April 20, 2024

Pigeons are still (sometimes) faster than the Internet

Internet speeds have come a long way since the days of the dial-up modem, but sometimes there’s nothing better than the age-old carrier pigeon method.

The ancient Greeks used the so-called sky rats to spread the results of the Olympic Games. In 1850, Reuters used a fleet of 45 pigeons to send news and stock prices 75 miles between Brussels and Aachen, Germany. The trip lasted two hours. (A train would have taken six.) The US military also had its own fleet of aircraft carriers. pigeons, sending 600 to France during the First World War.

Homing pigeons clock an average of 40 miles per hour and typically run up to 400 miles, roughly from DC to Boston, according to the American Racing Pigeon Union. With the impulse of the tailwind, pigeons have been recorded Going as fast as 110 mph and up to 1,000 miles.

At certain data volumes and distances, Pigeon is a faster option for large rural areas of the United States, where Internet speeds can lag far behind the national average.

This is when it can be faster to improvise:


Say you’re sending something

100 miles away…

In 30Mbpssending files via

34 gigabytes (GB), about 35 episodes of “Sesame Street,” can be faster through Pigeon.

In 3Mbpsfiles larger than 3.4 GB —

a full screening of “March of the Penguins” – It may be better to send it by pigeon.

Average upload speeds in Dallas County, Texas.

Internet upload speed (megabits per second)

Say you’re sending something

100 miles away…

In 30MbpsSending files larger than 34 gigabytes (GB) (approximately 35 “Sesame Street” episodes) may be faster through Pigeon.

In 3Mbpsfiles larger than 3.4 GB —

a full screening of “March of the Penguins” It may be better to send it by pigeon.

Average upload speeds in Dallas County, Texas.

Internet upload speed (megabits per second)

Let’s say you’re shipping something 100 miles away…

In 30Mbpssending files via

34 gigabytes (GB) (approximately 35 episodes of “Sesame Street”) may be faster through Pigeon.

In 3Mbpsfiles larger than 3.4 GB (a full screening of “March of the Penguins”). It may be better to send it by pigeon.

Average upload speed in Dallas County, Texas.

internet upload speed

(megabits per second)

Let’s say you’re shipping something 100 miles away…

In 30Mbpssending files via

34 gigabytes (GB) (approximately 35 episodes of “Sesame Street”) may be faster through Pigeon.

In 3Mbpsfiles larger than 3.4 GB: a full screening of “March of the Penguins”It may be better to send it by pigeon.

Average upload speed in Dallas County, Texas.

Internet upload speed (megabits per second)

Whether a pigeon can navigate the Internet better depends on three things: Internet speed (check yours here), distance, and data.

It makes no difference online whether you send a file across town to your neighbor or to your best friend across the country. It is the size of the data being sent that slows down the Internet. The longer the trip, the more data is needed for the bird to overcome the bandwidth.


Internet upload speed (megabits per second)

Internet upload speed (megabits per second)

Internet upload speed (megabits per second)

Internet upload speed (megabits per second)

Internet upload speed (megabits per second)

Although many Americans have high-speed Internet, in rural areas the Internet can be spotty and slow. In 2020, nearly 1 in 5 rural residents lacked access to download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (or Mbps) and upload speeds above 3 Mbps, the definition of high-speed broadband set by the Federal Commission of Communications in 2015.

Internet speeds below that threshold may allow regular web browsing, email, and streaming standard definition video for up to two users, but not more people or intensive tasks such as streaming 4K video or using complex cloud-based software.

The FCC is considering increasing these benchmarks to 100 Mbps for download speeds and 20 Mbps for upload speeds, which some Internet access advocates say more accurately reflect the needs of modern Internet users.

Gaps between rural and urban areas and between rich and poor in Internet quality persist due to unequal investment, according to Alex Kelley, head of broadband consulting at the Center for Rural Innovation.

Internet service providers “will invest in the best technology in areas where competitive environments exist, and they will invest in the latest technology in wealthier areas,” Kelley said.

Biden announces $42 billion to expand high-speed internet access

To solve this, state and municipal governments in some rural areas have avoided large suppliers. North Dakota residents have some of the fastest Internet in the country thanks to small local Internet companies and cooperatives.


Average upload speeds by county

At 40 miles, people with high loading speeds You can send more than 9 GB of data to the Internet before it’s worth using a pigeon…

…compared to less than 4 GB for people with lower upload speeds.

In counties with median upload speeds of just 1 Mbps, it would take almost a full day to send a 9 GB file.

Average upload speeds by county

At 40 miles, people with high loading speeds You can send more than 9 GB of data to the Internet before it’s worth using a pigeon…

…compared to less than 4 GB for people with lower upload speeds.

In counties with median upload speeds of just 1 Mbps, it would take almost a full day to send a 9 GB file.

Average upload speeds by county

At 40 miles, people with high loading speeds You can send more than 9 GB of data to the Internet before it’s worth using a pigeon…

…compared to less than 4 GB for people with lower upload speeds.

In counties with median upload speeds of just 1 Mbps, it would take almost a full day to send a 9 GB file.

Average upload speeds by county

At 40 miles, people with high loading speeds You can send more than 9 GB of data to the Internet before it’s worth using a pigeon…

…compared to less than 4 GB for people with lower upload speeds.

In counties with median upload speeds of just 1 Mbps, it would take almost a full day to send a 9 GB file.

In some communities, Average upload speeds are as low as 1 Mbps. At that rate, even everyday tasks, like sending a video across town, can be slower than a pigeon. In contrast, residents of some cities experience upload speeds exceeding 100 Mbps.

The daily inefficiencies that come with slower Internet can contribute to delayed economic growth or increased unemployment as reliance on the digital economy grows, Kelley says.

Even in areas with high-speed Internet, pigeons can (and have) beat the Internet with data of sufficient size. Earlier this year, YouTuber and software developer Jeff Geerling put 3 terabytes of flash drives into a pigeon. (He made sure to wrap them in a plastic bag: “If the bird poops, you don’t want to lose your data.”) The pigeon won against its super-fast gigabit fiber internet.

Hot duck has nothing to do with these elegant pigeons.

Of course, the little pigeon can carry only a couple of ounces, is not immune to the avian pandemic, and can’t fly forever.

“You can’t do absolute things with pigeons because sometimes they stop to eat and sometimes to drink,” Geerling said. “And you never know if you fall in love and never make it.

When companies like Amazon and Google need to move large amounts of data, they turn to a more reliable form of transportation: trucks.

In 2016, Amazon launched AWS Snowmobile, a shipping container that can hold up to 100 petabytes of data, that’s 20 billion iPhone photos. Even with very fast Internet speeds, it would take decades to upload 100 petabytes to the Internet. Transporting that data across the country would take just a matter of days.

Maxar, a satellite imaging company, was the first to use AWS Snowmobile in 2017, transporting its 16-year archive of high-resolution images to the cloud with a truck and making it more accessible for military, government, and media use.

Nearly a century before Maxar began collecting bird’s-eye images, that was another job for the pigeon. In the early 20th century, the pigeon camera was developed to capture photographs of the sky. So if you’re sending your next data flash drive via pigeon, consider adding a camera as well.

County broadband speeds come from Measurement Lab and are an aggregation of 280 million point measurements of users’ Internet performance from January 1 to November 7. Most of M-Lab’s test results come from M’s integration of Google Search. -Lab open source testing tool, Network Diagnostic Tool.

This story was edited by Kate Rabinowitz, Emily M. Eng and Mike Cirelli.

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