There are more Indians on the Internet than people in America. Around 400 million of them, according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India. But according to statistics that are only slightly less reliable, at any given moment in time, roughly 200 million of these users are on the phone with customer support vehemently insisting that they have tried turning it on and off again and the internet speed is still down.

With an average internet speed of 2.7 mbps, the average connection speed in India is slightly better than in war-torn Syria and the borderline failed state of Venezuela, but has a little further to go before it reaches the heady heights achieved by the likes of Angola and Egypt.

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Among these countries, India is the only one that considers itself an information technology powerhouse. The government has unveiled an ambitious program aimed at expanding e-governance platforms and plans to spend thousands of crores on creating Internet-connected smart cities.

Before we sink perfectly good taxpayer money on constructing massive silicon castles in the ether, I would like to propose a test of a far more fundamental nature to see if our Internet infrastructure is up to the task of powering a Digital India. Is the average Indian internet connection faster and more reliable than a pen drive taped to a pigeon’s foot?

Internet Protocol over Avian Carrier (IPoAC) is an actual spec that is recognised by the Internet Engineering Task Force and has been tested against actual ISPs on multiple occasions around the world. Since no homing pigeons are available to me at the time of writing this post, I will make do with an average of all available results involving pigeon-based data transfer.

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This includes 11-month old Winston in South Africa, who managed to get a 4 GB flash drive to its destination in 2 hours; and Margaret down in Australia, who flew a Blues Brothers film to its recipient in an hour and 5 minutes, not only beating the ISP it was up against (the transfer failed, twice), but also a car with over two hundred horses under its hood (reached an hour later).

In northern England, Rory the racing pigeon managed to get a 300 MB video across to a BBC reporter in 90 minutes. Meanwhile, the YouTube upload was re-starting after having timed out once. Rory later teamed up with his buddy Tref to embarrass British Telecom again, transferring 200 MB of data in 54 minutes despite harsh weather conditions.

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Using these tests as a reference, we are able to arrive at a fairly unscientific average data transfer speed of 16.4 mbps for IPoAC. That’s almost eight times as quick as the average for broadband.

Unfortunately an army of pigeons isn’t the panacea for India’s web of woes. In fact, they’re quite limited in their ability to serve as network infrastructure – latency is terrible, scalability is almost non-existent and let’s not even get started on the gigantic headache of cleaning up all the poop.

However, the fact that a communication system invented in 500 BC is better than most Indian ISPs, is a rather poignant symbol of the depressing state of the Internet in India.

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