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A communicator is a small transmitter and receiver that sends signals through subspace, allowing real-time communications between an orbiting starship and an away team on a planet's surface.

While they have at least enough range to reach a ship in orbit, communicator transmissions do not penetrate dense materials well. If a starship's internal communication system fails, individual communicators are not sufficient to provide ship-wide communication through the ship's bulkheads. A variety of other phenomena, including electromagnetic radiation and various types of particle radiation, can interfere with communicator transmissions.

In the 23rd century, a communicator was a hand-held device normally carried in a case attached to the user's belt. In the 24th century, communicators have been further miniaturized and built into the insignia worn on Starfleet uniforms. 24th-century communicators also serve as transponders, allowing a friendly starship to locate a functioning communicator at will.