Explaining broadband industry jargon

Explaining broadband industry jargon

Thursday, 27 June, 2019

If you don’t know your FTTP from your HTTP, broadband internet may seem horribly confusing.

The technical nature of our industry means acronyms and abbreviations are rife.

And internet service providers (ISPs) don’t help by using jargon in their adverts and marketing literature.

If email still seems like a form of alchemy, promises of full fibre connectivity at up to 900Mbps might as well be written in a different language.

How can anyone tell the difference between superfast and ultrafast broadband, or establish whether fibre broadband stops at their local telephone exchange?

Learning the lingo

Fortunately, getting to grips with broadband industry jargon doesn’t have to be as complex as learning a new language.

At BroadbandDeals.co.uk, we try to simplify broadband industry jargon – though it’s not always possible to avoid it entirely.

Below, we’ve listed some of the key terms involved in our industry, before explaining why they’re relevant and how to make sense of them…

Bits. The speed at which data is transmitted over the internet is measured in the number of individual data packets (bits) distributed per second (ps).

Dial-up modems were measured in kilobits per second (Kbps), while today’s broadband and 4G mobile networks transfer in megabits (Mbps).

Cloud. This catch-all term relates to any services, data or content distributed over the internet, rather than stored on individual devices.

Examples of cloud applications include social media platforms and webmail accounts. ISPs will often provide cloud-hosted email addresses as part of a domestic broadband package.

Contract length. On BroadbandDeals.co.uk, we advertise contracts from one month to two years. The former are flexible (albeit fairly expensive) rolling contracts.

Broadband contracts typically last for a year, though 18 months is increasingly common. Afterwards, you can renegotiate a deal with your existing provider or switch to another firm.

Fibre. Fibre-optic cables are used to distribute digital data around the world. When they extend into our homes, it’s called full fibre, or Fibre to the Premises (FTTP).

A slower alternative sees copper phone lines bringing data into our homes. This is called Fibre to the Cabinet, or FTTC. ADSL connections are even slower – but also cheaper.

Firewall. A classic piece of broadband industry jargon, the term ‘firewall’ describes either a physical piece of hardware or a software package.

Either way, its purpose is to prevent potentially harmful content from reaching a home network or device. By contrast, antivirus software tackles threats already on specific devices.

Network. Networks are referred to repeatedly in marketing literature, often referring to any cabling and infrastructure owned by a particular ISP.

When a device is unable to connect to a network, it can’t establish an internet connection. This may stem from a network outage, or a fault with a specific piece of hardware.

Quad play. When signing up to a new broadband contract, it’s almost always necessary to have an active landline – an additional charge referred to as line rental.

Five of the UK’s broadband giants also offer television and mobile phone contracts alongside internet-and-landline services. This quartet of related services is referred to as quad play.

Router. As data is piped into our homes, it usually arrives at a specialist device called a wireless router. The router then provides connectivity throughout the home.

Most wireless routers are mass-produced to strict budgets. However, unless you’re a Virgin Media customer, you can buy a separate router which may deliver stronger and wider signals.

Upload and download speeds. Under Ofcom regulations, advertised speeds must be the average achievable at peak times (7pm to 11pm) in a specific postcode or area.

Download speeds over 50Mbps are generally considered impressive, though a 5Mbps connection ought to support streaming media services like Netflix and YouTube.

WiFi. Wireless routers offer two means of internet connectivity. Some devices will plug directly into the router with an Ethernet cable.

Routers also distribute bandwidth using Wireless Fidelity. WiFi broadcasts over the 2.4GHz and/or 5GHz frequencies, potentially connecting hundreds of domestic devices.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is an expert tech writer. He's written hundreds of guides on all things broadband!

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