Deciphering broadband industry jargon

Deciphering broadband industry jargon

Wednesday, 9 May, 2018

To the uninitiated, broadband jargon often seems unnecessarily complicated.

Something as simple as whether a letter is upper-case or lower-case can have a significant impact.

Then there’s the confusing nature of the broadband industry itself – the relationship between BT and Openreach, the bundling together of unrelated services, and so forth.

It’s enough to drive you to Google – assuming you’ve got a working internet connection.

If you don’t know your WPA from your WiFi, you may need our broadband jargon-buster.

Making sense of it all

These are some of the terms commonly used when discussing broadband, with straightforward explanations about what they mean:

  • ISP: An Internet Service Provider – the company supplying your internet connection
  • Quad play: By providing you with lots of services, ISPs make it harder for you to leave. Quad-play bundles together landline and mobile phone accounts plus TV and broadband
  • Server: Companies like Google and Netflix don’t store information on normal computer hard drives. Instead, they use huge storage devices known as servers, capable of hosting vast amounts of data and distributing it over the internet at high speed
  • The cloud: Any form of internet storage hosted on third-party servers, rather than on your device’s internal storage
  • Streaming: The process of viewing files stored on a remote server as they’re downloading, rather than having to wait until the entire file has arrived
  • Download speed: How quickly your device or internet connection can receive data from a remote server, such as streaming media files or webpage content
  • Upload speed: The above process in reverse – how quickly a device can send emails, upload data onto a cloud server, etc
  • Protocol: You use a HyperText Transfer Protocol every time you visit a website. A protocol is a set of rules that determine how two computers speak to each other
  • Router: Also known as a hub. A broadband router is a small device connected to a phone socket, used to distribute cabled or wireless internet connectivity
  • LAN: An example of a Local Area Network would be the broadband provided by a domestic router throughout the home
  • WiFi: It’s a common myth that this is an abbreviation of Wireless Fidelity. WiFi is simply a term used to describe sending information over a wireless LAN, such as from a broadband hub to a phone or tablet
  • Channel: WiFi networks broadcast on one of a dozen pre-programmed frequencies. Changing the network channel can eliminate interference from other domestic devices
  • Hardwiring: The process of physically connecting a device to a hub or router, and one that’s usually requested by broadband providers when trying to establish a fault
  • Ethernet: A data protocol used for high-speed data transfer. Ethernet connections link routers to computers or other internet-enabled devices, hardwiring together with thick cables capped by square plugs
  • Tethering: Using a smartphone’s internet connection to get another device online, either through WiFi or over a physical connection
  • USB: A Universal Serial Bus is one of the sockets (or ports) on computers and other hardware, used for tasks like tethering and data transfer
  • Dongle: Typically a small USB stick sold by one of the UK’s mobile networks, using their network coverage to establish an internet connection and get a device online
  • URL: A Uniform Resource Locator is better known as a web address – like
  • IP address: An Internet Protocol address is a unique address for each web-enabled device or broadband hub, identifying where data should be delivered to
  • VoIP: Voice over IP describes making phone calls through an IP address. Skype is the best-known example of VoIP in action
  • Megabits: There are eight bits in a byte, which is the standard unit of digital data measurement. The speed of your internet bandwidth per second is referred to as Mbps, and bigger numbers are better
  • Megabytes: A megabyte (MB) is used to illustrate a file’s size. Because each MB of data has to be transferred to or from your computer, smaller numbers are better
  • Download limit: Some policies only allow a certain number of gigabytes (GB – a thousand megabytes) of data to be downloaded before additional charges are incurred
  • Openreach: Formerly part of BT, but now effectively a standalone organisation. It’s Openreach’s responsibility to install and maintain phone lines (and therefore internet connectivity) into private homes in the UK
  • Exchange: The green utility boxes dotted along our pavements, where domestic phone and internet connections are connected to the wider network. Being close to the nearest exchange can improve internet speeds
  • Cable: The underground cable network Virgin Media uses to deliver TV and high-speed broadband services. You can check whether cable is in your area with this postcode checker
  • Fibre: There are two main types of physical cabling used to transfer domestic broadband. Fibre optic cabling is faster – used by Virgin, and increasingly by Openreach
  • ADSL: The alternative to fibre – traditional copper cables within a phone line, used to connect to the internet before fibre was installed
  • Bandwidth: The amount of information a connection or cable can distribute at any given second
  • Offline: The state of being disconnected from the internet. A device will report being offline if it’s outside the range of a WiFi hub/mobile network, or if there’s a fault
  • WPA2: WPA2 is the second generation of the WiFi Protected Access security protocol, which ensures data is transmitted securely
  • Encryption: A method of sending and receiving data that means only the host and recipient devices understand what’s being said, preventing eavesdropping or interference
  • VPN: A Virtual Private Network securely connects a server to a recipient device, preserving user anonymity while encrypting data shared between the two devices
  • P2P: When the usual server/client relationship is replaced by two user devices sharing information. Peer-to-peer connections are often used for file sharing
  • Cookies: Small files used to store information about actions on specific websites. As well as simplifying return visits, they also provide the host with information about each user
  • Firewall: A security barrier protecting a computer or broadband router from unwanted communications or interference, often built into the router.
Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is an expert tech writer. He's written hundred's of Guides to all things broadband!

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