Feature

High-speed Internet vs. carrier pigeon

What a race held by a South African IT company says about the limits of technology

Take that, technology, said BBC News. "Broadband promised to unite the world with super-fast data delivery—but in South Africa it seems the Web is still no faster than a humble pigeon." An IT company, Unlimited IT, set up the race between an 11-month-old bird named Winston and the ADSL service of the country's biggest Web firm, Telekom. Winston took two hours to carry a 4GB data stick 60 miles; in the same time, 4 percent of the data had been transferred via ADSL.

This is not really a loss for technology, said Stan Schroeder in Mashable. It's a loss for Internet lines, but a win for memory cards. Winston the pigeon would not have been able to carry so much data so far, so quickly, if memory card capacity weren't "getting bigger and faster."

"You do the math," said Joanna Stern in Gizmodo, "but that is pretty damn slow upload speeds." Telekom should be—and probably is—embarrassed. "Let's hope South Africa gets those fiber optic lines installed soon."

"Now, this is very funny," said Cory Doctorow in Boing Boing, but it doesn't prove much. A pigeon can carry 1.7 ounces (according to a random Web page), which means a bird could transfer 23 64GB SD cards. Over short distances, the pigeon would beat any DSL service, but "even the greatest pigeon in the world would be hard-pressed to deliver even one bit of information from Cape Town to New York."

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