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DTNs: The 21st Century Pony Express

By Troy Carl, Vice President DTNs: The 21st Century Pony Express

​How can we get the Bible to every human on Earth without a dependency on the public Internet?

Today in underdeveloped countries, people have smart phones and technology devices but, because connectivity is sparse and expensive, the ability to deliver Bible content in audio and text formats is extremely difficult. But, that’s all about to change . . .

The key to solving the problem of connecting the unconnected may be found in a technology designed for space that has real-world applications down here on Earth. It’s called a DTN – a Delay and Disruption Tolerant Network – and I believe it will be as significant to 21st Century missions as the Gutenberg press was in 1440!

Delay and Disruption Tolerant Networks, also known as DTNs, were originally conceived to handle the challenges associated with space communications. An astronaut needing to send an email to the International Space Station from Mars would need a whole new way of relaying data across long distances, so the InterPlaNetary Internet (IPN) was conceived. The IPN uses a store-and-forward message-switching protocol that is, in its simplest form, a Pony Express method of forwarding information.

If you can remember those high school history lessons about the Pony Express and just how a message was sent across the Old West, you can understand how to send an email to Mars – OR deliver a Bible to someone in a rural village.

You see, DTNs overcome big problems that are associated with deep-space communication like intermittent connectivity, long or variable delays, asymmetric data rates, and high error rates. And, just like the settlers of the Old West who experienced delays of time and space across long distances when sending messages to loved ones, they turned to a network of relay stations connected by pony-riding wranglers to get the job done. These fast-riding, gunslinging cowboys, equipped with saddlebags stuffed with various letters and posts, overcame those problems by using a simple store-and-forward message-switching protocol that came to be known as the Pony Express.

The Pony Express was a mail service delivering messages, newspapers, mail, and small packages from St. Joseph, Missouri – across the Great Plains, over the Rockies and the Sierras – to Sacramento, California, by horseback, using a series of relay stations. These smaller relay stations would allow a sender and a recipient to confirm, interact with, and/or disrupt and continue the transmission of each message on its pathway to the next relay station where, eventually, the letters would be delivered.

In today’s technology vernacular, you could describe a DTN like this: each Pony Express relay station would function much like a “node” along a communications network path using a specific protocol. At each juncture or stop, the data package or parcel of data would be checked, verified, and, if appropriate, delivered to the end user. IF the ultimate recipient was not located at that particular stop or “node,” the message would be repackaged and passed along the network by another Pony Express rider to another “node” for delivery – regardless of the time and space between each stop.

In a DTN mesh network, whole messages (entire blocks of application-program user data) – or pieces (fragments) of messages – are moved (forwarded) from a storage place on one node (switch intersection) to a storage place on another node, along a path that eventually reaches the destination.

DTNs can accommodate many kinds of messages or data content using a variety of wireless technologies, including radio frequency (RF), ultra-wide band (UWB), free-space optical, and acoustic (sonar or ultrasonic) technologies, to name a few.

So what does all of this have to do with the Bible?

As I’ve written in other articles, the mission to get God’s Word to every human on Earth is within our reach today! Jesus commanded us in the Gospel of Mark – chapter 16, verse 15 – to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” That word WORLD, translated from the original Greek, is KOSMOS. It describes a system – specifically man-made systems.

I think DTNs are just another kosmos (man-made system) for delivering messages, even interplanetary messages, and should be leveraged for the Kingdom of God to fulfill His Great Commission.

Imagine a Delay and Disruption Tolerant Network completely dedicated to delivering the Holy Scriptures to every person everywhere – literally traveling along relay stations, passing from one “node,” and its unique network protocol, to the next. From satellites to cell towers, mobile devices to cloud servers, radio streams, and even IOT networks . . . literally the whole world could have access to the Holy Scriptures if such a DTN was deployed.

Thanks to godly men and women within our Aerospace Advisory Council, Integrity Applications Inc., Faith Comes By Hearing, and a host of Bible-focused ministries, this vision will soon be a reality! And to think, it’s as simple to understand as the the good ol’ Pony Express.

For references, additional images, and additional/alternate links, see the original article.
NOTE: Text slightly edited to conform with FCBH editorial policies.

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