The phone system aboard the Galactica is a hardwired system that can be used in two modes: Point-to-point, and one-to-many. The phones have an integrated handset wired to a control box and speaker. The buttons on the control box are physical keys, and there are no automatic voice controls.
In Point-to-point mode, the phones act as a typical communication system, where one station can call a single other station. In the one-to-many mode the phones are used as a public address system, where a single station can broadcast to the entire ship.
The phones are also shown acting as broadcast speakers. These speakers are able to take in many different formats of audio, and are shown broadcasting various different feeds:
- Ship-wide Alerts (“Action Stations!”)
- Local alarms (Damage control/Fire inside a specific bulkhead)
- Radio Streams (pilot audio inside the launch prep area)
- Addresses (calling a person to the closest available phone)
Each station is independent and generic. Most phones are located in public spaces or large rooms, with only a few in private areas. These private phones serve the senior staff in their private quarters, or at their stations on the bridge.
In each case, the phone stations are used as kiosks, where any crewmember can use any phone. It is implied that there is a communications officer acting as a central operator for when a crewmember doesn’t know the appropriate phone number, or doesn’t know the current location of the person they want to reach.
There is not a single advanced piece of technology inside the phone system. The phones act as a dirt-simple way to communicate with a place, not a person (the person just happens to be there while you’re talking).
The largest disadvantage of this system is that it provides no assistance for its users: busy crewmembers of an active warship. These crew can be expected to need to communicate in the heat of battle, and quickly relay orders or information to a necessary party.
This is easy for the lower levels of crewmembers: information will always flow up to the bridge or a secondary command center. For the officers, this task becomes more difficult.
First, there are several crewmember classes that could be anywhere on the ship:
- Damage Control
- Other officers
Without broadcasting to the entire ship, it could be extremely difficult to locate these specific crewmembers in the middle of a battle for information updates or new orders.
The primary purpose of the Galactica was to fight the Cylons: sentient robots capable of infiltrating networked computers. This meant that every system on the Galactica was made as basic as possible, without regard to its usability.
The Galactica’s antiquated phone system does prevent Cylon infiltration of a communications network aboard an active warship. Nothing the phone system does requires executing outside pieces of software.
A very basic upgrade to the phone system that could provide better usability would be a near-field tag system for each crew member. A passive near-field chip could be read by a non-networked phone terminal each time a crew member approached near the phone. The phone could then send a basic update to a central board at the Communications Center informing the operators of where each crewmember is. Such a system would not provide an attack surface (a weakness for them to infiltrate) for the enemy, and make finding officers and crew in an emergency situation both easier and faster: major advantages for a warship.
The near field sensors would add a second benefit, in that only registered crew could access specific terminals. As an example, the Captain and senior staff would be the only ones allowed to use the central phone system.
Brutally efficient hardware
The phone system succeeds in its hardware. Each terminal has an obvious speaker that makes a distinct sound each time the terminal is looking for a crewmember. When the handset is in use, it is easy to tell which side is up after a very short amount of training (the cable always comes out the bottom).
It is also obvious when the handset is active or inactive. When a crewmember pulls the handset out of its terminal, the hardware makes a distinctive audible and physical *click* as the switch opens a channel. The handset also slots firmly back into the terminal, making another *click* when the switch deactivates. This is very similar to a modern-day gas pump.
With a brief amount of training, it is almost impossible to mistake when the handset activates and deactivates.
For a ship built in the heat of war at a rapid pace, the designers focused on what they could design quickly and efficiently. There is little in the way of creature comforts in the Phone interface.
Minor additions in technology or integrated functionality could have significantly improved the interface of the phone system, and may have been integrated into future ships of the Galactica’s line. Unfortunately, we never see if the military designers of the Galactica learned from their haste.
Such a system would not provide an attack surface (a weakness for them to infiltrate) for the enemy…
Well, one hopes, but I’m not sure I’d want to be the engineer to certify such a system as attack proof. Cylons are wily!
For example, a sufficiently clever attacker might be able to spoof those tags, perhaps even remotely, and perform denial-of-service attacks on the location system – which could be disastrous if the c&c chain relies on the system to communicate with mobile officers. Especially if the attack is timed for a critical moment.
It’s also conceivable that any wireless link of that kind – however simple – could be vulnerable to some kind of carefully formatted code injection. And if the authorization processor itself becomes compromised, that obviously opens the door to even more attacks – like preventing anyone from using the phones at all, or carefully select who gets through in order to manipulate the fog of war and craft a false picture of the situation for command officers. There’s even a possibility for placing wholly counterfeit communications and orders on the line (if a processor in control of the enemy is sharing a line with the voice channel — to send data packets to central — or is even nearby in the same enclosure, it might be possible to modulate some kind of fake signal onto the wire).
Sound powered phones have been used on modern ships for decades, they really are foolproof, they work even when the power plant goes out, and they usually have dedicated circuits for each major compartment, operated by simple toggle switches, making it easy to direct your call. Reaching someone in particular on a warship is also relatively easy when you consider that these people are trained to go to certain stations when the condition alarm goes off. If they aren’t at their battle station, then you page them on the shipwide (1MC) circuit.