You may have often said it in jest “A pigeon could get it there quicker” and companies often use couriers, rather than broadband to move offices around. But now a company has started doing just this using a carrier pigeon, to move data.
Clearly this story is nothing to do with PR, and the fact that this story has promoted the company, Unlimited Group, around the world is purely luck. At no point was a professional PR firm used to promote this story – honest.
The fact that this story was reported a few days ago in New Zealand, with a different spin on the story, is just coincidence. The article that was published a few days ago stated that:
“A new project called Pigeon Race 2009 aims to highlight the inadequate data transfer speeds over fixed lines in South Africa. The website http://pigeonrace2009.co.za/ states that “The Unlimited faces great challenges in getting data from its locations across KZN back to its central location for storage. These are large files, and it was postulated that a pigeon could do this faster than a normal landline could.”
The article goes on to state
“The Pigeon Race 2009 campaign follows a similar campaign a few years back where it was shown that it was cheaper and faster to fly to Hong Kong, download 100 GB of data and fly back to South Africa than download it here using Telkom’s ADSL service.
While the Hong Kong example holds some value, since it compares broadband speeds and cost, the Pigeon Race 2009 project is of more satirical value than it’s real ability to reveal poor broadband performances.“
It’s quite clear that there is a cut off point where the pigeon would win the race, and it’s just about setting the parameters correctly. If you really wanted to you could have a trained tortoise moving data between neighbours. Stick a 1.5 TB hard drive (full of data) to the back of the lumbering animal and it would clearly be faster than moving the data across the internet between the houses.
Fair play to the PR company involved, the story has done well, but shame on the BBC for just printing press releases.
The story doing the rounds in the UK press at the moment (Daily Mail, Metro, BBC, etc) is below.
“A company is to start using a carrier pigeon to transfer data between its offices – because bosses believe it will be quicker than broadband.
IT experts at a firm in South Africa said it takes up to six hours to transfer four gigabytes of encrypted data between two of its offices which lie 50 miles apart.
Today staff at the financial services company will save valuable time by instead having the information transported by a homing pigeon named Winston.
the service goes down then it can up to two days to get through.
‘We started looking at other ways to solve the problem and discovered that carrier pigeons could do the job a lot more quickly.’
If the first pigeon flight is a success bosses will employ Winston and some of his friends to make a weekly trip between the firm’s two offices.
The Unlimited Group is a South Africa-based company offering insurance and financial products to entrepreneurs.
Its head office is in Durban on the country’s south-eastern coastline, while its main call centre is 50 miles north in Howick, outside Pietermaritzburg.
Winston is owned by a keen pigeon fancier who lives a short distance from the call centre and has already flown several test runs without carrying information to ensure he is familiar with the route.
Kevin 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.’
Broadband internet in South Africa is not as widespread as in the UK.
Although recent advances in technology have seen it rolled out in most major cities, it remains costly to use and the service can be blighted by adverse weather conditions and power cuts.
Kevin added: ‘We’re not blaming anyone for the problems we’ve experienced with the internet, but we’re keen to try and find another solution.
‘For a firm like ours that transfers a lot of data regularly the costs of doing so can add up.
‘If Winston can do the job as efficiently then we’d be silly not to think about using him instead – especially as he’ll only cost us a little of bird seed to run.’
Carrier pigeons are specially bred for their ability to find their way home from wherever they are released.
The birds were believed to have been used for the first time in an organised manner in the twelfth century by the Mongol leader Genghis Khan.
Pigeons were later used extensively during World War I to send message between trenches on the Western Front.