Popular TechTuber Jeff Geerling has delivered an updated take on the old chestnut about the relative merits of pigeon-based vs internet data transfers. With the proliferation of super-fast home connectivity like gigabit fiber, one might expect the carrier pigeon to be blown away in 2023. Spoiler alert: the pigeon with its high-capacity microSD cards won Geerling’s data transfer race by a significant margin. However, as you will learn later, the pigeon gets outpaced at distances over about 600 miles.
Famously, in 2009, a South African company compared the transfer speed of a pigeon carrying a 4 GB memory stick vs local ISP Telkom’s ADSL service. The pigeon delivered its data payload in one hour and eight minutes. An hour was added to physically transfer the 4 GB of data to the computer. Meanwhile, the ADSL service had only managed to send 4% of the same data over a distance of 60 miles.
In Geerling’s 2023 re-race, over a decade later, pigeon evolution hasn’t significantly changed the birds, but data density was significantly higher. The YouTuber managed to kit out the bird with a trio of stripped-down 1TB SanDisk Extreme PRO flash drives (5g each) without overburdening it.
The bird flew for a mile, and it only took about a minute to reach its destination. From this data point and adding the SanDisk flash drive transfer times, Geerling plotted a baseline 3TB transfer graph for the pigeon. It looked like carrier pigeon transfer might be a winning strategy over shorter distances, up to around 600 miles, but the internet connection will triumph at any greater distances.
Geerling wanted to throw another challenger into the mix to spice up the race. So, he donned a pigeon mask and jumped on a plane to carry 3 TB of files from his home in the US to the Canadian data center, which the internet transfer also targeted. In the graphs, you see that PiJeff (jet-assisted Pigeon Jeff) does a little better over longer distances, but will still ultimately be beaten by internet transfers after around the 5,000-mile mark.
To conclude, Geerling says he could have easily done better as PiJeff, stuffing his luggage with very high capacity drives, but wanted to stick to the common 3 TB across all alternatives.
Geering notes in his video that his Gigabit connection doesn’t really live up to its billing, with a best sustained transport speed of about 75 MB/s. Hopefully, another decade later, we will all have broadband measured in petabits, and pigeons won’t have to endure having flash NAND devices strapped to their legs for our amusement (research).