Pigeon Apartheid

By Beacon Staff

Those of you who know my backstory know that I was trained as a programmer and that I worked in the software industry for 17 years before coming to my senses. IE: before owning my own software company. A real one, not those other ones.

So much for that coming to my senses thing.

This whole small business marketing, blogging, writing columns, books, speaking thing came to me by brute force – perhaps like your business came to you.

I owned a small business, so I had to get myself educated, fall down a time or two, look up from the seat of my pants in the dirt, pick myself up and get something positive accomplished because Kevin Costner’s character in the only one who can build something and magically expect someone to show up. (English teachers, please excuse that “sentence”.)

The programming world is a small one. When you do what I do with that half of your brain, you meet people from all over the world – even before Facebook and Twitter.

Nowadays, it’s even easier to meet folks from other places. Often you’ll know them for years before you get to meet them face to face. For example, I know a fair number of programmers from South Africa.

Despite having some rather brilliant programmers, South Africa has what you and I would likely consider rather horrible internet. It’s kinda like cell phone service. There’s a limit on how much you can use, you don’t want to go over and the service could / should be quite a bit better.

It isn’t necessarily South Africa’s fault. There’s not enough bandwidth to go around and as a result, it gets rationed to the providers who sell internet service because there is only so much to go around.

Hmm, rationing. Not going there.

Recently, one of South Africa’s technology companies apparently got more than a little fed up with their internet service (from South Africa’s largest internet provider) and decided to have a little contest.

And that’s how we get to the pigeon.

This technology firm decided to see what was faster, this high-speed internet connection that costs their company R45000 ($6000 = 45000 South African Rand) a month, or a pigeon.

A race.

Contestant number one would copy 4GB of data to a digital storage card (a micro SD if you are taking notes), then attach it to a homing pigeon’s leg and free the pigeon to fly 80 kilometers to one of their locations, then copy the 4gb file from the digital card.

Contestant number two (a computer) would try to transfer that same 4GB file to the same office location 80km away.

Think I’m making it up? Check these out: http://www.reuters.com/article/internetNews/idUSTRE5885PM20090909,
http://blogs.thetimes.co.za/vlad/2009/09/09/telkom-vs-a-pigeon-who-will-win/ and finally, http://pigeonrace2009.co.za/ which ironically results in “Bandwidth exceeded” messages.

An excerpt: “Basically we will be flying a pigeon with a 4GB micro SD card from Howick to our central site in Hillcrest. We did a dry run yesterday. Here are the stats: Pigeon took 48 minutes to deliver the data. ADSL is still downloading. Telkom got hold of this via the media and is currently in a flat spin. We got a call from Telkom asking us for our circuit numbers so they can make sure we have good service. Here is the best part. We spend +/- R 45000 a month just on rental for these lines. If we moved to the Avian Carrier Network we will be saving a whopping R 35 000 a month.”

R35000 is $4640.57. That’s savings per month by using the pigeon, while getting vastly better performance. Not a good day to be that telecom provider.

Of course, if you are in that business, you know that even with my fancy pants 15mb down / 1mb up connection here at the Columbia Falls Gigaplex (aka my home office), moving that 4gb file would take the better part of a day – and that’s if I’m downloading it. Slower than the pigeon over short hops.

The point of all this rambling is to provoke you to ask yourself two questions: Are you providing value? Would you pay your hard-earned money for the products and/or services you’re offering to your market? Not grudgingly, but gladly – because the value and quality is outstanding.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him via email at mriffey at flatheadbeacon.com.

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