    Hang on a mo..

    This article HAS an IT angle yet is in Bootnotes.

    Are you trying to completely confuse those gentle readers who can't quite get the concept of Bootnotes?

  12. John Ferris

    Loved the ISP Comment...

    This must be the ultimate "blame the customer" response by an ISP.

    I Doubt Carrier Pigeon based ISP's will take off in the UK. The latency issue for online gaming would be a major problem.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Good demo.

    Good demo. The important part here is that the limiting portion was the uplink and these chaps were uploading data. So, as a matter of fact, a pigeon carrying a reasonable size SD card will easily outrace most UK Broadband services.

    I wish one of the photo printing shops in London had a suitably located pigeon service. It would have made for a fine demo why does current Broadband suck bricks through a thin straw sidewise even for a trivial consumer app like "I would like to print my photos".

  14. Jesthar

    ISP sick as a parrot?

    Wonder if Unlimited IT will give Telkom the bird now?

    And, knowing with depressing first hand experience the advice of our own abysmal IT mob (our network would be outpaced by a lame chicken, let alone a racing pigeon), I suspect Telekom's 'suggestions' were along the lines of the following gems from our helldesk:

    "Have you tried turning the computer off and on?" (and this will help with a network outage HOW?)

    "There are no known IT problems in your area" (despite the fact everything other than the internet was failing to respond)

    "You should schedule use of this application early in the morning and late at night" ('this application' being the mapping software required by half the department to do their day job)

    "The user cannot log in? Well, can you get them to log in please?" (Um, which part of 'can't log in' did you not get?)

    Right, hand me my coat - I'm off to celebrate a news tip of mine actually making it onto the Reg for the first time (one amongst many submitters, I suspect, but any excuse!)

    ~Jes :)

  15. Ciaran McHale

    Broadband speed

    According to my calculations, the broadband speed was 166Kb per second.

  16. Grease Monkey Silver badge

    Well Duh!

    Breaking news: Pope is a Catholic! Bears shit in the woods! ADSL upload speeds are very slow!

    If you want fast transfer from one site to another, there's no point having them both on ADSL is there? Or do these people expect a synchronous service at asynchronous prices?

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Piss poor broadband connection

    Average transfer rate = 0.2 megabit/s!

    Also, 1 hour to download 4 GB of data from a USB stick?? They must've been using USB 1.x.

  18. Ihre Papiere Bitte!!

    Terry Pratchett has called his lawyers

    For this blatant rip from "Going Postal" where a horse-mounted delivery service races delivery against the new-fangled "clacks"...

  19. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    We use turtle here.

    In Australia we use blind-folded turtles.

    They are plenty fast enough to win AND they can't view any of the web-nasties our god-bothering Govt wants to save us from.

  20. Scott 19

    Be Green

    Whats more enviromentally friendly though?

    "Think of the chil....polar bears."

  21. spencer
    Thumb Up

    @Broadband speed

    wolfram tells us all:



  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Next up... the Apple express

    Time to pit Telkom against a preserved narrow-guage steam railway.

    For the Brits... do you remember the brilliant pricing and service when BT was the only telco in the UK? That's Telkom, with a bit of tropical apathy and nepotism thrown in.

  23. Ben Oldham
    Paris Hilton

    Vista copying speeds?

    Another hour was needed to suck the 4GB off the stick.

    Paris - well, you know!

  24. Mr Brush

    Nothing to see here

    RFC 1149 and 2549 have detailed the Avian Carrier protocol since A1st April 1990

  25. Fab De Marco

    World Cup????!!!

    And they are planning to stream world cup football live from there. It is a sad day for football. (Soccer for the yanks)

  26. Eponymous Cowherd

    Muttley, do something!

    Drat, drat, and double drat.

    Foiled again.

  27. Richard IV

    Catch the pigeon

    Muttley, doooooooo something!


  28. Steven Jones


    Unfortunately this solution isn't suitable for all network applications. Network ping times can be long, so online gamers can be at a disadvantage. In addition, the presence of Falco Peregrinus along the transmission path can lead to unacceptable levels of packet loss.

  29. Chris 12

    ah, but how does it compare...

    to the unladened speed of a swallow?

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Surely that means...

    Kicking data is faster than a corporate network? I kicked an 80GB Solid State Drive from my desk over to my colleagues desk 2 meters away.

    20 seconds to remove the drive.

    2 seconds to kick it over.

    30 seconds to insert the drive.

    52 seconds in total.

    Compare that to transferring close to 80GB over a corporate network if you will!

    Basically, my point is the fact they used 60 miles as a benchmark... the pigeon was incidental... they could have used a bike courier. The shorter the distance, the less 'effective' any network will be compared to traditional methods of transferring via 'physical' media. What they don't say is that the network would probably perform at an almost identical transfer rate if used over 600 miles, whereas the pigeon would take 10 times longer, if it turned up at all... and that's not even taking packet/pigeon loss into consideration! ;p

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Poor reporting

    Although it does seem the service in question was poor, about half the *upload* speed I get at home in the UK, the reporting of this article from various sources fail to put the story in to context. ADSL is exactly that and you'd be hard pressed to send 4GB over anything but a business grade network.

  32. Lloyd

    Another hour was needed to suck the 4GB off the stick

    What were they using? Straws?

  33. Dale Richards

    @Fab De Marco

    Is Unlimited IT streaming the World Cup over an ADSL line, or have you mistaken one company for an entire country?

  34. Rob Beard

    Don't tell

    Don't tell the UK government, they'll start putting a ban on Pigeons.

    I mean it's a big risk, with pirates sending illegal copies of movies, music, software etc via pigeon and don't even get started on the child porn rings.

    Actually, I'm going to see if I can train the seaguls* we have here in Torquay, I mean they're not really much use anyway, so if I can train them to send out MicroSD cards to friends with stuff on (I'm thinking copies of Ubuntu) then all the better.


    * I would use penguins but they tend to waddle slowly.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Steve Todd

    Steve wrote: "Here in the UK we get 512K bits upload (or there abouts), which would take over 17 hours to send 4GB."

    I don't know who your provider is but I can get sustained download speeds of 1.3Megabytes per second and upload speeds about 700. And yes, this is a home broadband account, not a commercial one.

    Having said that, it obviously depends where I'm uploading things to. I suspect that these guys would have used ftp and not had to worry much about that - but who knows?

  36. WarrenG
    Dead Vulture

    I think you're missing the point here...

    Telkom is..KREP... to paraphase my fellow south africans.

    The phone call rates are amongst the highest in the world and so are the broadband charges..profits are also insanely high and customer service is well...KREP

    So this excercise is more a of a protest against Telkom rather than seeing which would be faster. As usual Regheads unleased their supreme geekiness which in fact made you look rather stupid.

    We all know a guy on a bike is going to be faster couriering a 1TB disk than ftp, http or whatever method of put things into perspective...40 pounds a month in south africa buys you a 2mb line with a 5gb cap, excluding line rental. Not so clever now eh?

  37. PsyWulf

    Don't be hasty to judge

    To put this in perspective

    While ago it was tested to be cheaper to fly overseas,download 40gigs of data and fly back than to use the piss-poor excuse for net availed to South African ADSL users ;)

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    It's only a matter of time...

    ...before some dodgy startup employs PPI (Pigeon Packet Inspection) to serve you up some targeted advertising.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Thats nothing

    once it took me 13 hours to download a 1.6 gig file

    Karoo Sucks

    helicopters because i want the fire button

  40. Richard IV

    Re: I think you're missing the point here..

    It's a good job Winston wasn't carrying more than 5Gb of data then - otherwise he'd have had to be shot.

    Suddenly visualising Telkom in the Corporal Punishment episode of Blackadder goes Forth...

  41. Scott Earle

    @Chris 12

    African or European?

    (*Someone* had to ask!)

  42. Steve Todd Silver badge

    @AC 13:50

    700K BYTES upload speed is 5600K bits, and is well beyond the capacity of ADSL's up channel. Remember that we're talking ADSL here, not cable modem. The very best ADSL link you can get in the UK, providing you are on the doorstep of the exchange, will give you 2.5M bits upload speeds, which still needs 3.5 hours to shift 4GB.

    Meanwhile there is no cable TV network in Durban, so there's no chance of them using that.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Petition to the Reg Standards Soviet

    This calls for a Reg standard for bandwidth!! Possible names:


    South African Racing Pidgeon


    And don't forget to update the The Reg online standards converter

  44. Anonymous Coward

    The real story

    is everyone tuned into the website to watch. How much bandwidth is that?

    In other news, T-mobile announce 20Mb laptop pigeon service.

    I want I want I want a pigeon. No phorm phucken wid my pigeon

  45. Tim Bergel
    Thumb Up

    Sluggish Data Transport Is Faster Than ADSL

    is a far superior example of the genre - you can read the original AIR paper (PDF) on

    I strongly recommend it

  46. Walking Turtle

    AeroNet Propagation Delays and Latencies...

    ...can surely be minimized all along the Avian Backbone by upgrading every AtmosWeb node to VuuDuu Linux on a suitably deceased Badger, imvho. Just slip a pair of proper Gigabit ethernet cards in where the Duppy Card and Sound Cards once might have lived; the result will prove both immobile and rackworthy as well as quiet in operation. for those of us who are just catching up on the Advancing RetroConceptual Edge of NeoTech these days. ;)

  47. Neoc

    Nothing new...

    PigeonNet is obviously the WAN equivalent of the SneakerNet LAN.

  48. b166er

    The solution

    Pigeons carrying WiMAX tranceivers.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    People here are taking exception to a pointless comparison, not saying that this means the service is good in other ways. If people want to protest something, it helps to do it in a vaguely relevant way, so you don't look like jackasses.

  50. Coltek

    Pidgeon faster than you think!

    ....After all, it had to call in at GCHQ on the way...

  51. Coltek

    Pidgeon English...

    ...may have been a problem for them.

  52. Andus McCoatover
    Paris Hilton

    What's Nokia 'crowing' on about??

    <<Nokia Siemens Networks breaks distance barriers for DSL

    VDSL2 ‘bonding’ offers unmatched, 1.5 kilometer, reach

    Nokia Siemens Networks is demonstrating DSL with download speeds of 25 Mbps at a distance of up to 1500 meters from the local exchange at Broadband World Forum in Paris this week. The VDSL2 bonding solution is a milestone in the industry. >>

    Pidgeon did 60 miles. One way, natch, but....

    Maybe SA should "give them the bird". I would, since the buggers made me redundant

    Here's another bird.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Lighten up fellow commentards

    I can't believe people leapt on this with such ferocity, it was a PR stunt and a bit of a giggle, nothing more. You sys admins can rest easy, you won't really have to share your precious server rackmounts with pigeon holes and suffer a relentless rain of droppings when monthly reporting commences. ;)

  54. Roby
    IT Angle

    Yes we know

    Anyone slightly technically minded knows that this is a tongue-in-cheek news story. Basically a physical object can have theoretically very high bandwidth - the amount you can fit onto a small enough object to be transported. The downside is latency, it takes the pigeon an hour to get there, whereas it takes the network less than a second. A typical ADSL network can't transfer as much at once, but it doesn't claim to be able to, that's why it's asynchronous as other people have said.

    You could equally put 1000 1 terabyte hard drives in a lorry and transfer a sick amount of data that a conventional network couldn't compare to.

  55. Steve Swann


    "Actually, I'm going to see if I can train the seaguls* we have here in Torquay, I mean they're not really much use anyway, so if I can train them to send out MicroSD cards to friends with stuff on (I'm thinking copies of Ubuntu) then all the better."

    Yeah, but you'd never be sure that your data would reach the specific target you want for delivery. After all, you just have a massive cloud full of seafulls each with a specific piece of data attached. Hard to sort one from another.

    What you need, really, is for each seagull to just carry a small piece of each file, and then paint them with tracker IDs so you can reassemble the files from each seagull. I reckon this kind of DSC (Distributed Seagull Cloud) is probably just the ticket for your linux distros.

    You could even encrypt the packets by disguising the gulls as sparrows.....

    ..ok, I'll stop drinking coffee now.

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