Glossary: broadband technical terms explained

by Matt Powell

Welcome to the Broadband Genie glossary of technical terms. Below you'll find short explanations of many of the terms relating to home and mobile broadband which may cause confusion for a beginner.

We realise it's not exhaustive, so if you come across any broadband or mobile broadband related words you don't understand and don't find below, get in touch and we'll put that right.

For further help visit our mobile broadband and home broadband guides.

# | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y |

#

2G: The second generation of mobile communications standards and the first to allow data communications, enabling text messaging, MMS and mobile internet. 2G is still used in the UK by several networks and is what your connection will fall back on when 3G or 4G are not available.

Related: EDGE | 3G | 4G

3G: The third generation of mobile technology, and what many of us use to access the internet via our phones, tablets or laptops using a signal from a mobile service provider. It offers much better performance over 2G and has recently been improved further by HSPA. Speeds will depend on many factors such as signal strength, network traffic and the hardware used, but we've found a regular 3G connection can be expected to deliver somewhere between 2-10Mb while 3G can comfortably exceed 10Mb. Most of the UK is now covered by 3G network signals from all the operators.

Related: Mobile broadband coverage guide | Compare 3G broadband

4G: The fourth generation of mobile technology currently superseding 3G by offering far superior mobile connection speeds, on a par with ADSL and fibre home broadband. While coverage is presently limited compared to 3G it is gradually improving and now available in most major towns and cities as well as less populated areas. To use 4G you may need to upgrade your smartphone, tablet or dongle, though many new devices now support it as standard. 4G may offer an alternative to home broadband, though anyone wishing to go this route should pay attention to data usage caps to avoid large bills.

Related: Guide to 4G broadband | Compare 4G broadband

5G: The next iteration of mobile technology. This is still in development and nothing has been set in stone yet, but the plan is to build a network that can easily support the growing demands of the Internet of Things as well as regular users. At the very least it's expected to be much faster than even 4G. We're unlikely to see a 5G network in the UK until the early 2020s.

Related: 5G and the future of mobile broadband

A

ADSL/ADSL2+: Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. A broadband technology which allows for faster transfer of data across regular telephone lines than the old dial-up connections. And phone calls can be made at the same time - all you need is a microfilter or modern telephone faceplate and you can run both telephone and broadband connection simultaneously. An ADSL line will at minimum allow for a broadband connection of 'up to' 8Mb, however ADSL2+ is now available at nearly all exchanges throughout the UK and improves data transfer rates, allowing for broadband speeds over copper wire of 'up to' 17Mb.

Related: SDSL | cheap broadband | What is broadband max?

Anti-malware: Protective software used to remove a malware infection or prevent one occuring in the first place. It is important to note there are differences between an anti-virus and anti-malware/spyware application. While an anti-virus tool will also offer anti-malware capabilities, there are specialist anti-malware apps which are not focused on catching classic viruses but designed to protect against the specific dangers posed by brand new (so called 'zero day') malware. It is a good idea to use both anti-virus and anti-malware.

Related: Spyware | Virus

Anti-spam: An application or service which helps protect your email inbox from spam. Some internet service providers may give you anti-spam software free as part of their broadband deals, but remember - it is only useful if you use an email client (such as Microsoft Outlook) that downloads your messages directly to your computer. If you use webmail, such as Yahoo Mail or Google Mail, they will have anti-spam built in. It's also worth looking into free anti-spam programs (such as Mailwasher Free) and checking that your anti-virus protection doesn't do the job for you already.

Anti-spyware: An application which detects and removes spyware. As these threats can differ from a virus there is a distinction between anti-virus and anti-spyware/malware tools. Modern anti-virus applications usually include anti-spyware features so you may already have protection with the free tools provided by your ISP, but a dedicated anti-spyware tool such as Microsoft Defender (free for Windows XP+) or the excellent Malwarebytes is recommended to bolster your security. These can be used at the same time as an anti-virus application.

Anti-virus: This is a program that attempts to protect your computer from malicious software. Viruses can damage your computer, steal your personal information or just be annoying, but whatever it does you don't want it! Some kind of anti-virus software is essential on a broadband connected computer, and some internet service providers will give you one of the paid versions (such as Norton or McAfee) for free. However, many people rely on free packages such as Avast, AVG and Microsoft Security Essentials.

Related: Malware | Internet security guide

ASA: Advertising Standards Agency. The body responsible for regulating advertising in the UK. The ASA has got involved in broadband when ISPs overstep the mark, notably in relation to unlimited broadband.

Related: OFCOM

B

Bandwidth: In the context of broadband, bandwidth is the capacity of a connection. If we say "high definition video streaming uses a lot of bandwidth" it means a significant amount of your broadband connection's data transfer capacity is being consumed by that video, which can mean other activities will be slower. You will often see it used as a synonym of data transfer speed.

Bandwidth contention ratio: See contention ratio.

BitTorrent: A popular peer-to-peer file sharing technology. BitTorrent has become (in)famous for enabling piracy on a grand scale, but the technology is not itself illegal in any way and is widely used for lawful purposes. For instance, games companies may distribute patches via BitTorrent and many open source projects rely on it to host their software.

Bluetooth: Wireless data standard for transferring data over short ranges. It is used for a multitude of applications such as wireless mice and keyboards and connecting peripherals to smartphones. Fun fact: it is named after tenth century king Harald Bluetooth, famed for uniting tribes in Denmark.

Bonding: Broadband bonding is a way in which you can speed up an ADSL broadband connection beyond that which would normally be available in your area by combining multiple lines. While not commonly utilised in the UK it is a good option if fibre optic or cable broadband is not available, and has proven particularly popular with businesses. It also acts as a back up - if you're downloading and one of your connections goes down, things will slow down but the transfer will continue.

Related: Beginner's guide to bonded DSL

Broadband: A high speed internet connection, distinct from the old dial-up internet ('narrowband') which topped out at a maximum speed of 56Kb. Broadband is not a particular type of technology and there is no one official definition, so in terms of speed it may be classified differently by governments and regulatory bodies across the world (here in the UK the cable ISP NTL was told off by the ASA in 2003 for describing its 128Kb service as broadband).

Related: Compare home broadband | Compare mobile broadband | Types of broadband

Broadband contention ratio: See contention ratio.

Broadband speed: See speed.

Browser: See web browser.

BT Openreach: The division of BT responsible for network infrastructure. Created in 2006 to allow competing providers access to the BT lines. If a repair or installation is required it is BT Openreach, rather than your ISP, who will send an engineer. Aside from Virgin Media most broadband connections in the UK use the BT Openreach infrastructure.

Related: LLU

C

Cable broadband: Broadband internet delivered over cable TV lines. In the UK the largest cable broadband operator is Virgin Media, formed from a merger of NTL and Telewest. Over the last few years Virgin has stopped describing its services as cable broadband and now calls it fibre optic because, like the BT Openreach fibre network, it uses fibre connections to street cabinets (FTTC). Unlike BT though it completes the link to homes with coaxial cable, rather than the copper telephone lines.

Related: Compare cable broadband | Broadband connection infographic

Capping: A limit placed on a broadband service. Capping is a term you often hear in the world of broadband, and can be used in two different contexts. Firstly, there can be a cap on how much data you can use (both download and upload) during a period of time, usually the monthly billing cycle. If you exceed this cap, you may have to pay an excess charge or be punished through other means, such as throttling. Secondly, the term is used when discussing throttling - you speed may be artificially capped at a certain rate, either as a punishment for downloading too much data or as a way for your provider to manage data traffic in busy peak-time periods.

Related: Traffic management | What is broadband traffic management?

Coax (coaxial) cable: Coax is a type of wiring, used in the UK by Virgin Media to connect your broadband and television services from the street cabinet to your home. It is used over this final section of the journey because coax cables are cheaper than fibre but still efficient for transferring a variety of services, from broadband to TV to telephone - as long as it is over a short distance. The rest of Virgin's network is fibre-optic, which is much more reliable at carrying this data over long distances without degrading.

Contention ratio: Your contention ratio tells you the potential maximum demand on your broadband connection from yourself and other customers. Once your broadband signal leaves your home it joins a line connecting your neighbours and others to the web; so the more people using it at once, the slower it can become. A contention ratio of 50:1 (typical for ADSL broadband) means there are up to 50 people on one connection. This is often why you experience slower speeds during peak usage times. Business broadband may be uncontended so companies get a faster and more reliable connection without peak time congestion.

D

Data cap: See capping.

Data transfer rate: The speed at which data can be moved across a connection. Broadband services are measured in kilobits per second (Kbps), megabits per second (Mbps) or if you're really lucky, gigabits per second (Gbps).

Related: Guide to broadband speeds

DC-HSDPA: Dual Cell High Speed Downlink Packet Access. An evolution of 3G which permits much faster mobile data speeds. Used in the UK by Three, which markets it as Advanced 3G.

Related: HSPA | Compare Three mobile broadband

Dial-up internet: Internet access using a modem which dials the ISP over regular telephone lines. Until broadband became widely available in the early '00s this was the way most of us got online. By modern standards it's very slow, but it is still used around the world in areas where broadband is not available.

Dongle: In terms of mobile broadband, 'dongle' is the word that has been almost universally adopted to describe the small device that receives a mobile broadband signal. These devices contain a SIM card from your mobile broadband supplier, in the same way a mobile phone does, and will be either USB dongles that plug into a spare port on a computer or mobile Wi-Fi (sometimes 'MiFi') dongles that broadcast a wireless signal.

Related: 3G | 4G | Compare dongles

Download: The transfer of data to your computer or other device. Downloading does not just happen when you specifically request a file transfer, anytime you access a web site, stream a video or do anything else which takes information from the internet you are downloading.

Related: Upload | Capping

Download speed: How fast your broadband connection can receive data. This is the headline figure you'll see advertised on any broadband package. It will be either kilobits per second (Kbps or Kb), megabits per second (Mbps or Mb) or, if you're really lucky, gigabits per second (Gbps or Gb).

Related: Guide to upload and download speeds

E

EDGE: Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution. An upgraded 2G mobile standard offering faster data transfer speeds. Still used by some UK networks. You may fall back on this if 3G or 4G aren't available - on smartphones it will usually be indicated by an 'E' next to the signal meter.

F

Fair use policy (FUP): A limit placed on broadband usage by the ISP. This is a controversial term as FUPs were in the past not always clear and often used on broadband that was advertised as unlimited, leading to customers being hit with unexpected throttling or charges. Complaints spurred OFCOM and the ASA into action, cracking down on the practice so many ISPs are now either truly unrestricted or have much clearer limits.

Related: Capping | Throttling | Guide to home broadband caps | Compare unlimited broadband

Femtocell: A femtocell is a wireless access point that provides localised mobile coverage. None the wiser? Well, it basically means you buy a very small base station that receives your mobile ISPs signal and boosts it around a small area, such as your house. They look like a router and are easy to install, using your home broadband connection to boost your signal to make your smartphone, dongle or tablet perform better. This technology isn't widely accepted, but has obvious positive implications for boosting mobile broadband signals in all kinds of environments.

Fibre optic broadband: A method of transferring data which utilises pulses of light sent along plastic or glass cables. Fibre optic data communications are faster and less prone to interference and have revolutionised telecommunications. It will one day entirely replace all the older copper cable that has been used on UK telephone lines for years. The old telephone network wasn't introduced with data in mind and, as anyone living far away from their BT exchange will testify, a long copper wire from the exchange to the home can hamper broadband speeds. However, the UK is slowly turning to fibre optic. Both Virgin (through its cable service) and the BT Openreach network now offer much faster speeds thanks to fibre, though not all homes are covered. Speeds also vary depending on whether the fibre connection goes all the way to the home or only to your street cabinet.

Related: FTTC | FTTH | Cable broadband | Compare fibre broadband

File sharing: The act of distributing or accessing files such as movies, music, computer software, ebooks and images. File sharing can be carried out by many methods, from simply hosting files on a web site to peer-to-peer networking. While the term has become synonymous with piracy it is not inherently illegal, and file sharing tools and services are commonly used for legitimate distribution.

Related: BitTorrent | Peer-to-peer networking

Firewall: A firewall is a barrier between a computer and the internet. It is often used to stop unwanted malicious communications arriving via the internet, but can also filter and block outgoing data. The firewall will evaluate everything that's sent to or from your machine and take action according to its rules (which are user-configurable). A firewall is a useful protective measure but in most cases not something the typical home broadband user has to worry about too much. Modern operating systems and broadband routers include built in firewalls and most of the time we will not need to change any of the default behaviour, aside from ocassionally allowing software access if the firewall has mistakenly blocked it from communicating. A firewall alone should not be relied upon to protect you, it is still important to use anti-virus and anti-spyware tools.

Fixed line: Fixed line broadband is a term used to describe internet delivered over a physical link, such as fibre or ADSL. The term is mostly used to differentiate fixed line broadband from wireless services like mobile broadband and satellite internet.

Free email: Some internet service providers sweeten their deals by offering customers a number of 'free' email addresses. These are normally easy to set up and will be covered by your provider's tech support. They will also often be used to send out important information about your account, such as price or terms and conditions changes. However, there's a downside: if you switch provider you will lose the email address, and changing email addresses can be a real pain. Also, getting a 'free' email address isn't much to write home about now - millions of people now use webmail such as Gmail (Google Mail), Outlook and Yahoo! Mail, all of which are free anyway (while having the added bonus of built-in spam filters and anti-virus checkers for your received messages, as well as being able to access your email from any internet-enabled computer, not just your own).

FTTC: Fibre To The Cabinet. A type of broadband service which uses fibre optic cables to street cabinets then regular telephone or coaxial lines to reach homes. This is cheaper and quicker to deploy, but speeds are more limited than a full fibre solution like FTTH/FTTP (though still much faster than ADSL). If you sign up for fibre broadband now it is most likely to be FTTC, using either the BT Openreach or Virgin Media networks.

Related: The home broadband journey | Compare fibre broadband

FTTH/FTTP: Fibre To The Home/Fibre To The Premises. These are different terms for the same thing: a full fibre optic broadband connection. The connection speed of such a link is far greater than either ADSL or FTTC. Some FTTH services are now available in the UK and offer home users an incredible 1Gb speed. Vitally, this is not the limit of fibre so it's a future proof technology.

G

Gb/Gbps/gigabit: Gb is short for gigabit, which is a unit used to describe data transfer speed. It is often written as Gbps, or gigabits per second, but on Broadband Genie we use Gb as this is the style most commonly used by ISPs.

Related: Mb | Kb

GB/gigabyte: GB is short for gigabyte, used to describe the size of computer files and memory capacity. There are 1024 bytes in a kilobyte (KB), 1024 kilobytes in a megabyte (MB), and 1024 megabytes in a gigabyte. To put it in some context, a small text file could be measured in bytes, a basic Word document in kilobytes, a music file in megabytes and a Blu-ray quality film in gigabytes.

Gigabit broadband: Broadband service offering speeds of 1Gb or more. A gigabit connection is very fast - at a rate of 1Gb it would theoretically take just 32 seconds to transfer a 4GB DVD. Most home broadband connections in the UK cannot support gigabit yet but there are a few areas where FTTH networks have made it possible.

Related: Broadband in my area | Guide to broadband speeds | Gigabit broadband

H

HSDPA: High Speed Downlink Packet Access. Mobile network standard offering faster 3G download speeds. See HSPA.

HSPA: High Speed Packet Access. A family of mobile network protocols which includes HSDPA and HSUPA (High Speed Uplink Packet Access). The latest standard is Evolved HSPA, or HSPA+, which has a theoretical top speed of 337Mb. HSPA is available on all UK networks, and may be indicated by a 'H' on your device.

Related: DC-HSDPA | Compare 3G mobile broadband

Hub: See Router.

I

IM: Instant messaging. Software that lets people chat to each other instantaneously. These are often connected to webmail accounts such as Gmail and Yahoo Mail and social networking sites such as Facebook, but there are also popular dedicated programs such as Skype and WhatsApp.

IMAP: Internet Message Access Protocol. An email protocol. Many webmail providers support IMAP to allow users to download their email to client software. IMAP is recommended for users who access their email from multiple devices as it synchronises via the email server.

Related: POP3

Internet: What is the internet? The internet, or 'net' to its friends, is a global collection of interconnected networks sharing common protocols. While many consider the World Wide Web to be the internet, the web is only one part of the greater internet which also includes the likes of email, VOIP and Usenet.

Internet of Things: The Internet of Things (IoT) is network of objects with embedded electronics and sensors which share data and can be remotely controlled. A 'thing' could be anything from a smart thermostat to a lightbulb to an internet connected fridge.

IP address: An Internet Protocol address is a string of numbers which acts as a unique identifier for every device connected to the internet. Most home broadband connections have a dynamic IP address, which means the identifier can change, while businesses will often use a static IP which is permanently assigned to the connection.

ISP: Internet Service Provider. The company responsible for providing your internet connection (and sending the bill every month). This is not always the same company which owns and operates the underlying infrastructure; if you get your broadband down a BT line but you pay your bills to Sky, Sky is your ISP.

Related: Which ISP is the best?

J

There's nothing here yet. Have we missed something? Let us know.

K

Kb/Kbps/Kilobit: Kb is an abbreviation of kilobit. When it comes to internet speeds you may also see it written as Kbps - kilobits per second. This was commonly used to measure dial-up internet speeds and still crops up with slower mobile broadband connections and slow uploads and downloads of internet files.

Related: Mb | Gb | Guide to broadband speeds

KB (or kilobyte): Kilobyte. A term used to describe the size of computer files and storage capacity.

Related: MB | GB

L

LAN: Local Area Network. A network covering a limited area, such as an office or home. Most LANs use either Wi-Fi or network cables.

Landline: Your landline is the telephone coming into your home, which for most of us will be using Virgin Media or the BT Openreach network. In most instances a landline is required to get broadband, if you cannot for some reason get a landline, you may have to opt for mobile broadband or satellite internet.

Related: Compare broadband and phone packages

LLU: Local Loop Unbundling. LLU allows BT Openreach to open up parts of its telephone exchanges to other ISPs who have their own networks. Most exchanges are now LLU, if yours is not you'll have a more limited choice of ISPs, speeds and packages. To find out what your local exchange is capable of, you can visit Samknows.com and enter your postcode in the exchange search, or use the postcode filter field in our comparison tables.

LTE: Long Term Evolution is a next-generation 4G mobile data standard. While there has been some confusion over whether LTE counts as 4G or is simply a faster type of 3G, it has been widely adopted and marketed as such by networks across the world, including in the UK where it is used by the mobile networks for their 4G services.

M

MAC: Migration Authorisation Code. This was once used to ease the process of switching ISPs, however it is no longer necessary to obtain a MAC when switching.

Related: Broadband switching guide | New broadband switching rules

MAC address: Media Access Control address. An identifier for hardware devices connected to a network.

Related: IP Address

Malware: Malicious software. Applications designed to inflict harm (or sometimes just annoyance). This is a broad term which encompasses viruses, spyware, adware, trojans, keyloggers and any other software designed to cause trouble.

Related: Anti-virus | Anti-spyware

Mb/Mbps/Megabit: Mb is an abbreviation of megabit. In terms of data storage a megabit (also abbreviated as Mb) is 1/8th the size of a megabyte. In relation to broadband speeds, this means a 1Mb connection will be able to transfer 1MB (megabyte) of data in eight seconds. When talking about the speed of a broadband connection the full phrase is megabits per second (Mbps), however as 'Mb' is currently the term most often linked with the measurement of internet speeds this is how you'll see broadband speeds displayed on Broadband Genie.

Related: Gb | Kb

MB (or megabyte): MB is short for megabyte, which is a term used to describe the size of computer files and storage capacity.

Related: GB | KB

Mobile broadband: High speed internet access via mobile network signals, as opposed to fixed lines. This was first made possible with the third generation of mobile networks, with later developments and generations providing greater speeds.

Related: 3G | 4G | Mobile broadband beginner's guide | Compare mobile broadband

Mobile Wi-Fi dongle: A mobile broadband dongle which broadcasts a Wi-Fi network signal instead of requiring a USB socket. Not only does this allow you to connect any device that supports wireless to a mobile broadband network - such as a games console or Wi-Fi tablet - but it also permits multiple devices to be connected at the same time. They may also be called pocket Wi-Fi, wireless dongles or MiFi (which is a Three brand name).

Related: Compare Wi-Fi dongles

Modem: A modem (modulator-demodulator) is a device that decodes data coming to and from computers, changing computer code into sounds that can be sent from one machine to another via either telephone lines or radio waves. Modems can be wired, wireless or both.

Related: Router

MP3: MPEG Audio Layer 3. A digital music format. There are many formats available for digitising music for storage and playback on electronic devices but MP3 is the most popular. MP3 playback is supported by a vast range of hardware and software.

N

Net: See Internet.

Newsgroups: See Usenet.

O

Ofcom: Office of Communications. The UK's communications regulator. Ofcom has done much to improve broadband for consumers, including the streamlining of the broadband switching process, cracking down on misleading unlimited broadband and formalising broadband complaints procedures.

Related: ASA

P

Phishing: Phishing is the act of luring unsuspecting internet users into providing personal information or installing malware. Typically this is achieved with the use of fake emails which contain links to clones of real web sites.

Phorm: Phorm is a company that generated an online advertising program it called Webwise. The system came under heavy criticism as it tracks internet usage habits (called 'behavioural targeting') to enable targeted advertising, which many allege breaches customer privacy. While ISPs BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk all expressed initial interested in Phorm, none have taken it on. If an ISP does link up with Phorm, and you do not opt out, your personal browsing habits can essentially be farmed out to a third party company.

Peer-to-peer networking (P2P): A distributed network architecture where each participant in the network contributes resources and benefits from the joint effort. This is distinct from a typical client/server network where clients are passive and served from a central location. In relation to broadband the term P2P is usually referring to file sharing, where users share the effort of hosting files and download pieces from multiple peers. As well as providing redundancy and resilience a major advantage of P2P file sharing is that it becomes more effective as more users join.

POP3: Post Office Protocol 3. A commonly used and supported email protocol. Many webmail services allow access via POP3 so users can utilise email clients as well as the web interface. POP3 is best for accessing email from a single system as it deletes mail from the server after downloading, making it unwieldy to synchronise activity across multiple devices.

Related: IMAP

Piracy: The practice of downloading and distributing copyrighted works such as movies, music, TV shows, books and games.

Related: BitTorrent | File sharing | Peer-to-peer networking

Q

There's nothing here. Have we missed something? Let us know.

R

Router: A router directs traffic on a network. In relation to broadband the router usually (but not always) includes a modem so is responsible for connecting to the internet as well as providing networking in your home. A broadband router may also be called a hub.

Related: Guide to broadband routers | How to secure a Wi-Fi router

S

Satellite broadband: Broadband service provided by a satellite. In order to use this you need a dish connected to a modem. The equipment is expensive compared to regular home broadband but has a big plus: it doesn't need any fixed lines and will work anywhere within the footprint of the satellite, making it ideal for fast connectivity in remote locations where other services aren't available.

SDSL: Symmetrical Digital Subscriber Line. Unlike ADSL this type of connection provides the same speed for both uploads and downloads. SDSL is not commonly found in the UK now, but is most often used by businesses.

Related: Guide to satellite broadband

Spam: Unsolicited emails sent in bulk to multiple recipients. Frequently used to advertise questionable products and services. Spam can be blocked using an anti-spam tool. The name comes from the famous Monty Python 'spam' sketch.

Speed: The transfer rate of a broadband connection. This is the key selling point of any service and usually the first thing any of us will check when comparing broadband. Broadband speed is measured in kilobits per second (Kbps or Kb), megabits per second (Mbps or Mb) or gigabits per second (Gbps or Gb). For most consumer broadband connections the speed will be faster downloading than it is for uploading.

Related: Broadband speed guide | Compare fast broadband

Spyware: A type of malware used to collect information without the owner's consent, such as passwords, web activity and credit cards. Can also cause your computer to slow down, and alter programs and settings. To protect against spyware use an anti-virus application or specialised anti-spyware or anti-malware tool.

Streaming: Viewing media without saving files to your computer. If you watch a video through Netflix or listen to music with Spotify you are streaming. The advantage is that you get quick access without having to download the whole file, but on the downside you'll need a minimum speed to view without interruption and the content needs to be streamed each time, potentially an issue if your broadband is capped.

Superfast: According to the EU, 'superfast' broadband is any broadband deemed to run at 24Mb or above. This essentially rules out any service running on old BT lines (ADSL) or any mobile broadband up to and including 3G: leaving us in the UK with 4G (potentially), fibre and cable as 'superfast'. The UK government has made a commitment to have superfast broadband available to 95% of the UK by the end of 2017.

T

Throttling: This term refers to internet service providers deliberately slowing down internet connections to certain customers and/or at certain times. It is most commonly employed during peak broadband usage times and against customers deemed to have overstepped their usage cap or fair usage policy. These measures may also be temporary and used as a deterrent against those downloading large amounts of data. Throttling is sometimes used interchangeably with traffic management but can have more negative connotations.

Traffic: Network or data traffic is a term for data being sent across a network.

Traffic management: The practice of controlling and managing data traffic across a network. Traffic management, or traffic shaping, can be fairly benign and simply designed to improve performance for the majority of users, such as prioritising tasks like VOIP or video streaming during busy periods. But aggressive traffic management such as throttling can cause a severe drop in performance for certain activities, particularly file sharing. While some ISPs no longer routinely use traffic management it is still in place on many services, so check this before you buy.

Related: Guide to broadband traffic management | Compare unlimited broadband

Traffic shaping: See traffic management.

Trojan horse: A type of malware which appears harmless in order to fool a victim into installing it.

Related: Spyware | Virus

Truly unlimited: See unlimited.

U

Unlimited: Broadband without limits, where you can use it as much as you like without additional charges or restrictions. There's been a great deal of controversy over unlimited broadband in the past as providers liked to sneak Fair Use Policies (FUP) in the small print or come up with their own loose definition of the word, but today many ISPs are actually unlimited. Sometimes they may have no data usage caps but still utilise traffic management, while others are 'truly unlimited' and have no usage caps or traffic management policy.

Related: Guide to unlimited broadband | Compare unlimited broadband

Upload: The transfer of data from your computer, or other device. For example posting photos to a social network, sending emails or publishing a video on YouTube. Anything that goes across the internet from your broadband is considered to be 'uploaded'. It's important to remember that if you have a data usage cap it is affected by both download and upload traffic.

Upload speed: How fast your broadband connection can send data from your computer. Most home broadband services and all mobile broadband connections have a significantly lower upload speed than download. Specialist business connections may offer faster uploads and some connections provide the same speed in both directions.

Usage allowance: See fair use policy and capping.

Usenet: A distributed internet discussion system that does not rely on central control or servers. Content is organised into newsgroups focused on specific topics, with users posting text or files and entering into discussions, much like a web forum. This is an old part of the internet, originally proposed in 1980, and before the advent of the web was one of the most popular. Usenet was enormously influential on internet culture and much of the jargon in use today originated there.

V

Virus: Malicious software which automatically spreads to other computers. The effects of a virus differ wildly, some are designed to merely cause annoyance while others set out to corrupt data or even damage hardware. The advent of the internet made it easier for viruses to spread, though they can also be distributed on removeable media such as USB sticks and CDs. Use anti-virus software to prevent a virus infection.

Related: Malware | Spyware

VOIP: Voice Over IP. A technology for making phone calls using an internet connection, with the advantage that computer-computer calls are free, and calls to standard telephone numbers are often charged at a much lower rate than your phone company. All you need to make a VOIP call is an internet connected device with a microphone and some VOIP software. Skype is currently the most popular VOIP application in the world.

VPN: Virtual Private Network. A service which protects against eavesdropping. When using a VPN internet traffic is encrypted and routed through a proxy server, making it much more difficult to intercept data. A VPN can also hide your identity online as any sites or services accessed when connected to the VPN will see the proxy IP address instead of your broadband connection. Use of a VPN is highly recommended when connecting to an untrusted network (such as a public Wi-Fi hotspot).

Related: How to use a VPN

W

WAN: Wide Area Network. A network spread over a large geographic area, as opposed to a LAN. The internet is the largest WAN, but private WANs are used by companies, education providers and governments for internal communications.

WAP: Wireless Application Protocol. A standard for mobile data access, WAP was designed around the small screens and slow data connections of early mobile phones. It was hyped as a huge leap forward but the reality of using a WAP browser was less exciting than the marketing suggested. It gained some popularity but faded away once phones offered regular web access.

Wearable: Generic term for a smart device worn on the body. Wearables may be fairly simple - pedometers connected via Bluetooth to a smartphone - or high tech smartwatches with their own powerful processors, colour displays and data connections.

Web: The World Wide Web. WWW. Or information superhighway if you remember the early 90s. A huge collection of resources connected by links accessed via the internet. It was invented by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. This is how most of us use the internet day to day.

Web browser: Software used to view web pages. Popular browsers include Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Opera.

Related: How to secure your web browser

Webmail: Webmail refers to services which provide email via a web browser instead of requiring a mail client program such as Outlook. The most common webmail services in the UK are Outlook (previously Hotmail), Yahoo! and Gmail, but there are many around - most of them free. As it's usually less complex and more flexible than using client software webmail is the most popular way of using email. Additionally, webmail services can often be set up to receive emails from other POP3 and IMAP email accounts and typically provide additional features such as built in anti-spam and anti-virus software.

Web space: Storage space on a server where you can host a web site. It was once common practice for broadband providers to offer this as an incentive but since having a site is no longer a novelty and there are plenty of free alternatives, few of them bother.

Wi-Fi: A standard for connecting devices using radio waves. The term Wi-Fi does not stand for anything, but is a trademarked name owned by the Wi-Fi Alliance. In broadband terms the most common usage is when referring to wireless routers. These devices connect to the internet via a fixed-line telephone socket and then transmit the data over a local Wi-Fi network so that you don't have to run wires to your PC, laptop, games console or other devices. Wi-Fi is now commonly available in places such as hotels, airports and cafes, offering the internet in public areas (which are often known as hotspots).

Related: What is Wi-Fi? | Guide to Mobile WiFi deals

WiMAX: This term is short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access - a 4G broadband technology offering a wireless broadband alternative without the need for cables. WiMAX lost out to LTE in the race to be the next generation of mobile broadband, largely because the latter fit the established network model mobile companies already use; they simply had to upgrade their technology rather than starting afresh.

WLAN: Wireless Local Area Network. A LAN that uses Wi-Fi to transfer data rather than physical network cables.

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