Bad news – your superfast gigabit fiber network is no match for… a pigeon with a flash drive attached to it?

Although we stopped using carrier pigeons close to 100 years ago, one YouTuber has found these birds are faster at transferring 3TB of data – at distances of up to 500 miles – than today’s gigabit broadband connections.

Jeff Geerling, who runs a popular YouTube channel, attached three full 1TB SanDisk Extreme PRO flash drives to a carrier pigeon and sent it to its destination, a Canadian data center. 

Fitted with SSDs, these are among the best flash drives available at the moment. Western Digital claims they can hit data transfer speeds of up to 420MB/s for reads and 380MB/s for writes.

Although ISPs tend to market full-fiber internet connections as offering gigabit speeds – which should translate into data transfer speeds of at least 125MB/s – in reality, Geerling averaged out at roughly 75MB/s.

The bird took a minute to reach its destination, which was a mile away. Geerling added that to the time it took to transfer the data from the flash drives to local storage, and compared this overall figure with the duration for transferring the 3TB of data over an internet connection.

He found that, up to roughly 500 miles, carrying this amount of data using a pigeon – which humanity has been doing since 3000 BC – would be speedier than relying on gigabit internet speeds we have today. The time taken depends on the distance the pigeon would need to travel, whereas it took him ten hours and 54 minutes to transfer the data over the internet.

The YouTuber aimed to replicate a similar experiment from 2009, in which a South African firm raced a pigeon carrying a 4GB memory drive with the fastest ADSL service, provided by the ISP Telkom. They transferred the data, via pigeon, in one hour and eight minutes, while the ADSL service only managed to complete 4% of the upload. They tested this over a 60-mile distance.

The best broadband packages today may not be able to compete with physically moving data from one location to another. But ISPs and networking companies are undergoing upgrades all the time, which will allow for speeds in the 10Gbps camp – or even 100Gbps.

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Keumars Afifi-Sabet
Channel Editor (Technology), Live Science

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is the Technology Editor for Live Science. He has written for a variety of publications including ITPro, The Week Digital and ComputerActive. He has worked as a technology journalist for more than five years, having previously held the role of features editor with ITPro. In his previous role, he oversaw the commissioning and publishing of long form in areas including AI, cyber security, cloud computing and digital transformation.