Broadband Jargon Buster

Get to grips with some commonly misunderstood tech terms!

photo of a dictionary with definitions of webbing and webmaster

Are you confused by broadband jargon? Don’t know your ISP from your USB?

Our definitive glossary of industry terminology is here to help!


  • What does '3G / 4G / 5G' mean? : stands for '3rd/4th/5th generation' and refers to the networks used for mobile internet connectivity. 4G is the current standard for smartphones and mobile broadband dongles, however 5G is beginning to roll out in some cities, promising speeds comparable to fixed line broadband.

  • What does 'ADSL' mean? : Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line - the most basic broadband still available - uses standard copper phone lines with maximum speeds of 17Mbps or lower, and is less reliable than modern fibre connections.

  • Adware : see Malware

  • What does 'Bandwidth' mean? : the amount of data your internet connection can transmit in a set period of time - usually expressed in terms of bits per second (bps).

  • Bing : see Search engine

  • What does 'Bit' mean? : the smallest unit of data, reflecting just a single binary digit (a 1 or a 0). Bits are used to describe data transfer speed in the format of bits per second (bps) with bigger numbers reflecting higher speeds.

  • What does 'Bluetooth' mean? : Wireless technology used to transmit data over a short distance - this allows for wireless connection from computers and smart devices to peripheral devices such as printers, keyboards, headphones etc

  • flat style illustration of a robot
    Bot

    What does 'Bot' mean? : short for robot - an automated program which runs over the internet. Bots can be used for good, such as in chat rooms or forums where they can automatically scan posts for inappropriate content and remove it. However they can also be used for malicious purposes such as spamming or DDoS attacks.

  • What does 'Byte' mean? : a unit of data that contains eight bits, used to describe file sizes and data storage capacity. A thousand bits is a kilobyte, a million bytes (or a thousand kilobytes) is a megabyte, and a billion bytes (or a thousand megabytes) is a gigabyte.

  • What does 'Cabinet' mean? : The green utility boxes we see dotted along our streets - broadband and phone connectivity comes here from the central exchange, along copper or fibre wires, before being routed to your premises.

  • What does 'Cable' mean? : the alternative fixed line broadband network. It uses a mixture of fibre-optic and underground 'co-axial' cables and offers speeds up to around 350Mbps. Currently only used by Virgin Media, and available to around 60% of UK addresses.

  • What does 'Captcha' mean? : graphical puzzles on web forms, intended to prove you’re not an automated bot. Captchas range from typing in strings of alphanumerical digits to selecting pictures in a grid.

  • What does 'Channel' mean? : wifi networks broadcast on one of a dozen pre-programmed frequencies. Changing the network channel can eliminate interference from other domestic devices.

  • flat style illustration of a cloud network
    Cloud

    What does 'Cloud' mean? : this catch-all term relates to any services, data or content distributed over the internet, rather than stored on individual devices.

  • Co-Ax : see Cable

  • What does 'Contract length' mean? : how long you are tied into your current package with your broadband provider - 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.

  • What does 'Cookies' mean? : small files created when you visit a website, storing basic information for future visits. Used for marketing purposes, like saving account details and login credentials.

  • What does 'DDoS' mean? : stands for Distributed Denial of Service - a common method used by hackers to attack websites where multiple computer systems simultaneously send requests to a server in order to overwhelm it and slow or halt response time for all other users.

  • What does 'Data allowance' mean? : this is a cap put in place by providers to limit the amount of information you can download via your connection each month before additional charges are incurred.

  • What does 'Domain name' mean? : websites all have unique domain names – ours is 'broadbanddeals.co.uk'. The final part is called a Top Level Domain, identifying a country (.uk) or chosen industry (.cafe).

  • What does 'Dongle' mean? : 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.

  • What does 'Download speed' mean? : measured in megabits or gigabits per second (Mbps and Gbps), this is the rate at which digital data can reach your devices along an internet connection. Under Ofcom regulations, advertised speeds must be the average achievable at peak times (7pm to 11pm) in a specific postcode or area

  • flat style illustration of a security padlock
    Encryption

    What does 'Encryption' mean? : A method of sending and receiving data that means only the host and recipient devices understand what’s being said, preventing eavesdropping or interference

  • What does 'Ethernet' mean? : Ethernet connections link routers to computers or other internet-enabled devices, hardwiring together with thick cables capped by square plugs. Ethernet provides faster and more reliable internet than wireless (Wifi) connections.

  • What does 'Exchange' mean? : The central hubs for each area from which telephone and broadband wires are sent on to street-level cabinets.

  • What does 'FTTC' mean? : Fibre-to-the-Cabinet. This is the most widely available fibre-optic broadband connection, where data arrives at the local cabinet by very fast fibre-optic cables, and is sent on to your property through slower copper phone lines. Usually offers speeds anywhere from around 20Mbps up to around 76Mbps

  • What does 'FTTP' mean? : Fibre-to-the-Premises. This is superior to FTTC because the final leg of data’s journey to your broadband router is continued at the same high speed along fibre-optic cables rather than the slower copper cables. Often offers speeds in excess of 1Gbps (1000Mbps).

  • Fair Use Policy : see Unlimited broadband

  • What does 'Fibre-optic' mean? : Fibre-optic cables are used to distribute digital data around the world as pulses of light

  • What does 'Firewall' mean? : a security buffer between a computer and the internet. Firewalls block malicious code like viruses, and some will improve your personal privacy.

  • Full-Fibre : see FTTP

  • Gbps (gigabits per second) : see Mbps (megabits per second)

  • Gigabyte (GB) : see Byte

  • Google : see Search engine

  • What does 'HTML' mean? : HyperText Markup Language is the internet’s core programming language. Most websites are written in the latest HTML5 format, which is simple and streamlined.

  • What does 'HTTP' mean? : This abbreviation forms the start of any website address. The HyperText Transfer Protocol regulates how data is distributed across the internet.

  • What does 'HTTPS' mean? : Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is an extension of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). It is used for secure communication over a computer network, and is widely used on the Internet.

  • What does 'Hardwiring' mean? : 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.

  • What does 'Hosting' mean? : The process of storing information on a publicly-accessible network. Websites need to be hosted, as do online games, YouTube videos, etc.

  • Hub : see Router

  • a flat style illustration of a hyperlink
    Hyperlink

    What does 'Hyperlink' mean? : Usually underlined or written in a different colour to other webpage text, clicking on a hyperlink transports you from one webpage to another.

  • What does 'IP address' mean? : An Internet Protocol address is a unique address for each web-enabled device or broadband hub, identifying where data should be delivered to, in the format like 192.168.15.1.

  • What does 'ISP' mean? : Your Internet Service Provider is the company that supplies your broadband connection.

  • Junk mail : see Spam

  • Kilobyte (KB) : see Byte

  • What does 'LAN' mean? : An example of a Local Area Network would be the broadband provided by a domestic router throughout the home - can be connected with ethernet cables, or wireless through a Wifi router.

  • Link : see Hyperlink

  • What does 'Malware' mean? : Malicious software is any code or program intended to cause unwanted effects to its recipients. A virus is a type of malware, and people often use these terms interchangeably. Spyware is malware that tracks your activities, while adware pushes unwanted adverts on users.

  • What does 'Mbps (megabits per second)' mean? : We measure the bandwidth of a network in bits per second, however as a bit is such a small unit we now tend to use the larger units of megabits (a million bits) or gigabits (a billion bits) per second when describing data transfer speeds.

  • Megabyte (MB) : see Byte

  • What does 'Mobile broadband' mean? : An alternative to cable or phone-line broadband, mobile data services are received wirelessly by pocket-sized 4G dongles across mobile phone networks. Typically slower then fixed line broadband but flexible and portable

  • What does 'Modem' mean? : A piece of hardware that converts analog signals received from a telephone or cable wire into a digital signal which can be processed by your computer and other devices, and vice versa.

  • What does 'Network' mean? : A network simply involves a number of devices linked together, or referring to any cabling and infrastructure owned by a particular ISP.

  • What does 'Offline' mean? : 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

  • On-Demand : see Streaming

  • What does 'Openreach' mean? : 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

  • What does 'P2P' mean? : short for peer-to-peer, A method of data transfer between two or more users, favoured for privacy and anonymity. P2P file sharing networks like Napster flourished in the Noughties.

  • flat style illustration of phishing attack
    Phishing

    What does 'Phishing' mean? : Any form of unsolicited digital communications intended to acquire personal information, so criminals can make financial gain.

  • What does 'Protocol' mean? : 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

  • Proxy Network : see VPN

  • What does 'Quad play' mean? : 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. 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

  • What does 'Router' mean? : A broadband router or hub is a central device that connects other computers/devices together, used to distribute cabled or wireless connectivity. Usually includes an internal modem which provides a connection to the internet.

  • What does 'SEO' mean? : Search Engine Optimisation ensures a website ranks highly in Google and Bing search results. SEO involves a constantly evolving blend of attributes and techniques.

  • What does 'SSL' mean? : Fans of 24 will know a Secure Socket Layer creates a dedicated link between two devices, ensuring sensitive information can’t be viewed or intercepted by third parties.

  • What does 'Search engine' mean? : An online database where users can enter a topic to search the entire internet for. Google is the most widely used, but many alternatives such as Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Ecosia are growing in popularity.

  • What does 'Server' mean? : Internet data is usually hosted on large, dedicated hard disc drives known as servers. These are capable of hosting vast amounts of data and distributing it over the internet at high speed

  • Skype : see VoIP

  • What does 'Spam' mean? : Unsolicited messages sent over the internet, usually with the purpose of advertising or spreading malware to a large group of people. Most email clients will include a spam filter or a junk filter to keep these messages out of your inbox. Spam can also be used as a verb to describe the action of sending multiple messages to the same recipients in a short space of time.

  • Spyware : see Malware

  • flat style illustration of tv streaming
    Streaming

    What does 'Streaming' mean? : The process of accessing video or audio stored online as they’re downloading, rather than having to download the entire file before watching. Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Spotify are examples of streaming 'on-demand' video/audio services.

  • What does 'Tethering' mean? : Using a smartphone’s internet connection to get another device online, either through WiFi or over a physical connection

  • Throttling : see Traffic management

  • What does 'Traffic management' mean? : ISPs analyse the types of data being transferred during peak times and adjust upload and download speeds accordingly, in order to ensure a stable connection for all users. They will prioritise activities that rely on higher bandwidth such as video streaming or gaming over non-urgent tasks such as software updates or file sharing, which will be slowed down as a result.

  • What does 'URL' mean? : A Uniform Resource Locator is better known as a web address – like broadbanddeals.co.uk - which provides a standardised way for web browsers to identify correct online locations

  • What does 'USB' mean? : A Universal Serial Bus is one of the sockets (or ports) on computers and other hardware, used for tasks like tethering and data transfer

  • What does 'Unlimited broadband' mean? : Providers who do not directly impose data allowance or download caps will offer what is referred to as an ‘unlimited’ broadband connection. In practice, some providers impose a 'Fair Use Policy' to prevent misuse which may technically impose a limit but this is usually higher than any normal user is ever likely to reach.

  • What does 'Upload speed' mean? : How quickly information is distributed from your device or computer to another machine. It’s usually around five to ten per cent of download speeds.

  • What does 'VPN' mean? : A Virtual Private Network securely connects a server to a recipient device, preserving user anonymity while encrypting data shared between the two devices

  • What does 'Virus' mean? : A malicious code or program designed to infect computer systems and alter the way they operate, with the ability to self-replicate and spread from one system to another, such as through emailing itself to contacts in your address book. Viruses can be used to capture personal data, corrupt files, or even control access to a machine.

  • What does 'VoIP' mean? : Voice over IP describes making phone calls through an IP address. Skype is the best-known example of VoIP in action

  • What does 'WPA2' mean? : WPA2 is the second generation of the WiFi Protected Access security protocol, which ensures data is transmitted securely.

  • flat style illustration wifi icon
    Wifi

    What does 'Wifi' mean? : Wireless fidelity is the most efficient way of transferring internet bandwidth to a computer without hardwiring the device to a broadband router via an Ethernet cable.

  • Wired network : see Ethernet

  • Wireless network : see Wifi

  • Yahoo : see Search engine


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Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!

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