Carrier pigeon outperforms South African Internet

I can’t believe this was published in the ultra liberal USA Today:

Pigeon transfers data faster than S. Africa’s service provider

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters)—A South African information technology company on Wednesday proved that 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 50 miles 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 4% of the data to be transferred using a Telkom line.

SAPA said Unlimited IT performed the stunt after becoming frustrated with slow internet transmission times.

The company has 11 call-centers around the country and regularly sends data to its other branches.

Telkom could not immediately be reached for comment.

Internet speed is expected to improve once a 17,000 km underwater fiber optic cable linking southern and East Africa to other networks becomes operational before South Africa hosts the soccer World Cup next year.

Local service providers are currently negotiating deals for more bandwidth.

Copyright 2009 Reuters Limited.

- end of initial entry -

Gintas writes:

Microsoft did a study of optimal ways of transferring huge amounts of data. They found that the best way was to have a computer full of hard drives, put the data on there, and ship the box overnight express. The throughput on this method can be quite high, as you can ship multiple boxes at once.

This is a comical variation; what counts as “huge amount of data” in Africa has a very low threshold, and the shipment method is primitive, but still by air. If the data card has, for example, 8 GB of data, and you’re in a primitive area, a carrier pigeon—if you have access to one—is not a bad option, and I can’t believe I’m saying that.

Ken Hechtman writes:

USA Today fell for an old computer science classroom exercise used to illustrate the difference between “latency” and “bandwidth”. The point of the exercise is that if the data stick is big enough, the bird will always win against any network connection.

Notice that there are no numbers in the USA Today article—including them would make the outcome less impressive—but I can retell the story with some specific numbers.

Suppose I’m in Montreal and you’re in New York and I want to give you a copy of the West Wing series. That’s 154 episodes at 350 megabytes per episode or 52 gigabytes in total. I could post the files on my home webserver and if we both have high-end internet connections you could download them at a rate of 100 kilobytes per second. That would get you about an episode an hour or six days to get the whole series. Or I could put the 75 DVDs in a shoulder bag, take the Greyhound bus to New York and have them all at your door in 12 hours.

LA replies:

Yes, that thought was in my mind too, but only half-thought out, I didn’t complete the thought.

Obviously if you’re talking about some huge amount of data, you’re not going to want to send it over the Internet even with the best Internet connection there is. And therefore the South African situation does not indicate what it purports to indicate—that South African Internet is hopelessly slow. I feel embarrassed that I didn’t see and state that up front.

Evan H. writes:

You shouldn’t feel too bad. I looked up the original article.

They claim that the South African internet provider transferred 100MB of data in 2 hours 6 minutes and 57 seconds. So that gives a transfer rate of 13 kilobytes per second—pretty bad if it’s the best option available to South African businesses.

LA replies:

Thanks for that. Maybe USA Today thought that references to megabytes and kilobytes would be too advanced for its readers.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 10, 2009 01:14 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):