Communications aboard a starship take two forms: voice and data communication. Both are controlled by the main computer and dedicated peripheral hardware nodes. Through those parts of the computer allocated for handling communications, the metaphor of the human central nervous system is applicable: there is a large number of links coming radially out from the central node, virtually assuring that all information will be sent rapidly to the correct destination, and arrive with very little or no loss of quality or of the information itself.
The hardware configuration for intraship communication involves a minimum of 12 000 data line sets and terminal nodes distributed throughout the starship, in parallel with the ODN (Optical Data Network). This is the primary route for voice and data signals. There are also the same number of RF (Radio Frequency)-based terminal nodes distributed throughout the ship as a first backup layer, in case the standard system fails. A second backup layer runs in parallel to the EPS (Electro-Plasma System), and consists of 7 550 km of copper-yttrium-barium superconducting strands. This layer also uses the same terminal nodes as the RF layer.
Each terminal node is a disc measuring 11.5 cm in diameter, circular, and 2 cm thick. The casing is moulded polykeiyurium, and the internal configuration consists of separate voice and data relay sections. The voice section contains an A-D voice pickup/speaker wafer, preprocessor, amplifier, optical fibre modulation I/O subcircuit and D-A return processor. The data sections contains two nested circuits consisting of the standard STA, also found in comm badges, phasers and tricorders, and a short-range RF receiver/transmitter. Portable devices and handheld devices are not hardwired to the ODN, and send and receive data using the STA. Although RF receivers are present in the backup system , their function in the primary system is to manipulate data signals for transmission over optical fibres.
During voice communication, the normal procedure involves a crew member stating their name, followed by the crew member or area being called, in a form that can be understood by the computer for call routing. AI (Artificial Intelligence) routines in the main computer listen to all intraship calls, perform analyses to determine the source and destinations, and activate the audio speakers at the recipient's location.
During initial message routine, there may be a slight delay as the computer has determined the location of the recipient and established the communications link. However, when the link has been established, all communications are in realtime. When both parties have concluded their communication, the link may be terminated actively with the word "out", which will be detected in context by the computer, or if no conversation takes place, the computer will sever the link after ten seconds. Tapping the communicator badge to initiate a communication; the computer will interpret it only as a confirmation signal.
If the recipient is unavailable for realtime communication, the computer will record a message and alert the recipient when he or she is available. Emergency voice transmissions are prioritised and controlled by command authority instructions within the computer. These can be reprogrammed by command personnel depending on the situation.
During most Alert conditions, the communications system is automatically switched over to high-speed operation, optimised to give the Main Bridge uninterruptable links to all areas of the ship for contact with other departments and assessment of possible damage. All routine channel operations are suspended.
Data transmissions may be established between any Starfleet hardware equipped with RF or STA devices, either by console interface, or by vocal commands instructing the computer to establish the link. In most cases, the computer will automatically execute the requested fucntion; on occasaion, it may request identification keypresses for specific pieces of hardware, usually for verification of device type, data transmission protocols or sequencing of multiple devices.
During both data and voice transmissions, channels may be secured (encrypted) by either manual inputs or vocal commands, depending on the respective locations of the parties or devices involved.
The current Starfleet-issue communicator represents the latest imporvement in small subspace radio devices. Its primary use is to allow voice contact between crew members onboard starships and during away missions, and to allow the transporter system to obtain a lock for transporter operations. It can also be used for voice contact with other devices, such as the ship's main computer.
The heat of the communicator is the STA. This circuit incorporates an A-D voice encoder and low-power subspace field emitter. It is the same circuit used in other device such as PADDs and tricorders, and uses the same data transmission protocols. As all Starfleet communications are normally encrypted, the signals are run through a series of encyption algorithms. These are changed on a random basis by Starfleet Command for intership communication, and by individual starships for away missions.
Control of the personal computer while aboard a starship is a matter of habit and preference. It is not necessary to tap the badge in order to establish communication, as the main computer is constantly monitoring and routine voice transmission, however it is a good practice to learn, is it very necessary for away missions, to conserve communicator battery power.
The range of the communicator is limited, mainly due to the miniature size of the STA unit: in standalone communications, voice signals will only travel 500 km before signal degradation occurs. As this is nowhere near the 40 000 km needed to contact an orbiting starship, the starship must become the active partner in order to detect the communicator muh-lower power signals, and transmit signals strong enough to be picked up by the communicator.
The communicator is a line-of-sight device during away missions. Its range may be improved if the magnetic field of the planet is < 0.9 gauss, or its geological density < 5.56 g/cm. Various EM (electromagnetic) factors can affect voice and transporter lock, but remedies to these problems have to be used on the starship, as there are few user-adjustable controls within the communicator. In the event that the transporter lock is lost, other ship sensors can be used to locate away team personnel, although the search can take longer.
For security purposes, the communicator is personalised to a specific crew member, and responds only to the bioelectric field and temperature profile of a specific individual, which it determines using the built-in dermal sensor. If an attempt is made to use a communicator by another crew member without a security override authority, the communicator will not work. Under normal circumstances, codes are changed every five days. During alert situations, or when away missions are in progress, codes are changed on a random basis, and at least once every twenty-four hours.
Ship-to-ground communications is another level of the communications system, and involves exchange of information between a starship and away team members and their equipment on a planet. Communications external to the starship are routed to RF and subspace radio nodes. Normal RF frequencies are set aside as backups, and the subspace channels are used as the main communication medium. By their definition, RF signals are limited to the speed of light, which results in severe time and distance limitations.
The RF hardware consists of fiteen networked triply-redundant transceiver assemlies cross-connected to the ODN, and copper-yttrium 2153 hardlines linked to the main computer processors. Each assembly is a hexagonal sloid, consisting of voice and data subprocessors and other circuits. RF power is obtained from Type III EPS taps, and have a range of 5.2 AUs (1AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun). Subspace transceiver assemblies use about 100 times more energy than the RF units, because the signals have to be driven faster into the subspace frequency domain. Low-power units can be used in smaller devices, as long as the larger units are used aboard the starship.
The subspace transceiver network is linked to the transporter, and used to locate personnel, and co-ordinate lock-on procedures. A minimum of three transceivers must be available for reliable transporter lock. The maxumum reliable distance for routine transport is 40 000 km, due to the matter stream's tolerance of 0.005 seconds of arc, although subspace communications by the medium-power network can be used with a range as large as 60 000 km.
During normal contact with a starship, away team members will call the Main Bridge directly, or other departments. Normal contact from non-Starfleet personnel will be held by security and relayed to the Captain or other senior officers. Emergency communications will be automatically handled by the computer without delay, affording fastest possible response time.
This is the most energy-consuming communication possible from a starship. The distances involved will typically range from 100 AUs to tense of light years, obviously much beyond the capability of the medium power units already described. The system uses ten ultra-high power subspace transceivers, and the antenna for this system is the only device embedded into the 'skin' of the starship. Ship-to-ship communications can take place while stationary, at impulse or warp velocities, and so a number of compensators are built in to the preprocessing system. As with other communication systems, encryption and decryption is automatically handled by the main computer.
All starships are able to transmit and receive voice and data via subapce, at a maximum theoretical rate of 18.5 kQ/sec. Calls between ships under normal circumstances involve the exchange of a haling packet, containing relevant information relating to the calling ship. The call is usually directed to the senrio staff, can be held for proper routing by Security or Ops. Routine voice and data exchanges between scientific, technical and operational departments aboard both vessels can be cleared by Security once contact has been made.
The speed of subspace signals is still the limiting factor in any long-range communication. Even the most focused and polarised signals decay over time, as all subspace energies will tend to return to normal space and become EM waves over time. If this occurs massive amounts of data can be lost, since the signal does not decay evenly. To compensate for this problem, subspace relays have been installed as areas of the galaxy have been charted; these boost, refocus and repolarise signals to ensure signal integrity upon arrival at its destination. Approximately 500 new subspace relays are made operational each year. Starfleet R&D are continuing investigations into propagating signals into deeper layers of subspace, which should allow them to travel further before signal degradation. If this works, 80% of the installed subapce relays could be eliminated in the future.
The ability to exchange signals is not enough to permit communication. A common language is also vital to allow communication. The Universal Translator is an extremely sophisticated computer program designed to analyse an unknown language, and to derive a translation matrix to permite realtime exchange of voice or data.
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