Pigeon Data Race Meaningless
By now, I’m sure that everybody knows about the carrier pigeon Winston, who last week famously raced a Telkom ADSL line from Howick to Hillcrest, carrying 4 Gigs of data strapped to his leg. The pigeon won. In fact, it won by a huge margin. But I’m not sure that it really counts.
The whole exercise was conceived and implemented by a KZN It firm, Unlimited IT. They put up websites, they sent out messages (appropriately known as “tweets”) on Twitter, the micro-blogging platform, and generally made a large PR noise. Even the pigeon was (supposedly) tweeting about conditions for the race.
It took the homing pigeon just over 2 hours to cover the approximately 70km distance, and when it arrived, the competing download was just over 4% complete. Point proved? Not really.
Unsurprisingly, Telkom rebutted quite strongly, denying that they or their line was to blame for the speed of transfer. In fact, they went even further in their official comment, pointing out that the firm did not possess the fastest connection possible, and that they were not the service provider in any case.
They even provided evidence that they’d told the company that the service they were using was not suitable for their needs, and that the company had acknowledged the fact.
In their public announcement over the “race,” Telkom added, “Consequently, Telkom is unaware of what services, Service Level Agreements (SLAs), throttling, capping arrangements, etc exist between the customer and his ISP. These are all considerations that will impact the customer’s throughput speeds, especially in view of the fact that their network traffic travels across the public internet via a private ISP.”
But they showed their sense of humour in the end, by concluding, "Finally, it has not escaped Telkom’s attention that this entire episode has generated much excitement and interest, but the Company emphatically denies that we are currently considering placing this means of data transfer in our product catalogue and wholesaling it. However, Telkom is glad that, finally, we are able to welcome “real” competition in the telecommunications industry and, as a Company, we are confident that the above-mentioned points of clarification will certainly set the cat among the pigeons."
Missing The Point
Amidst all the public relations furore though, Fin24 columnist Simon Dingle pointed out something quite important though. He pointed out that all this does is promote the misconception that it’s the connection speed that really matters. In actual fact, the pigeon would probably have won almost anywhere in the world.
The problem in South Africa is not the connection speed. In fact, the columnist explains that he personally bench-marked a 4Mbps Telkom ADSL connection, against a 12Mbps ADSL connection in the UK. And that the Telkom connection did relatively well, delivering around 2.8Mbps in actual use during testing, whereas the UK connection seldom went over 3.1Mbps.
The real problem with South African bandwidth he explained, lies in the combination of price, and data cap size. In SA, a common cap is around 3 Gigs, while internationally, caps usually sit at around 50 Gigs.
It’s not that our connections couldn’t be faster, because they could be. But there are more important data communications issues in SA. Where the rest of the developed world is outdoing us, is in downloading a lot more data, for a much lower price. So let’s get back to addressing that. The speed will take care of itself.