Travel with a star-drive equipped ship is fast, but it is not the fastest means of communications. Centuries ago, engineers of the Star Drive Corporation attempting to build equipment that would detect ship in hyperspace discovered that Irrational Space was full of noises. It didn’t take them long to build a prototype FTL radio. Unlike the technology that goes into building Star Drives, SDC filed patents on the FTL radio technology and then licensed it out.
Properties and Limitations
The analogy to a “radio” ends with the ability to send and receive communications data in a meaningful manner. FTL Radio messages are instantaneous, have an unlimited (as far as anybody can tell) range, they are omnidirectional and – most importantly – they do not suffer signal strength degradation with distance.
This is fairly significant. It does mean that any planet or ship that has an FTL radio can communicate with everybody else at all the time, but there is no way inherent in the signal to determine who’s talking or where they are. You have to depend on the sender providing correct information about both.
Even more importantly, it means that all of Colonial Space – and indeed the entire galaxy – can listen in on your signal. This isn’t a huge problem for public data such as news, but is a big limitation when it comes to private conversation and especially military communications. Encryption and ciphers mitigate this to an extent, but they are subject to attack. Hence, important information is still often carried by couriers, if time allows.
FTL Radio is available at most colonies and on large ships. Smaller ships often do not carry them, relying on colonial infrastructure on both ends of their voyage for communications for cost reasons.
Ships which stray from colonized or technologically advanced worlds will usually carry at least an emergency beacon for use in case of a crash or other severe malfunction.
FTL Radios are too big and use too much energy to be man-portable.
Signals and Noises
Irrational Space is full of noise and many signals. There are regular news channels. Data transmissions, which synchronize the Encyclopaedia. Space Traffic Control chatter. Banter between free traders. Military transmissions. Commercial transactions. Anything humankind and their allies like to talk about – it goes through Irrational Space.
But there are other signals. There are mysterious “numbers stations” – broadcasts in plain language that carry nothing but strings of numbers, or timestamps, or seemingly random words. It is usually assumed that these originate with one secret service or another.
And then there are Ghost Signals.
Ghost signals are any noises in Irrational Space which have the characteristics of language or a communications protocol, and aren’t completely random noise. Oftentimes, these are nothing but weird signals that lack identification data. Sometimes, these are distress calls. Sometimes, things are a little more queer – the signals claim to be from a ship that is not in the Imperial Ship’s Registry, or address a planet that does not exist in Colonial Space. Sometimes they talk about past events as if they had just happened. Sometimes they are echos of older broadcasts. Some conspiracy theorists claim that many signals that make no sense are actually signals from the future. Irrational space, where the light-barrier has no meaning, is after all unpredictable and ill understood.
Many ghost signals, however, completely defy explanation. It is often assumed that many of them belong to other civilizations, far outside Colonial Space. None of them have even been cracked or understood. Government scientists usually dismiss this notion, but it gives the paranoid and conspiracy nuts sleepless nights.
StarCom – Interstellar Communications, Inc – is an old company specializing in the manufacture and operations of FTL radios. It grew large on government subsidies – necessary in the early days since the construction of a single communications station was a huge investment. Once the network was in place, it used its monopolistic position to squash any competitor that entered the market, and lobbied – successfully – for protective legislation in the Imperial Senate.
The Republic is attempting to deregulate the market, encourage competition and break the StarCom monopoly. As it is dependent on StarCom services, however, these plans have not progressed far.