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Under RFC 1149, 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 operator 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 as fast as 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 512 GB SD cards each, and take an hour to reach their destination, the throughput of the transfer would be 145.6 Gbit/s, excluding transfer to and from the SD cards.

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Rafting photographers already use pigeons as a sneakernet to transport digital photos on flash media from the camera to the tour operator.[8] 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.[9]

  1. 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 carried a microSDcard and competed against a Telkom ADSL line.[10] 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.[11][12]

  2. 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. The pigeons delivered the data an hour and a quarter later, by which time only a quarter of the data had been uploaded to YouTube via the broadband connection.[15][16]