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Homing pigeon faster than Internet? In S. Africa, the answer's yes.

Frustrated by Africa's unreliable service, a business needing to send 4GB of data 50 miles put Winston the pigeon up against the Web – and Winston won.

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Sometimes 12th-century technology wins.

This week, a South African call-center business, frustrated by persistently slow Internet speeds, decided to use a carrier pigeon named Winston to transfer 4 gigabytes of data between two of its offices, just 50 miles apart. At the same time, a computer geek pushed a button on his computer to send data the old-fashioned way, through the Internet.

Winston the pigeon won. It wasn't even close.

"Winston arrived after two hours, six minutes, and 57 seconds," says Kevin Rolfe, head of the information technology department at Unlimited Group, a call-center business based in Durban. As for the Internet data transfer, he says, "when we finally stopped the computer, about 100 megs had transferred, which is about 4 percent of the total."

Officially, the Unlimited Group has not given up on the Internet, nor has it any plans to embrace the use of homing pigeons that was pioneered on the battlefield by Genghis Khan. But while the pigeon-versus-Internet stunt was a resounding success in terms of satire, it also makes a point that many businesses throughout Africa are making: Africans pay some of the highest prices for some of the least reliable Internet service in the world. And if a country like South Africa – relatively prosperous and developed – can't solve this problem, then it's going to need a lot more pigeons.


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