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BroadbandJargon buster

The world of broadband can be a confusing place at the best of times, throw in some mindboggling tech jargon and it’s not hard to see why searching for broadband deals can turn into a bit of a drag.

Luckily for you, we’re here to translate all that broadband speak you’ve been so puzzled with. Read on to learn the A-Z of broadband jargon, and you’ll be speaking our language in no time!

4G

You’ll probably recognise this one as that little symbol on your phone. Also known as the “fourth generation” of mobile communication, this high speed wireless internet provides internet access on your mobile device. 4G technology builds on what 3G currently offers, but just does everything at a much faster speed.

ADSL

Asymmetric digital subscriber line is a popular internet connection that is delivered through telephone lines. Speeds usually only reach up to 18Mb, so it’s not the quickest of connections, but tends to be the norm for light internet users. Find out more about ADSL here.

Bandwidth

Usually described in bits per second, bandwidth is the rate at which data transfers from one point to another. A higher bandwidth means more data can be used at any one time – perfect for multi-user households. 

Cable Broadband

This refers to the connection method that your internet provider uses to get your broadband into your home. Unlike ADSL, which uses phone lines, this uses fibre-optic cables to transmit the data signals into your home which then turns into your internet connection. Some suppliers, Virgin Media for example, use coaxial cables rather than fibre-optic. These cables were previously used for analogue television and so are far more durable than the traditional copper phone lines and fibre cables meaning they can transmit internet at super-fast speeds, even over long distances.

Cloud

No, not those white fluffy things in the sky. The cloud is essentially a large group of servers, usually hosted in remote data centres that can be accessed from any device with an internet connection.

Contention Ratio

This refers to the maximum number of users all sharing a bandwidth connection, a lower contention ratio means less people to spread it across which is what you want. 

Cookies

Sadly, not the tasty kind! Cookies are tiny files that store information about the websites that you visit, we know that sounds sinister, but it just means that you don’t need to type your passwords in every time. Most sites will have a disclaimer to let you know that their site uses cookies, you’re free to turn them off, however your web experience may not be as streamlined as it was before.

Dial-up

Anyone alive during the 90s will no doubt remember the extraordinary noise of connecting to the internet via dial-up, not to mention the pain of getting disconnected every time someone wanted to make a phone call. Back in the pre-broadband days, you needed to use a significantly slower dial-up connection which essentially hijacked your phone line, meaning you could only use one or the other.

Download Limit

Your broadband provider will usually set a limit on how much data you can download each month, from streaming to checking emails. Going over your limit will usually incur a fine or potentially reduced internet speed. Luckily, many providers offer unlimited broadband packages for all those catch-up TV binge watchers out there.

Download Speed

This is the speed at which data is downloaded, the speed that will suit you best is entirely dependent on what you like to do online. If you just like to browse the web and check your Facebook messages now and then, a slower speed will be just fine. If you can’t live without Netflix, a higher download speed will make buffering time practically unnoticeable. Find out more about which download speed is right for you here 

Ethernet

Most broadband providers give you the option to have a wired connection using an Ethernet cable. This carries signals between your computer and router and is usually the preferred method for businesses as they offer a more stable connection.

Exchange

The place where all your local area’s broadband and telephone connections all meet is called a telephone exchange, this is where your broadband provider will connect from. For the best possible connection, you want to be reasonably close to your provider’s telephone exchange – take a look at which providers have their exchanges in your area here.

Fair use policy

Nearly all internet service providers will have a fair use policy written into their contracts. This means that there will be a limit (usually a very high one at that) to how much data you can download before the supplier investigates and potentially fines you or reduces your download speed. Generally, as long as you’re not downloading massive files every day, you’re unlikely to reach this limit. To be on the safe side, you should always check with your provider.

Fibre-optic

These super speedy cables, made out of glass or plastic threads, deliver the fastest internet connection going with download speeds of up to 76Mb. Read all about fibre-optic broadband in this handy guide. 

Fixed-line

This is just a fancy term for any connection that uses cables or telephone lines – basically any internet connection that isn’t mobile broadband, as the name suggests, this uses mobile networks instead.

FTTC & FTTP

This stands for fibre to the cabinet and fibre to the premises. The former simply means that there’s a fibre-optic cable between your street cabinet and telephone exchange, while the latter means that the fibre-optic cable runs all the way to your home. FTTP is the most preferable as it’s the most stable, FTTC still needs to rely on a copper telephone cable from the cabinet to your home.

IP Address

Also known as Internet Protocol, your IP address is simply a string of numbers assigned to your internet connected device as a way of identifying you online.

Mobile Broadband

Thanks to the introduction of 3G and 4G, you can now forgo cabled connections altogether and instead opt to use mobile networks instead using a dongle or MiFi device. Read all about it in our MiFi and Mobile Broadband Guide.

Ofcom

The Office or Communications, Ofcom for short, are the regulatory body that look after TV, telecom, mobile, radio and postal services in the UK. Ofcom regularly audit broadband providers to ensure you’re getting what you pay for.

Quad-play

This is industry speak for a broadband company that offers the full package with broadband, TV, home and mobile phone services. You can compare quad-play deals here.

Streaming

Every time you watch a TV programme on iPlayer, or listen to the radio on your phone, you’re streaming from the internet. Well, isn’t that just downloading? No, not exactly, when you download something you are storing it on your device to be used offline. When you stream, you’re watching it online, normally within an internet browser.

Tethering

If you’re on the go, you can tether other devices to your 4G-connected phone or data SIM when you turn it into a WiFi hotspot. Learn more about tethering in our MiFI and Mobile Broadband Guide.

Traffic Management

Managing web traffic is common practice for internet service providers to ensure that every user is getting a consistent experience. They will prioritise certain activities and drop others to reduce congestion during busy periods. Check with your provider to find out if they manage traffic, this is particularly common for gaming broadband packages where providers will prioritise gaming applications for an improved gaming experience.

Upload Speed

Your upload speed refers to how quickly data is transferred from your device. Naturally, this tends to be lower than your download speed as we tend to upload less than we download. Still, having an upload speed of 3Mbps or less will still mean that you’ll struggle to make Skype calls and that sending files might be tough.

VoIP

Voice over Internet Protocol is essentially what Skype is, a function that allows you to make calls through broadband rather than a mobile network or phone line.

WiFi

Last but not certainly not least, WiFi is the term commonly used instead of ‘wireless’. WiFi allows you to connect wirelessly using signals sent through your router. These days you will find WiFi hotspots all over the place that you can connect to when you’re out and about.