May 17, 2023
On 8th March 2023, Ofcom proposed that broadband customers get clearer information about their service when signing up for a new deal. The delivery of fixed broadband is changing, and broadband providers may provide inconsistent information about their packages, making it more difficult for customers to know what’s right for them. Ofcom’s proposal aims to ensure customers are fully informed when they come to choose a deal and focuses on the consistent use of various broadband terms.
In this article, we’ll provide a helpful glossary of broadband terms so you know exactly what it is you’re signing up for when you agree to a broadband deal.
Ofcom has suggested that broadband providers only use the terms ‘fibre’ and ‘full-fibre’ when advertising or selling services if their network uses fibre-optic cables from the exchange to the home. The planned new guidance would also see customers receive a brief, accessible description of the broadband technology they’re purchasing.
Bandwidth: Bandwidth refers to the capacity at which a network can transmit data, and is related to speed. The width of frequencies over which data can be sent is linked to speed; the wider the bandwidth, the more data that can be sent and received in a specific period. Bandwidth is measured in Mbps and is generally synonymous with speed when discussing broadband.
Bits and bytes: Bits are used to measure data transfer speeds, whereas bytes are used to measure data amounts.
Bitrate: The rate at which bits of data can be transferred or processed from one location to another within a certain time.
Broadband only: Internet deals that don’t come with phone or TV services. With broadband-only deals, you’ll just pay for your internet.
Call rates: The rate you’ll pay for calling each type of phone number from your landline. Call rates vary between mobiles, national numbers, international numbers, and premium numbers.
Contention ratio: The number of users sharing the same connection at any one time. A higher contention ratio makes slower speeds more likely.
Download: The transmission of data from the internet to a device over a network.
Download limit: The amount of data you can use in a month of your broadband deal. Download limits are associated with older broadband packages that aren’t really available anymore.
Download speed: How quickly you can download data, measured in megabits per second. Things like watching videos, streaming, or listening to music online all required quicker download speeds than more mundane tasks like sending emails.
Fair use policy: Fair use policies, or acceptable use policies, allow broadband providers to act if a customer’s excessive usage is impacting other users, or if they’re using their contract for illegal means. Fair use policies tend to apply to all contracts, even unlimited ones.
Gigabits (Gb) and gigabytes (GB): Gigabits measure speed whereas gigabytes measure data amounts. A gigabit is 1,000 megabits, while a gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes.
ISP: An acronym for Internet Service Provider, and refers to companies like Virgin and Sky that offer broadband services.
Kilobits (Kb) and Kilobytes (KB): Kilobits measure speed whereas kilobytes measure data amounts. A gigabit is 1,000th of a megabit, while a gigabyte is 1,000th of a megabyte.
MAC (code): An acronym for Migration Authorisation Code. In the past, a MAC was required when switching broadband providers; however, this is no longer the case.
Megabits (Mb) and megabytes (MB): Megabits measure speed whereas megabytes measure data amounts. Megabytes are eight times the size of a megabit.
Metered and unmetered billing: Metered billing involves paying for what you use, as is the case with gas and electric contracts. Unmetered billing involves paying a flat rate regardless of how much you use, as is the case with broadband contracts.
Monthly cost: The money you’ll pay each month for your contract.
Network: Devices connected via a broadband router.
Quad-play: A bundle of services that includes telephony, television, fixed Internet and mobile Internet services.
Service Level Agreement (SLA): An agreement between a service provider and its customers that outlines what services the provider will offer and defines the standards the provider is required to meet.
Throttling: The intentional process of service providers slowing down or restricting internet bandwidth. This is generally used during peak times.
Traffic: Refers to the users and information using a network at a particular time. The more traffic, the slower the network is likely to be.
Traffic management: Deliberate methods of managing and slowing down traffic.
Upload speed: How quickly your device can upload data, measured in megabits per second.
Uploading: The transmission of data from a device to the internet over a network.
4G: The fourth generation of mobile communications technology, featuring voice, text, and quick internet speeds.
5G: The fifth generation of mobile communications technology, more suited to support the growing demands of the Internet of Things.
Asymmetrical broadband: Broadband services that offer higher download speeds than upload speeds; this is the case with most services.
ADSL/ADSL2+: An acronym for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, ADSL enables quick transfers of data across regular telephone lines.
Broadband: Transmission of data over a high-speed internet connection.
Cable broadband: Cable broadband utilises coaxial cables to connect to a fibre cabinet, providing quicker internet connections than traditional copper phone line cables.
Dial-up connection: Very rarely used anymore, dial-up connection utilises a standard phone line and analogue modem to access the internet. Most prominent in the 90s, the method functioned by dialling providers over a phone line, meaning the internet and the phone could never be used simultaneously.
Fibre broadband: Fibre optic broadband utilises a network of fibre optic cables to deliver high-speed data over long distances. Data travels down fibre optic cables at the speed of light, providing a quicker and more reliable connection than ADSL.
Fixed line: Broadband connections to an end customer that utilise a physical cable, as opposed to alternatives like mobile or satellite. Examples of fixed lines include fibre and ADSL connections.
Full Fibre: Also known as Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) and Fibre to the Home (FTTH), Full Fibre is the name used by Openreach and BT to describe the latest service that’ll see users through the 2025 switch-off and beyond.
Gigabit broadband: Refers to download speeds of at least 1 gigabit per second. Gigabit broadband is often called ultrafast broadband.
Leased line: Fixed-bandwidth connections between business premises and the local exchange. They tend to be symmetrical (they have the same upload and download speeds), uncontended (they’re not shared with other users), and point-to-point (they connect two points together; for instance, the ISP with a business location).
LTE: An acronym for Long Term Evolution, LTE is a 4G communications standard that’s often used interchangeably with “4G”.
Mobile broadband: A way to connect to a mobile network and send data through 3G, 4G, or 5G services. This contrasts with fixed-line broadband, which requires cables.
Satellite broadband: A way of connecting to the internet via satellite dish.
SDSL: An acronym for Symmetrical Digital Subscriber Line – a technology that allows data transfer on a single line and achieves symmetrical upload and download speeds.
Superfast broadband: Broadband with speeds between 24 Mbps and 300 Mbps.
Symmetrical broadband: Broadband services that offer the same speed for both downloads and uploads.
Unlimited broadband: Broadband services that don’t limit the amount of data you can use.
Ultrafast broadband: Definitions of ultrafast broadband vary. According to the UK Government, the EU and Openreach, any broadband service offering speeds of 100Mbps or over is deemed ultrafast. However, Ofcom defines ultrafast broadband as services that offer speeds of at least 300 Mbps.
Wireless broadband: Also known as wifi, wireless broadband describes almost all modern broadband deals, as the vast majority come with a wireless router.
Backbone network: A core part of a computer network that carries the majority of data sent and received around the world. Backbone networks connect multiple networks together so they can communicate with one another.
Bluetooth: A wireless technology that utilises radio frequencies to send and receive data over short distances.
Coaxial cable: An electrical cable that transmits radio frequency signals from one side to another. Modern coaxial cables are used to provide ultrafast broadband and cable TV.
FTTC: An acronym for Fibre to the Cabinet broadband – an internet connection that uses fibre optic cables from the telephone exchange to the roadside cabinet. FTTC is the most common broadband in use in the UK.
FTTP and FTTH: Acronyms for Fibre to the Premises and Fibre to the Home respectively. Both mean that your internet connection utilises fast fibre cable at all stages of the internet connection. Both are capable of impressive speeds.
G-Fast: An upgrade on FTTC, G-Fast broadband is the most up-to-date and quickest copper-based broadband available.
Internet of Things (IoT): Refers to the network of “things” (objects) embedded with technologies that allow them to connect and exchange data with devices and systems over the internet.
IPTV: An acronym for Internet Protocol Television, IPTV describes the delivery of television content over IP networks, as opposed to using traditional terrestrial and satellite formats or radio frequencies. IPTV allows features like catch-up, on-demand, and so on.
Local Loop Unbundling (LLU): Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) is the process that allows various companies other than BT to utilise BT’s network infrastructure. In this way, providers like Sky and TalkTalk can offer broadband services without the need to create their own networks.
MiFi: MiFi is a portable router that functions as a mobile hotspot for any of your devices. MiFi devices utilise 3G, 4G, or 5G networks to connect to the internet.
Over-the-Top technology (OTT): OTT technology describes providers who deliver media to users directly over the internet, negating the need for cable or satellite services. Examples include Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, and so on.
Powerline Communication (PLC): The use of existing public and private wiring to transmit signals. PLC communication signals allow the transmission of high-speed data, voice and video over low-voltage power lines.
Streaming: Streaming describes the continuous transmission of audio and video files over an internet connection. Streaming platforms such as Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime allow the end user to access the data file at any time.
Telephone exchange and Digital Local Exchange (DLE): Refers to the area where the lines from various cabinets converge, allowing them to communicate with one another.
Tethering: A feature that allows you to share your mobile connection with other devices. Tethering is also known as ‘hot-spotting’.
VoD: An acronym for ‘Video on Demand’, VoD refers to any service that allows you to download or stream video content. This includes Netflix, YouTube, and the like.
VoIP: An acronym for ‘Voice over Internet Protocol’, VoIP services allow you to make calls over the internet as opposed to traditional phone lines. Typical VoIP services include Whatsapp and Facetime.
Wifi: Short for ‘Wireless Fidelity’, Wifi is a technology that allows devices to connect to the internet or communicate with each other wirelessly. Wi-Fi is commonly used in homes, offices, cafes, and other public spaces, and is the name given to the network created by your router.
WiMAX: An acronym for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, WiMAX is a broadband technology that’s relatively unpopular and more expensive than alternatives such as LTE and wifi.
Dongle: A small hardware device to be plugged into a computer, laptop, or mobile device to provide an internet connection. Dongles are typically used to add connectivity options, expand storage capacity, or enable specific features.
Ethernet: A network technology that allows devices to connect to a local area network *LAN) or the internet via wired connections. Ethernet cables offer an alternative to WiFi and can provide quicker speeds.
Landline: A traditional telephone connection that utilises copper wired or fibre optic cables to transfer voice and data signals.
Microfilter and Faceplate filter: Microfilters are used to separate voice and data signals on shared telephone lines.
Modem: A device that converts digital signals from a computer or network into analog signals suitable for transmission over telephone lines or other communication channels, and vice versa. Modems and routers are often combined in a single device we call a router.
Router: A device that allows other devices to connect to a home network.
Anti-malware: Software used to remove or prevent a malware infection.
Anti-spam: Applications or software that protect your email inbox from spam.
Anti-spyware: An application that identifies and removes spyware.
Anti-virus: Programmes that identify and protect your computer from malicious software.
Capping: Refers to a limit placed on a broadband service.
Data transfer rate: Refers to the speed at which data moves across a connection.
File sharing: Distributing and accessing files like music, images, and videos.
Firewall: A network security device between a computer and the internet that permits or blocks data based on security rules.
IMAP: An acronym for Internet Message Access Protocol, IMAP is a standard email protocol that allows users to access and manage their email messages stored on a mail server from multiple devices.
Latency: The reaction speed of a network measured in milliseconds. The higher the latency, the more likely you’ll run into speed issues when performing activities that require instant communication.
Packet: A unit of data transmitted over a network.
RAM: An acronym for Random Access Memory, RAM is a type of computer memory that provides temporary storage for data and instructions that are actively being used by the computer’s processor.
WAN: An acronym for Wide Area Network, WAN is a network infrastructure that spans a large geographic area and connects multiple local area networks (LANs) together.
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