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IP over Avian Carriers

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IP over Avian Carriers

A homing pigeon can carry Internet Protocol traffic.

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.[1]

IPoAC has been successfully implemented, but for only nine packets of data, with a packet loss ratio of 55% (due to user error),[2] 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 faster than 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 32 GB SD cards each, and take an hour to reach their destination, the throughput of the transfer would be 9102 Mbit/s, excluding transfer to and from the SD cards.

Real-life implementation

On 28 April 2001, IPoAC was actually implemented by the Bergen Linux user group.[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
vegard@gyversalen:~$ /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)

vegard@gyversalen:~$ 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
vegard@gyversalen:~$ exit

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.


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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8]

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 carrying a microSD card, versus a Telkom ADSL line.[9] 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.[10][11]

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 that 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, Australian speeds would be higher. 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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14][15]

See also


  1. ^ RFC 6214
  2. ^ "Informal report from the RFC 1149 event."
  3. ^ Truckloads of hard disks Low-tech Magazine, 2009.
  4. ^ Bergen Linux User Group's CPIP Implementation
  5. ^ "Assemblée nationale - XIIIe législature - Session extraordinaire de 2008-2009"
  6. ^ "Virus Risks of RFC1149 and RFC2549"
  7. ^ Human, Katy (24 June 2007). "Homing pigeons get down to business, ferrying rafting company photos". Denver Post. 
  8. ^ "Israeli pigeons faster than ADSL"
  9. ^ "Pigeon Race 2009"
  10. ^ Govender, Peroshni (9 September 2009). "Pigeon transfers data faster than South Africa's Telkom". Reuters. 
  11. ^ "'"SA pigeon 'faster than broadband. BBC News. 10 September 2009. 
  12. ^ "The Great Australian Internet Challenge". ABC Television/Hungry Beast. 10 November 2009. 
  13. ^ "BT feathers ruffled over pigeon-based file transfer caper". The Register. 17 September 2010. 
  14. ^ UK Business ISP Timico Challenges Pigeon to Beat Rural Broadband,, 2010-09-16 
  15. ^ Pigeon flies past broadband in data speed race, BBC News Technology, 2010-09-16 

External links

  • "Carrier Pigeons Bringing Contraband into Prisons", Bruce Schneier, (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"
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