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Race Pits Pigeons Against Poor UK Rural Broadband 298

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the heard-this-before dept.
Mark.JUK writes "Rural internet access in the United Kingdom, like many other countries around the world, is slow. So slow in fact that Trefor Davies, the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at business ISP Timico, has decided to pit a typical rural broadband connection against homing pigeons (with attached memory cards) to see which can get 200MB of HD video data across an 84 mile trip the fastest. Meanwhile a farmer will attempt to upload the same video file to YouTube before the pigeons can complete their journey. The comical stunt is designed to raise awareness of the often woeful broadband speed experienced by many people who live in remote and rural parts of their country. However Davies does admit that 'there isn't a benchmark for pigeon data speeds,' yet."
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Race Pits Pigeons Against Poor UK Rural Broadband

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  • by paintballer1087 (910920) <paintballer1087@ ... BSDcom minus bsd> on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:32AM (#33598742)
    Are these African or European pigeons?
    • by SMoynihan (1647997) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:47AM (#33598934)
      European. The African pigeon [slashdot.org] beat broadband [slashdot.org] last year. Early pigeon protocol (PP) trials were also spearheaded in the States [slashdot.org] last year.
    • And how are they dealing with the 100% Peregrine Falcon packet loss problem?

  • Ping times? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:33AM (#33598748)

    I bet they're lousy for gaming.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      Yeah, but upgrading is so easy - just slap a bigger memory card on the pigeon and bam! Instant upgrade!

      No messing with the cable companies, no paying extra for the service, so nice.

  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:33AM (#33598760)

    What is the bandwidth capacity of an unladen swallow?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:34AM (#33598766)

    http://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc1149.txt

  • by jez9999 (618189) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:34AM (#33598776) Homepage Journal

    There's an RFC [faqs.org] for it!

  • by dk90406 (797452) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:35AM (#33598790)
    Latency sucks. It is simple to device tests like these to show bandwidth is limited. Heck, just load a truck with LTO tapes and ship them a few hundred miles to beat even very fast connections.
    • by hesiod (111176)

      With tapes-via-station wagon (as your idea was originally stated), though, you have to consider the load time of the data onto tape and tapes into the vehicle, and the time to get the data back off of the tapes.

      • by jimicus (737525)

        The LTO spec is fast enough that you need a reasonably quick disk array to keep up with one single tape drive. That really isn't a limiting factor when you compare it to broadband.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by i.r.id10t (595143)

      Here in the South Eastern US, latency is about to go down but packet loss will go up since Dove season is starting....

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pwnies (1034518)
      LTO tapes aren't your best choice for data density anymore. Right now your most dense LTO drive can store 1.5TB, whereas your most dense microSD card can store 32GB.
      MicroSD Cards => .0014m * .032m * .024m = 0.000001075m^3 =>32GB / 1.075 * 10^-6m^3 = 2.98 * 10^7 GB/m^3
      LTO Drive => .102m * .1054m * .0215m = 0.000231142m^3 => 1536GB / 2.31142 * 10^-4m^3 = 6.65 * 10^6 GB/m^3
  • Although CP/IP has been implemented several times, amazingly nobody thought to improve bandwidth through the use of memory cards. I assume a new standard will be put out to take advantage of this innovation.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Although CP/IP has been implemented several times, amazingly nobody thought to improve bandwidth through the use of memory cards. I assume a new standard will be put out to take advantage of this innovation.

      Yeah, this isn't actually CP/IP since it's not using any of the IP protocols and not breaking stuff up into packets and the like.

      This is more of a specialized case of the "station wagon full of mag tape" scenario.

      It's hilarious, but it's not technically related to RFC1149. :-P

  • Yes and my 747 filled with DVDs beets the pants off the latest multi-terabit cross Atlantic fibre.

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      That means nothing to me. Please use standard units like Libraries of Xongress, telephone directories, African male elephants' weight in micro SD cards.
      • That means nothing to me. Please use standard units like Libraries of Xongress, telephone directories, African male elephants' weight in micro SD cards.

        New unit for data density: Libraries of Congress per Elephant

        • by ultranova (717540)

          New unit for data density: Libraries of Congress per Elephant

          But what do you use when the Democrats are in power?

          • by anyGould (1295481)

            New unit for data density: Libraries of Congress per Elephant

            But what do you use when the Democrats are in power?

            Obviously the smaller Congressional Hearings per Donkey. (The conversion is left as an exercise for the reader).

    • by iamhassi (659463)
      "Yes and my 747 filled with DVDs beets the pants off the latest multi-terabit cross Atlantic fibre."

      Considering 2 tb hard drives are under $100 [google.com] you'd save money by filling your 747 with hard drives since it takes 425 DVDs to equal one 2 tb hard drive.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Zero__Kelvin (151819)

      "Yes and my 747 filled with DVDs beets the pants off the latest multi-terabit cross Atlantic fibre."

      I rather doubt that. You seem to be forgetting that you need to burn all that data to DVDs with verification enabled, carefully pack every DVD and load them all, then unpack and manually copy the data back to a machine. Don't forget that when one of those DVDs inevitably fails to properly read on the target system you need to fly back, burn a new one, and return.

      • by mooingyak (720677)

        Don't forget that when one of those DVDs inevitably fails to properly read on the target system you need to fly back, burn a new one, and return.

        There's nothing to prevent someone from building a little bit of redundancy into the system. Reduces your bandwidth some, but it solves that last problem.

  • by o'reor (581921) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:36AM (#33598810) Journal
    now threatened by falcons and pigeon shooters. OTOH, how do you perform Deep Packet inspection on those ?
  • by Ecuador (740021) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:36AM (#33598812) Homepage

    The farmer was at 24% upload after 54mins when the first pigeon landed...
    Now we can get back to our Monty Python / african swallow posts...

    • 84 mile trip, 54 minutes.

      You're telling me the pigeon flew at 93 miles per hour? Pull the other one [wikipedia.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jimicus (737525)

        Depending on the roads, it could well be 84 miles by road but substantially less as the pigeon flies.

  • Encryption (Score:3, Funny)

    by Nautical Insanity (1190003) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:38AM (#33598838)

    Sure, data throughput can be pretty awesome, but exchanging public keys must be a bitch.

  • by russotto (537200) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:43AM (#33598888) Journal

    ...of station wagon full of magtape, or so the obselete saying goes.

    They considered using a station wagon for this test, but they figured the roads were as poor as the broadband, so they wouldn't have known which they were testing. So pigeons were it.

  • Interesting that they're measuring upload speed. My mother is on a rural ADSL connection (in the UK), and only gets 1Mb/s downstream, but she still manages to get 1Mb/s upstream, so here upload speed is actually about the same as for a lot of urban users.
  • by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:48AM (#33598964) Journal

    If you change the conditions of the race, you can just as well make it say just about anything.

    If you give the pigeon a 512 KB message, and an identical 512 KB message to be sent via a rural broadband connection, then the rural broadband connection will win.
    If you give the pigeon a 64 GB memory card, then you could say that the pigeon has a transfer speed equivalent to 104 mbps, which'll mean it's faster than most broad connections, rural or not. (Assuming an average speed of 60 miles per hour for the bird.)

    • by iamhassi (659463)
      "If you give the pigeon a 64 GB memory card, then you could say that the pigeon has a transfer speed equivalent to 104 mbps, which'll mean it's faster than most broad connections, rural or not. (Assuming an average speed of 60 miles per hour for the bird.)"

      Good point. Even 10mbps broadband is only 3.6 gigaBytes/hour, so a bird with a few large MicroSDHC cards strapped to them would whip the pants off broadband.
    • Aren't we also dependent on the definition of broadband? Which hasn't been formally defined if wikipedia is to be believed.
      So why are they calling it poor rural broadband, instead of country-modem, city-modem? :)

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:52AM (#33600412)

      If the data sets are large enough and latency not a problem. Doesn't matter how fast your connection is, FedEx is faster at some point. I mean let's say you have a 100mbit connection that really gets that and is dedicated to you. Going full blast 24 hours a day working at its max theoretical speed with no errors, it can transfer just a touch over 1TB per day. Realistically 800-900GB would be all you'd see, even if things were working well. Ok so suppose you have 5TB that needs to be transferred. It'll take a week of hogging up the connection to do that...

      Or you could use FedEx. Copy the data on to 3 2TB drives and send them next day air to their destination. It will be there sooner.

      We have a research group that does this all the time. They do JPEG2000 (and other) compression research and the data sets are massive. FedEx is faster than the net for the really big ones so they just send off the HDDs. Low tech but extremely effective.

      No matter what, this will always be the case. At some level, sneakernet will be faster. What that level is depends on how fast a connection you can sustain between you and your target.

      He'll also have to forgive me if I'm not that sympathetic to farmers. You make a choice when you want to live out in the plains. It has many advantages, such as lower land cost, a lot of privacy and so on. However it has disadvantages, one of them being it costs more to deliver high speed access. What's more, farming is a business, so I don't see the problem if they have to pay more to get a business grade Internet line out there. No matter where you are in the US, you can get high speed Internet. However sometimes it is only the most costly kinds of lines, something like a DS-3. For a consumer that is unreasonable, for a business it is not and make no mistake, that's what farming is.

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @09:50AM (#33598986) Homepage Journal
    With the internet you just get a movie, but with the pigeon you get both a movie AND dinner delivered to your door. Talk about convenience.
  • "memory cards) to see which can get 200MB of HD video data"

    Why 200MB? 8gb MicroSD are only $14 [buy.com], why did he bother with just 200MB? It's not like it was cheaper or saved any weight, wonder why he chose such a strange size for HD video since 200MB of HD video is what, a few minutes maybe?
    • by ledow (319597)

      Because then the carrier pigeon would always win.

      "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon zooming down the highway with a trunk full of backup tapes".

      Same principle. You could probably attach nearly a Terabyte to a pigeon if you tried, if you had the money, etc. and pretty much wherever you sent it in Britain it would have better "bandwidth", that wouldn't prove the point at all. (However, the bandwidth might be fabulous but its latency would be atrocious).

      200Mb is a not-unreasonable example

    • the test is uploading the video to youtube, doing the same test but downloading a DVD iso from usenet obviously would draw some unwanted attention from the various groups 'representing artists and movie studios'

      besides, they probably made some guesstimate as to what kind of file-size would provide an interesting match-up. pitting a pidgeon with a filled 32 GB flash card against ADSL wouldnt have been interesting

  • In rfc 1149 (A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers) [rfc-editor.org] He should find all he needs to configure his pigeon network.

  • ...the network will only support UDP.

  • I was looking up info on carrier pigeons and found this Homing pigeon In computing [wikipedia.org]
    "The humorous IP over Avian Carriers (RFC 1149) is an Internet protocol for the transmission of messages via homing pigeon. Originally intended as an April Fools' Day RFC entry, this protocol was implemented and used, once, to transmit a message in Bergen, Norway on April 28, 2001.[16] In September 2009, a South African IT company, based in Durban, pitted an 11-month-old bird armed with a data packed 4GB memory stick against
  • The comical stunt is designed to raise awareness of the often woeful broadband speed experienced by many people who live in remote and rural parts of their country.

    And I should care because? I live in a rural area with woeful broadband speed. So what?

  • Send 1 Terrabyte of data accross the country..... Cheapest method?...Ship a 1TB hard drive.

    Data will arrive sooner and cheaper than any current broadband connection.

    Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of magnetic tapes!

    • by radish (98371)

      I pay ~$60 a month for a connection which gets around 50/25mpbs up/down. So let's say I have the same at each end (CA and NY) and transfer my 1TB, it'll take 3.85 days to transfer at an amortised cost of $15. UPS ground service will cost $10 (plus packing materials) and will take about the same time (4 days) - so I'd call that basically equivalent. To get faster (say, 3 days) it's $20 + materials.

  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @10:16AM (#33599250)

    Who wins is depending on how you set your contest. And as this is no more than a publicity stunt, it's of course set up in a way that the pigeon is guaranteed to win.

    200 MB on a memory card has the same "transfer time" as 16 GB. Yet suddenly the bandwidth is some 80 times as great.

    A 10 Mbit connection has the same transfer speed whether it is to the neighbour's or across the ocean. Oh wait that's downstream; upstream is always slower. On my broadband connection uploading 200 MB will take about 45 minutes - downloading the same amount of data is done within 5 minutes. No wonder you pit the pigeon against an upstream.

    And why not ask this pigeon to deliver the video file actually to YouTube? Not to some other point from where it's transferred to YouTube? Is that maybe because YouTube is in the US and that's too far to fly for the pigeon?

    TFA admits it: "Also the farms connection speed is just 100-200 Kbps (Kilobits per second), so it never really stood a chance of winning but then that's not the point?". It is set up so the pigeon would win. And 100-200 Kbps up is not even that bad assuming ADSL over normal copper, and farms tend to be far far away from the nearest switch. It's one of those things one will have to live with when trying to live away from the civilised world.

  • Someone should really consider using parroty checks on the data as it arrives.

  • by swb (14022) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @10:41AM (#33599566)

    It should be beyond obvious that some amenities are made economically viable by a large concentration of people, and broadband is one of them.

    If it made economic sense (ie, was profitable) to provide those services in rural areas, someone would be doing it. Usually someone *will* provide those services, but not at a cost the end-user will like for casual entertainment use.

    Almost always these "rural broadband blows" stories involve around wanting the government to "do something" which usually amounts to a subsidy (my tax money for your service). I generally object to this -- either we end up with a "Universal Service Fee" which is like free money to the telecom providers, as it never goes away, overall higher prices so some mandate can be fulfilled, or some never-ending government bureaucracy like the TVA.

    And I think some of this "demand" isn't from 1920s, sepia-tinted people living in rural poverty, but from city people who have made a conscious choice to live in the "country" (thanks to cheap gas) who also want all the amenities of city living but aren't willing to pay for them.

    • ... like health care.

      I live in a rural area about 10 minutes from a commuter town which is about 20 minutes from a city of a ~1mil... my broadband is pretty bad. It's line of sight wireless and it's $70/mo for 512k/256k (384 down for $50).

      I'm not complaining, I do know where I live and I knew the limitations. But the "pft, move to town, stupid" argument only works if people are not convinced that it's their "right" to have broadband access. With all the recent talk about broadband being like electricity

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DarthVain (724186)

      However really government should be kicking ISP ass to get this improved. Creating jobs in rural areas would solve a host of problems, and not having the network to do it for most the types of jobs you could telecommute to or operate whereever you can get people to live is a major hurtle. One might say that the ISP NOT doing this is doing their host countries a huge disservice and harming domestic economics (and considering MOST are state owned or subsided monopolies, not really fair either).

      Think high tech

  • ...could be really nice, but the latency is gonna be murder!

  • I know this is a stunt and all. i don't want to be overly pedantic.However...

    i think pigeons are trained to go to one location. ex: if you want to send me data by pigeon, i have to raise pigeons, then give you some of my flock. Those pigeons will come back to me when you let them go.

    It simply isn't practical to keep a bunch of pigeons for every destination you would want to go. Even with his slow-ass connection, he can chose to send his data to youtube, or to vimeo, or to some ftp server. It's great

  • [wind]
    [click click]
    ARTHUR: Whoa there!
    [click click]

    GUARD #1: Halt! Who goes there?
    ARTHUR: It is I, Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, from the castle
    of Camelot. King of the Britons, defeator of the Saxons, sovereign
    of all England!

    ARTHUR: I am. And this my trusty servant Patsy.
    We have videoed and photographed the length and breadth of the land in search of knights
    who will join me in my court of Camelot. I must speak with your lord
  • For a 50 mile range a carrier pigeons bandwidth would be 1.9TB per hour. Or 527MB/s or 4.2Gbit/s which is about the same speed as a dedicated OC-96 connection or a Infiniband DDR 1X.

    average pigeon flying speed * maximum data it can carry given the current memory technology

    Memory:
    64GB SD card
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820139183 [newegg.com]

    "Their average flying speed over moderate distances is around 80 km/h (50 mph),[citation needed] but speeds of up to 125 km/h (75 mph) have been observed"
    ht [wikipedia.org]

  • The simple attachment of the SD card to Pigeon is not RFC1149 compliant

    The network transfer includes basic validation of the data transfer at the receivers end. The pigeon method as described does not.
    To be fair they should be implementing RFC1149 - Standard for the transmission of IP datagrams on avia

    http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc1149.html

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