Orioncomm is the Orion Foundation's internal communications network, which uses a number of protocols and media to provide secure and covert contact between different branches of the organization and field agents. It is also the name given to a series of personal communication devices which allow Orion operatives to access the network.
In the early days of the foundation, the transfer of information was difficult at best and keeping the transfers secret was even more so. Telephone, Telex, standard postage services and face to face meetings were used, along with the usual fieldcraft for spies such as dead drops, microdots and invisible ink.
After the second world war, the Zodiac realized that the advent of modern computers and the networks which link them could give the foundation a real advantage both in analysis of data and communications. As a result, the Coriolis Bureau was formed.
Initially, the Coriolis Bureau developed an encrypted standard for inter-office communication using computers which vastly simplified passing data between Orion bases in different locations but was not suitable for use in the field. Operations would frequently fail because agents could not contact (or be contacted by) the foundation in an emergency.
Various solutions were suggested, such as short-wave radios, but all suffered from either unacceptably short range or difficulty in concealment during undercover work, or both. In the late 1960s, the Coriolis Bureau requested the Ganymede Bureau to produce a small communicator which could be easily concealed and work over a long range when agents were operating far from the nearest Orion office.
After several false starts, the original Orioncomm SC1 was produced in the early 1970s, using low frequency radio waves to provide a low bandwidth digital signal over long distances. Since then, the form factor has changed significantly and additional functionality has been added to make the Orioncomm an indispensible aid to the operation of the Orion Foundation.
The Orioncomm network uses many different methods of communication to connect together seamlessly. Encrypted internet packets, dedicated wide area networks and intranets, low frequency radio waves, commercial cellular radio and even satellite links can all be used to ensure that field agents can remain in contact at all times virtually anywhere in the world.
The low frequency radio used by the Coriolis Bureau uses ground wave propagation so a line of sight is not required and signals can pass through or around most obstructions such as walls. However, the low power necessary to avoid detection by monitoring agencies means that the system has a maximum range of ten miles in the lowest bandwidth text only mode. Since the late 1990s, different quadrant amplitude modulation schemes have been used according to the measured signal strength to allow higher bandwidth connections at shorter ranges. Currently, audio may be transmitted up to around three hundred metres and video up to one hundred.
The Orion satellite network is made up of satellites owned by various companies controlled by the foundation. As well as their stated functions (maintained by the corporations which own them), the secret uses are managed by the Coriolis Bureau. By the early 1980s, half of the network was complete, giving 50% coverage of the world. By the turn of the millennium, this had increased to 75% and in 2007 the network was completed, allowing agents to communicate anywhere on the globe at any time.
The Orioncomm communicator has gone through several revisions since the original SC1. Field agents rarely use the official code designations to refer to the Orioncomms, both because it could blow their cover in the field and because they are embarrassed to use names that could have been thought up by a five year old.
SC1 (Spy Calculator)Edit
This took the form of a scientific calculator with an alphanumeric LCD. Pressing the buttons in a predetermined sequence entered messaging mode and then text could be sent and received over low frequency radio. A symbol on the display would flash when there was an unread message in the memory.
The SC1 was popular with agents and vastly improved on what had gone before. However, it was often difficult for an agent to carry or use without drawing attention and the ten mile range could prove limiting.
SC2 (Spy Calculator)Edit
The SC2 kept the same form factor as the SC1, whilst adding support for communicating with Orion's new satellite constellation. This improved coverage to virtually the whole globe, although initially satellites were only overhead periodically and without external power only a handful of messages could be sent or received. If no satellite was present then an agent might have to wait up to six hours for one to appear. The SC2 also used a SECOR-like system to give longitude and latitude readings.
SW1 (Spy Watch)Edit
This device looked like a sophisticated digital wristwatch/calculator and was capable of all the usual functions of such a device, but the onward march of technology allowed it to incorporate all the functionality of the SC2 into a much smaller and less obtrusive package.
Used through the late 1980s into the 1990s, the SW1 addressed most of the limitations of previous designs. Additional batteries concealed in the strap gave an acceptable running time, although it was only capable of sending three satellite messages or receiving six before recharging. The location function automatically set the time to the correct zone and the watch could be set to vibrate, bleep or flash to alert the wearer to an incomming message.
SW2 (Spy Watch)Edit
As digital watches declined in popularity, the SW2 was introduced as an alternative to the SW1. Available in a variety of analogue case styles, the controls for the watch were placed around the outside of the bezel and messages appeared in a small window on the dial.
Although less ostentatious than the SW1, many agents preferred the older model due to its easier control method and automatic time zone setting.
SP1 (Spy telePhone)Edit
When agents began using mobile telephones for day-to-day communication, usage of the Orioncomm changed somewhat. The Ganymede Bureau produced its own multiband telephone which also incorporated the standard Orioncomm functions. It also replaced Orion's own location system with access to the GPS. This device was paired with the SW3 wristwatch to provide all the benefits of previous systems with additional flexibility.
SW3 (Spy Watch)Edit
The SW3 appeared similar to the SW2 but replaced the satellite link with a miniature audio recorder and speaker which could be used in conjunction with the Orioncomm radio and an SP1 to act much like a modern bluetooth headset, but with a range of several hundred metres.
The SP1 and SP3 combination proved extremely successful. Agents could set up a base of operations with an SP1 connected to mains power and then use SW3s to communicate secretly and make recordings for evidence.
CP100 (Computer telePhone)Edit
Around the turn of the millennium, the Ganymede Bureau updated its SP1 unit into a modern (for the time) smartphone. This combined the usual Orioncomm features with those of a PDA, simplifying the distribution of classified files to agents in the field. The CP100 internals could be placed in a variety of shells to appear similar to telephone/PDAs from a number of manufacturers.
As mobile telephony advanced, revisions of the CP100 were produced to keep appearance and performance in line with commercially available smartphones. These were internally identified by appending a suffix starting at r1 and increasing by one each time, but agents usually referred to them by the name of the model which they were intended to resemble (the Nokia 6810, Blackberry Curve, Apple iPhone, etc.).
As before, the CP100 and its successors were combined with the latest SW2000 wristwatch.
SW2000 (Spy Watch)Edit
This revolutionary update of the SW3 added a miniature digital video camera, a combined metal detector/bug detector and, most importantly, an Orion ID Card scanner, allowing the venerable Orion card case to be phased out.
Generally well received, the SW2000 was updated several times over the next few years whilst retaining the same name. Miniaturization of components gave extra space which could be used to add modules selected by the agent. Examples include laser surveillance, gas analyzer, voice stress analyzer, thermometer, barometer/altimeter and detonator.
However, the primitive camera and optics led the the introduction of the CP110 within a year.
CP110 (Computer telePhone)Edit
Not a replacement for the CP100, but existing alongside, the CP110 incorporated a video camera and external microphone. Supposedly designed for videoconferencing (which was hyped as the next big thing at the time), it was actually used for surveillance and was aided in this by the fact that the camera module was removable.
No revisions of the CP110 were released and the CP100r4 and later revisions contained camera and microphone hardware equal or superior to the CP110, leading to the discontinuation of the latter.
SW2010 (Spy Watch)Edit
Released at the same time as the SW2000, the SW2010 was a larger, ruggedized digital version aimed at Titan Teams and agents engaged on commando operations. In addition to the functions of the SW2000, the SW2010 included an altimeter, GPS and compass, laser rangefinder and explosive detonator.
The SW2010 was extremely popular with Titan Teams and many agents preferred it to the SW2000 version intended for undercover operations, despite its extra bulk.
SWi (Spy Watch Interactive)Edit
The latest version of the Orioncomm is available in many designs ranging from a swatch watch to a huge ruggedized military chronometer. A modular system similar to that introduced in the SW2000 allows differently sized frames to have different functionality. The strap contains a Lithium Polymer battery to supply additional power.
All models have an e-ink touchscreen in place of a dial, a variable frequency radio to connect with the latest CP100 units, a microphone, speaker and Orion ID system. This new ID system can completely replace the Orion ID Card as the watch backplate contains the circuitry usually present in the ID card. The registered wearer's skin is therefore in constant contact with the plate in order to activate the circuitry as long as the watch is worn.
In addition, all features available on previous generations of Orioncomm are available, provided the watch is physically large enough to accommodate them. The much improved video camera is now a popular option, along with GLONASS location data, additional connectivity (WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.) and bug/metal detector.
Agents seem very happy with the new Orioncomm, combining the best of the prior generations, but the Ganymede Bureau continues to work to improve the platform.