IP over Avian Carriers

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Under RFC 1149, a homing pigeon (exemplar in Scheßlitz) can carry Internet Protocol traffic.

In computer networking, IP over Avian Carriers (IPoAC) is a 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 Request for Comments.

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 IPv6Brian Carpenter and Robert Hinden published Adaptation of RFC 1149 for IPv6.[1]

IPoAC has been successfully implemented, but for only nine packets of data, with a packet loss ratio of 55% (due to operator error),[2] and a response time ranging from 3,000 seconds (≈50 minutes) to over 6,000 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.[3] 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.

Real-life implementation[edit]

On 28 April 2001, IPoAC was implemented by the Bergen Linux user group, under the name CPIP (for "Carrier Pigeon Internet Protocol").[4] 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
$ /sbin/ifconfig tun0
tun0      Link encap:Point-to-Point Protocol
          inet addr:  P-t-P:  Mask:
          RX packets:1 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 frame:0
          TX packets:2 errors:0 dropped:0 overruns:0 carrier:0
          RX bytes:88 (88.0 b)  TX bytes:168 (168.0 b)

$ ping -c 9 -i 900
PING ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=255 time=6165731.1 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=255 time=3211900.8 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=255 time=5124922.8 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=255 time=6388671.9 ms

--- ping statistics ---
9 packets transmitted, 4 packets received, 55% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max = 3211900.8/5222806.6/6388671.9 ms

Script done on Sat Apr 28 14:14:28 2001

This real life implementation was mentioned by the French MP Martine Billard in the French Assemblée Nationale,[5] during debates about Hadopi. The implementation was noted in the song "Paper Pings" by Steve Savitzky.[6]


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 RFC 1149 and RFC 2549 in its analysis.[7]

Known risks to the protocol include:

  • Carriers being attacked by birds of prey. RFC2549: "Unintentional encapsulation in hawks has been known to occur, with decapsulation being messy and the packets mangled."
  • Carriers being blown off course. RFC1149: "While broadcasting is not specified, storms can cause data loss."
  • The absence of viable local carriers. RFC6214: "In some locations, such as New Zealand, a significant proportion of carriers are only able to execute short hops, and only at times when the background level of photon emission is extremely low." This describes the flightless and nocturnal nature of kiwis.
  • Loss of availability of species, such as the extinction of the passenger pigeon.
  • Disease affecting the carriers. RFC6214: "There is a known risk of infection by the so-called H5N1 virus."
  • The network topologies supported for multicast communication are limited by the homing abilities of carries. RFC6214: "... [carriers] prove to have no talent for multihoming, and in fact enter a routing loop whenever multihoming is attempted."

Other avian data transfer methods[edit]

Rafting photographers already use pigeons as a sneakernet to transport digital photos on flash media from the camera to the tour operator.[8] 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.[9]

On March 12 2004, Yossi Vardi, Ami Ben-Bassat, and Guy Vardi sent 3 homing pigeons from a distance of 100 kilometres (62 mi), each carrying 20-22 tiny memory cards (Msystems' Disk-On-Chip) containing 1.3 GB, amounting in total of 4 GB of data, achieving an effective throughput of 2.27 Mbps. The purpose of the test was to measure and confirm an improvement over RFC 2549.[10] Since the developers used flash memory instead of paper notes as specified by RFC 2549, the experiment was widely criticized as an example in which an optimized implementation breaks an official standard.[citation needed]

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 kilometres (37 mi) apart. The pigeon carried a microSD card and competed against a Telkom ADSL line.[11] 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.[12][13]

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, and 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 132 kilometres (82 mi) 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.[14]

A similar "Pigeon Race" was conducted in September 2010 by tech blogger (trefor.net) and ISP Timico CTO Trefor Davies with farmer Michelle Brumfield in rural Yorkshire, England: delivering a five-minute video to a BBC correspondent 75 miles away in Skegness. The pigeon was pitted (carrying a memory card with a 300MB HD video of Davies having a haircut) against an upload to YouTube via British Telecom broadband; the pigeon was released at 11.05 am and arrived in the loft one hour and fifteen minutes later while the upload was still incomplete, having failed once in the interim.[15][16][17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ RFC 6214
  2. ^ "The informal report from the RFC 1149 event". BLUG.
  3. ^ "Truckloads of hard disks", Low-tech Magazine, 2009.
  4. ^ "RFC-1149". BLUG.
  5. ^ "Assemblée nationale ~ Troisième séance du mercredi 22 juillet 2009". 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.
  6. ^ "Paper Pings".
  7. ^ "Virus Risks of RFC1149 and RFC2549".
  8. ^ Human, Katy (22 June 2007). "Homing pigeons get down to business, ferrying rafting company photos". Denver Post.
  9. ^ "קצה - RIM - Ami Ben-Bassat's Blog". Archived from the original on 13 July 2008.
  10. ^ "קצה - RIM - Ami Ben-Bassat's Blog". 2004-06-04. Archived from the original on 2004-06-04. Retrieved 2019-06-06.
  11. ^ "Pigeon Race 2009"
  12. ^ Govender, Peroshni (9 September 2009). "Pigeon transfers data faster than South Africa's Telkom". Reuters.
  13. ^ "SA pigeon 'faster than broadband'". BBC News. 10 September 2009.
  14. ^ "The Great Australian Internet Challenge". ABC Television/Hungry Beast. 10 November 2009.
  15. ^ "BT feathers ruffled over pigeon-based file transfer caper". The Register. 17 September 2010.
  16. ^ UK Business ISP Timico Challenges Pigeon to Beat Rural Broadband, ISPreview.com, 2010-09-16
  17. ^ Pigeon flies past broadband in data speed race, BBC News Technology, 2010-09-16

External links[edit]