IP over Avian Carriers
In computer networking, IP over Avian Carriers (IPoAC) is a humorously intended proposal to carry Internet Protocol (IP) traffic by birds such as homing pigeons. IP over Avian Carriers was initially described in RFC 1149, a Request for Comments (RFC) issued by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) written by D. Waitzman and released on April 1, 1990. It is one of several April Fools' Day RFCs.
Waitzman described an improvement of his protocol in RFC 2549, IP over Avian Carriers with Quality of Service (1 April 1999). Later, in RFC 6214 released on 1 April 2011, and 13 years after the introduction of IPv6, Carpenter and Hinden published Adaptation of RFC 1149 for IPv6.
IPoAC has been successfully implemented, but for only nine packets of data, with a packet loss ratio of 55% (due to operator error), and a response time ranging from 3000 seconds (~54 minutes) to over 6000 seconds (~1.77 hours). Thus, this technology suffers from poor latency. Nevertheless, for large transfers, avian carriers are capable of high average throughput when carrying flash memory devices, effectively implementing a sneakernet. During the last 20 years, the information density of storage media and thus the bandwidth of an avian carrier has increased 3 times as fast as the bandwidth of the Internet. IPoAC may achieve bandwidth peaks of orders of magnitude more than the Internet when used with multiple avian carriers in rural areas. For example: If 16 homing pigeons are given eight 512 GB SD cards each, and take an hour to reach their destination, the throughput of the transfer would be 145.6 Gbit/s, excluding transfer to and from the SD cards.
On 28 April 2001, IPoAC was actually implemented by the Bergen Linux user group, under the name CPIP (for "Carrier Pigeon Internet Protocol"). They sent nine packets over a distance of approximately five kilometers (three miles), each carried by an individual pigeon and containing one ping (ICMP Echo Request), and received four responses.
Script started on Sat Apr 28 11:24:09 2001 vegard@gyversalen:~$ /sbin/ifconfig tun0 tun0 Link encap:Point-to-Point Protocol inet addr:10.0.3.2 P-t-P:10.0.3.1 Mask:255.255.255.255 UP POINTOPOINT RUNNING NOARP MULTICAST MTU:150 Metric:1 RX packets:1 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0 TX packets:2 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0 collisions:0 RX bytes:88 (88.0 b) TX bytes:168 (168.0 b) vegard@gyversalen:~$ ping -c 9 -i 900 10.0.3.1 PING 10.0.3.1 (10.0.3.1): 56 data bytes 64 bytes from 10.0.3.1: icmp_seq=0 ttl=255 time=6165731.1 ms 64 bytes from 10.0.3.1: icmp_seq=4 ttl=255 time=3211900.8 ms 64 bytes from 10.0.3.1: icmp_seq=2 ttl=255 time=5124922.8 ms 64 bytes from 10.0.3.1: icmp_seq=1 ttl=255 time=6388671.9 ms --- 10.0.3.1 ping statistics --- 9 packets transmitted, 4 packets received, 55% packet loss round-trip min/avg/max = 3211900.8/5222806.6/6388671.9 ms vegard@gyversalen:~$ exit Script done on Sat Apr 28 14:14:28 2001
In December 2005, a Gartner report on bird flu that concluded “A pandemic wouldn't affect IT systems directly” was humorously criticized for neglecting to consider RFC1149 and RFC2549 in its analysis.
Other avian data transfer methods
Rafting photographers already use pigeons as a sneakernet to transport digital photos on flash media from the camera to the tour operator. Over a 30-mile distance, a single pigeon may be able to carry tens of gigabytes of data in around an hour, which on an average bandwidth basis compares very favorably to current ADSL standards, even when accounting for lost drives.
Inspired by RFC 2549, on 9 September 2009, the marketing team of The Unlimited, a regional company in South Africa, decided to host a tongue-in-cheek "Pigeon Race" between their pet pigeon "Winston" and local telecom company Telkom SA. The race was to send 4 gigabytes of data from Howick to Hillcrest, approximately 60 km apart. The pigeon carried a microSD card and competed against a Telkom ADSL line. Winston beat the data transfer over Telkom's ADSL line, with a total time of two hours, six minutes and 57 seconds from uploading data on the microSD card to completion of download from card. At the time of Winston's victory, the ADSL transfer was just under 4% complete.
In November 2009 the Australian comedy/current-affairs television program Hungry Beast repeated this experiment. The Hungry Beast team took up the challenge after a fiery parliament session wherein the government of the time blasted the opposition for not supporting telecommunications investments, saying that if the opposition had their way, Australians would be doing data transfer over carrier pigeons. The Hungry Beast team had read about the South African experiment and assumed that as a developed western country, Australia would have higher speeds. The experiment had the team transfer a 700MB file via three delivery methods to determine which was the fastest: A carrier pigeon with a microSD card, a car carrying a USB Stick, or a Telstra (Australia's largest telecom provider) ADSL line. The data was to be transferred from Tarana in rural New South Wales to the western-Sydney suburb of Prospect, New South Wales, a distance of 132km by road. Approximately halfway through the race the internet connection unexpectedly dropped and the transfer had to be restarted, the pigeon won the race with a time of approximately 1 hour 5 minutes, the car came in second at 2 hours 10 minutes, while the internet transfer did not finish, having dropped out a second time and not coming back. The estimated time to upload completion at one point was as high as 9 hours, and at no point did the estimated upload time fall below 4 hours.
A similar "Pigeon Race" was conducted by Michelle Brumfield in rural Yorkshire, England: delivering a five-minute video to a BBC correspondent 75 miles away in Skegness. She pitted the pigeon (again carrying a memory card) against an upload to YouTube via British Telecom broadband; the pigeon arrived in about ninety minutes while the upload was still incomplete, having failed once in the interim.
In September 2010, ISP Timico UK pitted a few homing pigeons against a rural broadband connection to see which was faster. Each pigeon carried a microSD card with 200 MB of HD video data, while simultaneously a typical Internet connection was used to upload the same video data to YouTube. This was done to raise awareness of poor Internet speeds experienced by many rural users. The pigeons delivered the data an hour and a quarter later, by which time only a quarter of the data had been uploaded to YouTube via the broadband connection.
- RFC 6214
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J’avais été choquée, monsieur le ministre, de vous entendre parler de pigeons voyageurs, mais, finalement, vous aviez peut-être raison. Il existe en effet une norme, la norme RFC 1149, qui date du 1er avril 1990 bien que ce n’est pas un poisson d’avril (Sourires), qui décrit comment on peut faire une transmission internet par pigeon voyageur. Neuf paquets de données ont été envoyés.
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- UK Business ISP Timico Challenges Pigeon to Beat Rural Broadband, ISPreview.com, 2010-09-16
- Pigeon flies past broadband in data speed race, BBC News Technology, 2010-09-16
- "Carrier Pigeons Bringing Contraband into Prisons", Bruce Schneier, www.schneier.com (blog), June 27, 2008
- Pigeon-powered Internet takes flight, Stephen Shankland, CNET News, May 4, 2001
- "Winston the homing pigeon draws tweets of support", The Mail and Guardian, September 10, 2009
- "The Unlimited"
- Pigeon carries data bundles faster than Telkom, 10 Sep 2009, M&G