This has always bothered me- When initiating an inter-personal conversation in Star Trek it is common to use the form "[my name] to [their name]" potentially immediately followed by a question. Although I cannot back this up at present, I am sure we have seen many instances where the called party responds instantly.

However, whilst the routing system will know your name, it won't know the name of the recipient until you have completed saying their name in the opening sentance. Then and only then can it locate the target and open the communications. Not only that, it will then have to relay your opening statement so the recipient knows who is calling them. And only after having listened to it can they reply with "[Their name] here Captain" or somesuch...

Of course this would be solved if every statement to open comms was a broadcast to all possible recipients, but I have seen no evidence for that being the case...

Are there any explanations for this apparent communications miracle?

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    @Gorchestopher - Not so, the maximum lag duration is the point at which the sender begins talking, to the point the system is able to identify the recipient, which could easily be at least one second. And as I say, once it has identified the recipient it needs to send the name of the calling party, which the recipient has to listen to, before the recipient can reply... In fact I am certain we hear, from the recipients point of view, the entire opening statement, e.g. "Picard to Riker", and then Riker responds... So the lag would be approx 2x the duration of "Picard to Riker"...
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 13:14
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    @Hypnosifl: often (if I’m remembering correctly), Picard will tap the comm badge and say “Picard to Riker”, and Riker will almost immediately reply with “Yes captain”, seemingly before Picard’s original message of “Picard to Riker” could have been replayed to him. Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 14:11
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    @Paul D. Waite - That is exactly the effect I have clumsily tried to point out :)
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 14:16
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    Not at all Marv, you nailed it. Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 14:30
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    @Hypnosifl: that would make sense, but I think at times we also hear incoming messages (e.g. we see Riker hearing “Picard to Riker” and replying “Yes captain”), with no apparent sped-up version or auto-replies. (I haven’t got video references for any of this though.) Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 14:53

3 Answers 3


The TNG Technical Manual addresses precisely this issue. In short, the computer AI is smart enough to route your communication directly to the person you're addressing. As soon as they acknowledge the communication (by replying or tapping the button), the rest of the conversation is realtime. Any delay is either not shown or is simply too short to be noticeable.

The exception to this would be on away missions when the channel is "left open" in which case two-way communication seems to take place automatically...

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    Clearly the actual answer, so marked as such, but it just avoids the issue really as it is not logically possible to make the conversation real time immediately following the computer hearing the "entire name of the recipient and located same" for the reasons discussed in the OP and witnessed when observing a recipient hearing the full opening message and responding immediately. Thanks for the post.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 19:01
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    @MarvMills - out-of-universe, I think the last part of Paul's answer is right. The delay is simply edited out of the conversation (e.g. unless the delay in responding is part of the plotline).
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 19:04
  • Out of universe there is no delay to edit, it's just actors without a communication system! :)
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 21:53
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    They "edit it out" by not filming it :P
    – methuseus
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 21:59

Here's how it would work:

  • User taps combadge / panel etc.
  • Computer plays acknowledgement tone, begins recording.
  • User says "Picard to Riker"
    • computer already knows who the speaker is, recognizes "to" and likely has the recipient identified by the second syllable.
    • computer continues recording
  • Computer opens channel to recipient, plays the announcement.
  • As soon as the recipient taps their badge or verbally acknowledges the communication, the rest of the recording comes through. The conversation will sync itself up rather quickly. Neither party knows (or cares) that there's a delay equal to the recipient's response time.

This is not much different than "Siri, tell my wife I will be 30 minutes late", just improved by 3 centuries of progress and a processor far in advance of what we have now.

Any annoying delays are edited out in post-production. It's still TV, after all.

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    "It's still TV, after all"... Sacrilege! :)
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 14:19
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    Agreed @Paul - we already have technology almost this good now. It's not difficult to imagine that in 300 years or less, instantaneous communication will be possible. I'd be surprised if something similar isn't commonplace in less than 50 years.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 18:30
  • The TNG manual says that the "button tap" is unnecessary when you're on the ship.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 18:36
  • @Omegacron there will always be a time delay caused, the speed of light dictates the minimum delay between a signal being sent and received after all.
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 8:21
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    @JamesChristopher Whilst I agree with you, the problem I have pointed out here is not a technological issue, it is a logical issue- nothing to do with how fast the system can detect the recipient and route, that is a given- it is the fact that recipients respond before they could possibly have the required information even if the communication system was actually instantaneous. The only possible answer is that the system actually sends the comms back in time thereby cancelling the lag. If that is the in-universe explanation I'm fine with that, but I don't think it is.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 21:13

I'm pretty sure the Comm Badge is tied into the Universal Translator system/s.

The Universal Translator works by scanning the communicator's brain and mapping common concepts within the brain to a word for a similar concept the receiver can understand. This system works with no perceivable lag.

I would assume that when the Comm Badge is tapped it links its Universal Translator to the ship's communication network. When Riker decides to call Picard the word structure is in his mind, he then has to figure out how to move his mouth, lungs, and vocal cords. The Universal translator has that time to find a similar word to the English one Riker wants to use to a word in Picard's language. While the Comm system has that time to make the connection. So the message they are sending is being transmitted before it leaves their mouths.

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