How Slow is South Africa's Internet? A Pigeon Is Faster (Literally)

By Boonsri Dickinson | September 10, 2009 2:55 pm

pigeon.jpgInternet speed is awful in South Africa—so awful, in fact, that Unlimited Group, an insurance and financial company in Durban, has decided to use pigeons rather than e-mail.

Unlimited Group sent Winston, an 11-month-old pigeon, on a 50-mile trip with an encrypted data card attached to his leg. It only took the bird one hour and eight minutes to deliver the info to the main call center. That beats the six hours it would have taken to send four gigabytes of information over the Internet. And if the weather is bad, it can take as long as two days.

The Daily Mail reports:

Kevin Rolfe added: ‘For security reasons the information on the memory card attached to Winston has to be very thoroughly encrypted, as it contains personal details of people who call our centre.

‘With modern computer hacking, we’re confident well-encrypted data attached to a pigeon is as secure as information sent down a phone line anyway.

‘There are other problems, of course. Winston is vulnerable to the weather and predators such as hawks. Obviously he will have to take his chances, but we’re confident this system can work for us.’

Internet is so unbelievably slow in South Africa because of the shortage of bandwidth, but it should pick up soon after the 10,500-mile fiber optic cable system is set up next year. The idea of using pigeons in the meantime isn’t all that crazy, given that the birds were used in World War I to send messages—still, in our tech-crazed era, it’s nothing short of shocking.

Related Content:
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Image: flickr/ El Gavacho

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
  • red

    At least text only emails should be faster than a carrier pigeon!

  • zwerdlds

    uploading on an ADSL line, eh? Yeah, one might expect that to be a tad slow…

  • Art

    I like to use a t-shirt launcher!

  • Christina Viering

    Speed it up!

  • Ian Cleland

    I like that, a bit of a laugh, I think we all take it all to serious. We need to lighten up.

    It’s a case of using the right tool for the right occasion and if that is a pigeon so be it.

    Ian Cleland
    The walking man

  • Josh Powell

    “Unlimited Group sent Winston, an 11-month-old pigeon, on a 50-mile trip with an encrypted data card attached to his leg. It only took the bird one hour and eight minutes”

    Pigeons fly almost 50 mph?

  • Daniel

    Tja it was done as a tongue-in-cheek protest against the fixed-line soon to be ex-telco monopoly here (Telkom). But yeah it is also faster (and cheaper) to copy stuff onto a memory stick and drive to someone else as well :-)

  • Laurence

    Problem is, with homing pigeons, they only travel one way. You’ll need to courier it back. And then the bird can’t stay at the one branch too long, else that will become its new home and then it won’t travel to the other office anymore. So chances are you’ll have to constantly fly it home, even if there is nothing to send, and then courier it back. Lather, rinse, repeat…

  • Kt D

    What a perfect idea! The fact that Unlimited IT actually performed this “experiment” (and that the pigeon did, in fact, win) is hilarious. And, yet, it is also somewhat depressing–at least for South African businesses and individuals who need access to a faster, more efficient internet service.
    Telkom needs to pay attention to this bold statement and start making some changes. Similarly, it would not hurt the South African government to play close attention/start improving things either. Otherwise, more and more companies might start abandoning internet service for pigeons.
    I watched an interesting summary video on all of this at It’s short, well-made and offers some context/differing opinions on the whole pigeon affair:

  • NMF

    It is sad :( I have to live with this… to Telkom: t(~__~ t)

  • Clint Armstrong

    You need Kawuleza as your provider. Snail internet is a thing of the past, we offer high capacity fast services, all wireless with carrier grade equipment.


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