German Experiment Shows Horses Beating Local Internet Connections

These days, we’re blessed with wired and wireless networks that can carry huge amounts of data in the blink of an eye. However, some areas are underprovisioned with bandwidth, such as Schmallenberg-Oberkirchen in Germany. There, reporters ran a test last December to see which would be faster: the Internet, or a horse?

The long and the short of it is that Germany faces issues with disparate Internet speeds across the country. Some areas are well-served by high-speed fiber services. However, others deemed less important by the free market struggle on with ancient copper phone lines and subsequently, experience lower speeds.

Thus, the experiment kicked off from the house of photographer [Klaus-Peter Kappest], who started an Internet transfer of 4.5GB of photos over the Internet. At the same time, a DVD was handed to messengers riding on horseback to the destination 10 kilometers away. The horses won the day, making the journey in about an hour, while the transfer over [Kappest’s] copper connection was still crawling along, only 61% complete.

Obviously, it’s a test that can be gamed quite easily. The Internet connection would have easily won over a greater distance, of course. Similarly, we’ve all heard the quote from [Andrew Tanenbaum]: “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.”

Notably, [Kappest’s] home actually had a fiber line sitting in the basement, but bureaucracy had stymied any attempts of his to get it connected. The stunt thus also served as a great way to draw attention to his plight, and that of others in Germany suffering with similar issues in this digital age.

Top speeds for data transfer continue to rise; an Australian research team set a record last year of 44.2 terabits per second. Naturally, the hard part is getting that technology rolled out across a country. Sound off below with the problems you’ve faced getting a solid connection to your home or office.

61 thoughts on “German Experiment Shows Horses Beating Local Internet Connections

        1. You can’t this forum software is stuck in 1992.

          Well, that’s not true, one could delete a post in the WWIV BBS software, common at the time. Probably in the CompuServe forums, as well… but I can’t remember clearly.

  1. Australian research team set a record last year of 44.2 terabits per second

    Actually a better unit to judge network connection speed is [bits * m/s] as it is harder to achieve high speeds over a longer distance.

    1. So coming back to the station wagon: Let’s assume it has 2000 Litres of volume in the trunk. A 3.5″ HDD has around 0.37 Litres of volume, so you can fit more than 5000 HDDs into the trunk. If each HDD has 10TB of space, this would amount to ~50 PT (Petabyte) = 400 Petabits. If it hurtles down the German highway (with no speed limit) at 200 km/h = 55m/s, the speed measure would be 22 Exabits*m/s.

      Let’s assume the 44.2 Terabits/s has a length of 10km (probably overestimated), this would be 442 Petabits*m/s. Still 2.5 orders of magnitude away from the hurtling station wagon.

  2. They ran underground optical fibre right the way up an unpopulated coast of midwest Australia, just so they could transfer data cubes from the SKA. A courier could deliver overnight, the same data cube that takes over a week to transfer by Internet.

    1. Do you mean they laid fibres to the SKA site so data can be transferred out, or fibres to an institute working on the the cubes?

      The first is clearly needed since couriering disk packs 24/7 is hardly practical over the lifetime of the SKA (projected continuous bandwidth 80 Gbps). The second is a good excuse to get good connectivity to an institute as it sounds like there wasn’t that before, and it’s unlikely they’re going to work on the cubes then shut up shop leaving a white elephant fibre in the ground to nowhere.

  3. You can almost rig the result to make it even without a horse, for any local loop distance.

    The largest microSD card available is 1TB.

    Give 100 microSD card to a marathon runner, and see the results. Very bad redundancy and loading time, but the transfer speed is phenomenal :D

  4. If you think POTS is bad, I once worked in a rural town where out in the back country they still had phone lines that were one wire run along an old fence, and a big metal ground stake at each end. Somehow modems would work with that and get up to 2400 baud connections. Just enough for email without any attachments. That was circa 1998-99.

    1. Came here to say the same thing, thats pretty fast to wait what, UPLOAD?! 61% of 4.5 gigs. I think that would take days here on the fastest line i can get here in my part of town… not exactly rural here.

    2. just what i was thinking. my fiber today is >134Mbit upstream but until that recent upgrade (4 months ago), 6Mbit upstream was nothing to sneeze at. my in-laws have awful rural service in the US and they only complain because they struggle to get 6Mbit *down*. if they were getting 6Mbit up and presumably much more down, they would be quite pleased!

  5. In our country (Slovakia), we have term “kabelovy prenos” which can be translated as wire transfer (kabel = cable) or as duffelbag transfer (kabela = duffelbag ). This was used in era of punchcards when you wanted to transfer large amount of data but was impossible over wire.

  6. I think stunts like this are needed to highlight just how frustrating the broadband market can be. I’ve lived with my parents for 12 years and we’ve just had an FTTP connection installed. It gives us really fast internet off peak, but on peak it’s the same as some peoples’ FTTC connection.

    In the UK, the government have made a lot of noise about improving internet access, but very little has been done. I live just under 2km away from the nearest cabinet, which has a fibre backhaul, but it has taken them 12 years to run it to my hamlet? The company tasked with improving the infrastructure, Openreach, is incredibly opaque and offers nothing more than a mailing list to let you know when fibre is coming to your area.

    The government hasn’t even taken steps to implement any kind of advertising standards. Here, you can call a FTTC connection “fibre” even though the speed is massively limited by your copper phone line. Providers advertise speeds of up to x and y which are completely meaningless, and there is very specific wording in the contracts that prevents you claiming money unless you can prove the network speed is far below advertised, continuously, for days on end. Even the pricing is opaque, with offers for new customers and tie-ins with TV, Phone line, etc.

    There’s a huge digital divide between urban and rural areas in the UK, and it’s really come to bite us in the ass during this Pandemic. It’s obvious our country’s infrastructure is many years behind the rest of Europe, and even though I eventually got my FTTP connection, I’m still very bitter about the 12 years I spent having to take turns with my family on the internet.

    1. i wonder if there’s a place in the world where broadband access (or any kind of service, actually) is not ruled by shady business practices and the authorities meant to regulate the market are actually useful.

      i’m from italy and your description fits the market here to a t (we usually also have outrageous hidden costs in case you want to rescind your contract).

  7. Where I live, 1 Gbit/s is pretty normal and affordable, it surprises me every time when I hear that other “developed” countries don’t even have 100 Mbit/s yet.. When I install a new game on steam, my rotating disk is often the bottleneck,.

    1. 1 Gbit / s across your country, without exeption? Even in the most remote villages? Please tell me where you live.

      And what does your steam engine need a network for … shouldn’t it run on coal? ;-)

  8. To be fair, the data transfer time need to include at least the time to burn the DVD (and maybe the time to load on the receiving computer if the data is to be worked on). This may add about one hour.

    Still better than slow internet…

  9. > Some areas are well-served by high-speed fiber services.

    Note that this does *not* mean FTTH. (and that “well-served” is a blatant lie)
    It means either VDSL or cable. FTTH barely exists at all in Germany.
    VDSL usually doesn’t help anything because the lines to the buildings are hair-thin copper.
    Cable can be fast, but is quite unstable in most regions and also a quasi-monopoly in the hands of vodafone – a horrid company with terrible business practices.

    1. But there is a strong push for FTTH in Germany. Currently, the state pays the 800€+ building connection fee. So internet companies try to get as many buildings connected as possible.
      They call this digitalisation. Although the best internet does not help if you cant send state departments a mail, since they don’t deem it legally binding.

      Also living in Germany I was tennant in the center of the 5th largest city. In a very new building(2019). They had CAT7 cables to each room in the Flat (from the circuit breaker box), but only went with coax tv cable to the apartments from the basement. Tried to get fiber, but my request was denied by the housing company which is a subsidiary of the city municipality. Also the Internet monopoly provided by the coax cable (blatantly called “fiber”) was also provided by another subsidiary of the city municipality. Also since there were no phone lines I could get no DSL service. (Which is more stable in most parts of germany)
      Germany at its best!
      No need to say I moved out (only months after movingin) because the Internet company could not or did not want to solve the stabilty issues.

  10. Last year, during the pandemic and home-schooling, a father did another stunt.
    He had his teenage daugther run a zoom (or similar) meeting from the garden, while it was snowing, claiming that only there was decent coverage via mobile network, while his copper based inernet access was too slow.
    The facebook post he wrote made his way to a federal minister (who by the way is in charge of building up faster internet, but failed in the last years to do something useful other than throw funding and now one takes it…).
    Only after the press covered this with dramatic footage, it came to light that he could have had faster internet, if only he ordered it correctly. The article below says that the provider spokes person claims “nine of his neighbors had fibre connectivity already, but he didn’t book it”.

    for your convenience:

    But any, back to topic: the Horse-ride-data-transfer stunt was also nice. Rural areas suffer from being de-prioritized again and again and waiting for decent internet connectivity for a decade.

    Apparently the copper network that existed and still exist needs to be maxed out by vectoring first, until even the 250mbit/s you can get are no longer state of the art and only fibre can increase data rates.

    Fibre is the one and only answer… I hope politicians don’t fall for the WTTH (wireless to the home) or other “mobile broadband with 5G” bull shit…

    1. “Fibre is the one and only answer… I hope politicians don’t fall for the WTTH (wireless to the home) or other “mobile broadband with 5G” bull shit…”

      Till economics and geography become irrelevant. THEN it will be the only answer, but I’m telling you right now, the cable to ISS is a real pain.

    2. If it weren’t for Helmut Kohl / the CDU / greedy capitalism in general (or any combination thereof) we could quite possibly have gotten FTEH (fibre to EVERY home) in all of Germany.
      The coalition under Helmut Schmidt decided on plans for that in 1981(!) with investments of 3 milliards DM/year (billions for you footflozers).

      Learned about it here: “Stop & Go im deutschen Internet | ZDF Magazin Royale”

  11. It was not an entirely fair comparison though. Handing and delivering a DVD is not the same as getting the data from one hard drive to another. Add in the time from when you start looking for a blank dvd, writing it, horsing it over, and than on the other side, reading it and copying it onto the hdd, and you have a fairer test. And my guess is that would have been much closer to a tie.

    I have GB Ethernet in the house and it is cool watching a file go from a fast machine with an SSD to another fast machine with an SSD, often peaking out at over 100MB/sec. I think 112 is the record. On the flip side I have a workspace that has no network connection right now and I have to drag stuff back and forth with USB sticks. The travel time in my pocket is nothing but the time it takes to write and read the USB stick is substantial.

  12. In Slovenia a plan was set in motion to get high speed internet to rural areas (so called black spots) a few years back and with partial EU funding it’s mostly completed now.

    It was/is implemented from perifery towards the centre, Where I live (town of 5000, municipality of 15000) a friend that lives in the remotest village with 15 houses is enjoying his gigabit FTTH internet for years now while I’m still plugging along over my xDSL. But it’s all good, they had next to nothing before that while we were already enjoying dual ISDN lines and ADSL connections.

    They started connecting the town too last year and although I got the fibre to my doorstep a few months back I still haven’t switched simply because I don’t feel the need to (turns out even the lowly 4G LTE backup is more than enough for our work from home scenarios).

  13. I can absolutely relate to this problem. My dad lives down a short dirt road with only one other resident. That other resident paid quite a sum of money to bring cable across his field from the main road to his house. I’ve asked the cable company about connecting my dad’s house and they either flat out refuse or it’s a ‘if you have to ask, you can’t afford it’ issue due to him being the only “market” in the area.
    Before that, I had been the one looking to get service and they had a junction box literally across the road from my yard. They were going to charge me $800 just to bridge that gap. I understand it involves digging up and repairing the road but still, the cost of new infrastructure is disheartening and a major barrier to many.

  14. I have a horse and LTE is the internet where I live,there is something called “enhanced dial up”,but after having ASDL
    living in the city when hard drives were the size of current web pages,no.
    In fact,having LTE makes rurral living vastly easier ,on line banking ,ordering parts for equipment ,pays huge dividends in
    time and fuel not spent going to town,30 gigs for $80 in canada
    isnt a cost its an instant money saver.

  15. > Top speeds for data transfer continue to rise; an Australian research team set a record last year of 44.2 terabits per second.

    The same country whose federal government couldn’t give a horse’s arse how future-proofed our Internet infrastructure is.

    Last time I had to push a lot of data up quickly, it was helping my mother complete a citizenship application. The government site in question wanted everything scanned 600dpi in PDF format … naturally, these are big files. They then insisted that we complete a “Capcha” challenge to prove that we were human.

    Unfortunately, they didn’t think to test how long it takes to upload said documents over a typical Internet connection. It took us about 5 attempts… each time the “Capcha” challenge would time out before the upload completed.

    I had two Internet links accessible to me: a 25Mbps HFC NBN link, and a prepaid 4G Internet service via a Cat-6 LTE router (my back-up link). In the end, said Cat-6 LTE router hung from a curtain rail wound up getting the documents up there in sufficient time.

  16. Ain’t sure how it is through the rest of the world, but one of the biggest problems in the US in regards to Internet speeds is lack of competition. In the US, the cable companies own the exclusive rights to your land’s cabling and can legally exclude other providers from using the line. It’s created an oligarchy, each member having territory spanning entire states. If other companies try to sprout up they send legal hitmen to scare them off, if not to do them in entirely. This isn’t a problem with the other oligarchs, for they play by the agreed upon rules.

    This creates an environment where by making them the exclusive provider in an area, they have a captive audience. There is no innovation, because they have no competition, and the rates are sky high because they can write whatever with no ifs, ands, or buts. The consumer has to either pay their outrageous prices or live without Internet, something that has become less of a luxury and more of a utility every year.

    There’s a few solutions to this problem, none of which are easy. One is to turn Internet into a utility, in which case it makes it even easier for the government to spy on us, but it also opens the most freedom for smaller companies to exist and compete. Another option is to dismantle these companies and make what they’re doing illegal, and considering it’s an $8B sector, good luck with that. Finally, the last option I’m aware of is to look towards alternatives, namely something on the ground. Right now Musk is dominating with Starlink, and I’m sure it’ll be a great mixup to the otherwise stagnant ISP market, but a true alternative would have to challenge them on the ground, and in the law, in order for it to solve the root problem.

  17. 20 years ago, This house got fiber connection (unknown speed, prob 100Mbt), it’s a small vacation house 10km outside of town in a very rural area.
    10 years ago they uppgraded it to gigabit.
    My parents lives even further away in the bush, on top of a mountain with only one neighbour 10km outside a small village, they also got gigabit fiber (and good 4G internet too)
    Internet is an critical infrastructure, and Sweden made sure everyone has acess to it, even though it was expensive to build the fiber networks

  18. Here in Oklahoma I pay $100 a month for 100 Mb speed I usually get from 45 Mb to 72 Mb with 10 megs upload. Every now and then I get maybe 8 Mb down. And this is because the politicians took care of that by listening to the phone and cable companies when they had them outlaw the governement getting into the city wide wi-fi market.

  19. I just have to add this comparation, over and over again, until people wake up. As an expat living in Germany (fancy word for immigrant), I have enjoyed upload speeds ranging from 600kbps to 7Mbps for the past years. All while living in a city and trying to get the best connection possible for my place. Meanwhile, villages in Romania have 1Gbps FTTH for a fraction of the cost and significantly better uptime.

    It’s just shameful for a country that calls itself civilized to have these kind of issues. And people keep droning on about the size of Germany, but the worst speeds and uptime were near Frankfurt, which is a backbone city, 5km away from the actual backbone.

    Shame again, for allowing oligopolies to run the Internet infrastructure and the mobile infrastructure.

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