Welcome to the Broadband Genie glossary of technical terms. Below you'll find brief 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.
2G: The second generation of mobile communications standards and the first to support data communications, enabling 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 is not available.
3G: The third generation of mobile technology. This is what many of us use to access the internet via phones, tablets or laptops using a signal from a mobile service provider. It offers much better performance over 2G and has 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 HSPA 3G can comfortably exceed 10Mb. Most of the UK is now covered by 3G network signals from all network operators.
Related: Mobile broadband coverage guide
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.
5G: The next iteration of mobile technology. As well as being much faster than 4G, the plan is to build a network that can easily support the growing demands of the Internet of Things as well as regular users. The first 5G network in the UK was launched by EE in 2019.
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. 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 a 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 the copper wire of up to 17Mb.
Anti-malware: Protective software used to remove a malware infection or prevent one occurring in the first place. It is important to note there are differences between anti-virus and anti-malware/spyware applications. 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. You can use anti-virus and anti-malware software at the same time.
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 (bundled with Windows since 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.
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.
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 itself is not illegal and widely used for lawful purposes. For instance, games companies may distribute patches via BitTorrent and many open source projects rely on it to host 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. 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 one of the connections goes offline.
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, cable ISP NTL was told off by the ASA in 2003 for describing a 128Kb service as broadband).
Broadband only: This has two slightly different meanings. First, it can refer to broadband services which do not require a telephone line. This type of broadband is rare but is offered across the UK by Virgin Media. Broadband only may also be used to describe broadband services which need a telephone line, but where the ISP offers broadband as a standalone product. You must still pay line rental but are free to choose a different telephone provider.
Broadband contention ratio: See contention ratio.
Broadband speed: See speed.
Browser: See web browser.
BT Openreach: See Openreach.
Cable broadband: Broadband internet delivered over coaxial cable 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 Openreach fibre network, it uses fibre connections to street cabinets (FTTC). Unlike BT though Virgin completes the link to homes with coaxial cable, rather than the copper telephone lines - a technology known as Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC).
Related: 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. 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 the speed. The term is also used when discussing throttling - your broadband 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.
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 data over long distances without degrading.
Contention ratio: The ratio of broadband users per connection. Once a broadband signal leaves your home it joins a line connecting your neighbours and others to the internet; 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.
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
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. You can get USB dongles that plug into a spare port on a computer, or mobile Wi-Fi (sometimes 'MiFi') dongles that broadcast a wireless signal.
Download: The transfer of data from the internet to a 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 requests information from the internet you are downloading.
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
Dynamic IP: See IP address.
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 isn't available - on smartphones, it will usually be indicated by an 'E' next to the signal meter.
Fair use policy (FUP): A limit placed on broadband usage by the ISP. This is a controversial term as in the past FUPs did not always provide a specific data cap, could be tucked away in the small print and were often implemented on broadband packages advertised as unlimited, leading to customers being hit with unexpected throttling or charges. Complaints spurred OFCOM and the ASA into action and many ISPs are now either truly unrestricted or have much clearer limits.
Femtocell: A femtocell is a wireless access point that provides improved localised mobile coverage by using a home broadband connection to boost the mobile signal. This technology isn't widely accepted but has obvious positive implications for improving mobile broadband signals in all kinds of environments.
Fibre optic broadband: A method of transferring data which utilises pulses of light sent across plastic or glass cables. Fibre optic data communications are fast 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 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.
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.
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 occasionally 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 broadband: Until October 2016 this was mostly used to refer to broadband deals where you only paid phone line rental and the broadband component was free. However, Ofcom and the ASA decided that providers would no longer be allowed to separate the cost of line rental, putting an end to these kinds of deals. If you search for free broadband now what you'll find will likely be either broadband deals with free setup or broadband with free gifts. In the past, there were genuine free broadband services, most notably the TalkTalk free broadband offer which became famous for being massively oversubscribed.
Free email: Some internet service providers sweeten their deals by offering customers 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 computer).
FTTC: Fibre To The Cabinet. A type of broadband service which uses fibre optic cables to street cabinets then regular telephone lines or coaxial lines to reach homes. This is relatively cheap and quick 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 FTTC. The Virgin Media network uses a similar technology called HFC.
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.
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.
GB/gigabyte: GB is short for gigabyte, used to describe the size of computer files and memory capacity. There are 1000 bytes in a kilobyte (KB), 1000 kilobytes in a megabyte (MB), and 1000 megabytes in a gigabyte. 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.
G.fast: A new broadband technology being tested by BT that is expected to offer speeds up to 330Mb. It uses the same lines which currently supply fibre optic broadband up to 76Mb, with the higher speed achieved by expanding the frequency range. But it only functions over relatively short distances so will be limited to properties which lie no more than 500m from an exchange.
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.
HFC: Hybrid Fibre Coaxial. The network technology used by Virgin Media. This is similar to FTTC in that a fibre optic cable runs to street cabinets, but the final connection into homes is achieved with a coaxial cable instead of the copper telephone line.
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.
Hub: See Router.
Hybrid Fibre Coaxial: See cable broadband.
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.
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 (albeit very big) part of the network.
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 an identifier for every device connected to the internet. Most home broadband connections have a dynamic IP address, which means the number 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?
Jitter: Jitter is the term for frequent changes in latency. While the latency of a connection will constantly fluctuate by a small amount, it can be a problem if data packets are experiencing drastic changes in latency - for example jumping from 30ms to 200ms to 40ms to 180ms, etc. High jitter indicates a problem with the connection, but you may need to do some troubleshooting to see whether it's due to your local network connection, the connection to a remote server, or an issue with your broadband ISP.
Kb/Kbps: Kilobits per second (Kbps) 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. In terms of data file size or storage capacity, 1Kb equals 125 bytes.
Landline: The telephone line coming into your home, which for most of us will be using Virgin Media or the 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
Latency: Latency is the reaction speed of a network connection - the time it takes to send data and receive a reply - measured in milliseconds (ms). If this is too high the resulting "lag" can be a problem for activities which rely on rapid communication, such as online gaming. This is not something most of us need to worry about as any fixed-line home broadband service will, on average, have very low latency. But a satellite broadband connection will have a very high latency due to the time it takes to transfer data to and from orbit.
Related: Guide to broadband latency
LLU: Local Loop Unbundling. LLU allows 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.
Related: Broadband switching guide
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.
Mb/Mbps: 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.
MB (Megabyte): While megabits is typically used to describe data transmission speed, megabyte is most often used to describe the size of computer files and storage capacity (though a notable exception to this rule is the digital gaming service Steam, which measures its download rate in Megabytes Per Second). Officially, 1MB equals 1,000KB though it's still common to see it defined as 1,024KB (which is now formally known as a mebibyte - MiB).
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.
Mobile Wi-Fi dongle: A mobile broadband dongle which broadcasts a Wi-Fi network signal. 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 - 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 (short for modulator-demodulator) is a device which facilitates communication between computers by converting data to or from a format that's suitable for transmission (such as connecting to the internet over a phone line). Outgoing data is modulated so it can be transmitted, and incoming signals are demodulated so the data can be displayed on the receiving device.
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.
MVNO: Mobile Virtual Network Operator. An MVNO is a mobile service which does not operate its own infrastructure but leases it from a network operator and resells access under its own brand. Examples of MVNOs include Virgin Mobile, Giffgaff, Tesco, and Sky Mobile. MVNOs are often good value for money and may have unique features such as flexible contracts, cheap international calls, or services catering to specialist requirements which aren't served by the major network operators.
Net: See Internet.
Newsgroups: See Usenet.
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.
Openreach: The company which maintains the former British Telecom network used for a majority of broadband and phone services. If a repair or installation is required it is Openreach, rather than your ISP, who will send an engineer. BT Openreach was formed in 2006 to allow competing providers access to the BT lines. In 2017 Openreach was further separated from BT - Openreach Ltd took legal ownership of staff and non-network assets, while BT continues to own the network, and parent company BT Group is the owner of Openreach Ltd.
Packet: In networking terms, a packet is a small amount of data sent over a network connection. Packets are a way of reliably communicating across a network - instead of sending very large amounts of data in one go, files are broken into small pieces (each a maximum of 64KB when sending over the internet) so if a packet is lost only the missing piece(s) need to be resent.
Packet Loss: Packet loss occurs when data packets sent over a network do not reach their destination. This is not a big problem for web browsing, but packet loss is an issue for anything that requires real-time communication. Packet loss during a Skype call can cause the audio to cut out or degrade the sound quality, and for online gaming, it can result in choppy gameplay similar to high latency.
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 was a company that created an online advertising program called Webwise. The system came under heavy criticism as it inspected network traffic in order to track internet usage habits for targeted advertising. Some ISPs in the UK had expressed interest in Webwise (and BT was criticised for running secret trials) but later dropped out of the program. Phorm ceased trading in 2016.
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. As well as providing redundancy and resilience a major advantage of P2P file sharing is that it becomes more effective as more users join. 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.
Ping: A "ping" is a signal sent to another computer which can be used to check whether it is accessible (useful if you need to troubleshoot a network connection), and also to measure the latency by recording how long it takes the target to respond to a ping request. While ping time doesn't matter much for regular web browsing, having fast ping is very important for online gaming as a high latency connection can disrupt gameplay.
POP3: Post Office Protocol 3. A commonly used 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.
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RAM: Random Access Memory. Often simply called "memory". These fast memory chips are used to temporarily store information to improve performance. RAM is a "volatile" memory, which means it does not retain data when it loses power.
Remote desktop: Remote control of a computer over a network. Remote desktop tools can be used to manage "headless" computers which don't have displays and are often used by technical support to fix problems without requiring physical access to the system. Remote desktop software is built into Windows and Apple Mac OS.
Resolution: This is the number of pixels on a display. A 1080p TV or monitor has a resolution of 1920x1080, which means it has 1,980 horizontal pixels and 1,080 vertical pixels for a total of 2,073,600 pixels.
Root: This refers to the highest level of a file system on a storage device. For example on the main storage drive on a Windows PC, "C:\" is the root under which other folders are organised. The term is also used when describing high-level access to a device; to "root" or get "root access" to a smartphone means you are able to modify protected system files in order to run software or make changes which would not usually be permitted.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Static IP: See IP address.
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 connection with a speed of 24Mb+. In the UK this rules out any service running on old BT telephone lines (ADSL) or any mobile broadband up to and including 3G. Our options for superfast home broadband include fibre optic and cable broadband, satellite internet and possibly 4G. The UK government has made a commitment to have superfast broadband available to 95% of the UK by the end of 2017.
Throttling: This term refers to internet service providers deliberately slowing internet connections. It is most commonly employed during peak broadband usage times, and against customers deemed to have overstepped their usage cap or fair usage policy.
Traffic management: The practice of controlling and managing data traffic across a network. Traffic management, or traffic shaping, can be benign and simply intended to improve performance for the majority of users. For example it may be implemented to prioritise bandwidth-heavy video streaming during busy periods. But aggressive traffic management used to throttle connections 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.
Traffic shaping: See traffic management.
Trojan horse: A type of malware which appears harmless in order to fool a victim into installing it.
Truly unlimited: See unlimited.
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.
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 (they are asymmetrical connections). Specialist business services may offer faster uploads, and some connections provide the same speed in both directions (symmetrical).
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 invented in 1980, and before the advent of the web was one of the most popular. Usenet was enormously influential on internet culture and responsible for much of the jargon in use today.
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 removable media such as USB sticks and CDs. Use anti-virus software to prevent virus infection.
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 the 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.
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: What is and how to use a VPN
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, academic institutions and governments for internal communications.
WAP: Wireless Application Protocol. A standard for mobile data services, 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 - to use a quaint 90s term - the information superhighway. A huge collection of resources connected by links accessed via the internet. It was invented by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1989.
Webmail: Webmail refers to services which provide email via a web browser instead of a mail client program such as Outlook. The most popular webmail services in the UK are Outlook (previously Hotmail), Yahoo! and Gmail. As it's usually less complex and more flexible than using email software, webmail is now the most common way of using email. 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 relation to broadband, the most common usage is when referring to wireless routers. These devices connect to the internet via a fixed-line telephone socket and provide a local Wi-Fi network so you don't have to run wires to each PC, laptop, games console or any other devices. Public Wi-Fi 'hotspots' are commonly available in hotels, airports, cafes and many other locations.
WiMAX: 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 fits 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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Zero day: An unknown or undisclosed security flaw. A zero day attack exploits this to bypass security systems in order to carry out the hacker's goal. The most infamous use of zero day exploits was the 'Stuxnet' virus which used four different previously unknown vulnerabilities to cause physical damage to centrifuges in Iran.
Zip: Zip is a compressed file format which allows multiple files to be combined and reduces the size of data to make it easier to store and transmit. It is very common to see .zip files for download on the internet, after which they can be 'unzipped' to extract the data inside. Windows can open zip files without any additional software; other operating systems may require a program before they can access a zip file.