Broadband jargon explained header image

Published: 22nd Jun 2016

As with any form of technology, the world of broadband comes with its own terminology, which can be confusing and off-putting to some people when they are trying to set it up or use it.

However, we have put together a jargon buster that should help clear up some of the mystery surrounding connectivity.

Broadband

Let's start with the basics first: broadband refers to a home internet service that never needs to be unplugged or switched off. It is quicker than its predecessor - dial up - and can be used even if someone in the house is making a call on the landline. It is available to most homes and premises, with speeds varying depending on the postcode. However, some rural communities may struggle to get a speedy service, due to the outdated infrastructure located near them.  

Cookies

Contrary to what the name suggests, these cookies aren't for eating. Instead, they are small files that are sent from your computer detailing the websites that you visit and contain information like passwords. They do raise concerns about privacy, but can be deleted after every internet session.

Download limit

Under your contract with your service provider, you will have a specified limit on how much you can download from the internet each month - unless, that is, you have paid for unlimited broadband. It is not just items you actually download, like music and books, that count towards your allowance, as browsing and streaming are also taken into consideration. You must also bear in mind that going over your limit may lead to additional charges from your provider.

Exchange

This is where all broadband and phone connections in your neighbourhood meet and connect to the right network. The distance between your house and business from the exchange will have a significant impact on the speed and quality of the service you can access - the further away you are, the worse it gets. Before signing up to a service, you may want to find out who provides the best connectivity in your area.

Fibre optic

This is often referred to as super-fast broadband and is not currently available to everyone in the UK. The government intends to roll this out to 95 per cent of the country by the end of 2017, but this would still leave five per cent of the population without access to improved connectivity.

Fair/acceptable use policies

You may have signed up to a service provider under a contract that allows unlimited downloads, but you will still be expected to abide by fair/acceptable usage policies. This means that you could be penalised for excessive downloading, which probably won't affect the majority of people. If these rules are breached, your internet use may become temporarily restricted, which is known as 'traffic management'.

Megabit (Mb)

This is a  unit of measurement for the transfer of data, which relates to the speed of your broadband service. How fast your connectivity is depends on a host of factors, such as the package you've paid for and how far away you live from the exchange. Bear in mind that advertising rules state that providers can state an 'up to' speed if at least ten per cent of customers can actually access it, meaning what you get may be much less.

Megabyte (MB)

Not to be confused with megabits, this is a separate unit of measurement for data and refers to the amount of information that's being transferred from your broadband connection.

Ofcom

As the communications regulator for the UK, Ofcom oversees telecoms and broadcasting services to make sure they are doing their jobs properly and abiding by the law. It conducts a meticulous audit of broadband services every year to see who is providing the best connectivity and where in the country this is.

Router

A router is a piece of equipment that comes with most broadband packages and is hooked up to your connection, allowing you to use the service wirelessly as it sends out a Wi-Fi signal that's picked up by your device - whether it's a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Streaming

This term refers to watching TV shows, films and clips or listening to music through a device using the internet. It does not require files to be downloaded and stored, saving you a significant amount of space, and you don't need to wait for the whole thing to be downloaded before you watch or listen to it. Streaming, particularly something that is in high-definition, can use up a big chunk of your monthly download limit, so keep this in mind when binge-watching your favourite show on Netflix.