Broadband Buzzwords

Use this guide to keep up with broadband terms and phrases that are essential when comparing providers and packages.


3G refers to a standard of technology used for wireless data transfer, and is an abbreviation of ‘Third Generation’.  You would use a compatible device to get online whilst away from a broadband connection.


4G follows 3G, providing much faster download speeds whilst connected.  If you have a 4G-ready device then you can connect wherever there is coverage in the UK, and if coverage is not available you would most likely connect to 3G.


ADSL stands for asymmetric digital subscriber line, and it refers to the standard broadband that uses the copper phone line.  Despite the popularity and superiority of fibre-optic broadband, ADSL is still a popular choice.  It is significantly cheaper with most providers, and more readily available. 


Antivirus is a generic term used to describe software that detects and removes computer viruses.  Some kind of antivirus is generally considered essential; computer viruses are common and there are a number of different types of malicious software, or malware, which can be extremely disruptive.  Some can wipe files, lock software, steal personal information or bombard you with adverts.


This term refers to the fast transfer of multiple data channels between sources. It covers a wide range of internet connection types, and became more commonly used when dial-up started getting replaced with faster alternatives.


A bundle is a package deal which offers separate services together, so a provider may give you a better price or improved value as an incentive to take broadband, TV and calls from them.


Cookies are used to tailor and customise web pages so that the content is specifically geared towards you and your usage.  They may be used to save login details and preferences, and common practice is to inform a user when they arrive at a site.


Downloading refers to any transfer of data from an external source to your web-connected device.  Any time you load a web page, stream a video, save a song or check your emails, you are being sent information that you download.  When you see broadband speeds advertised, each provider is required to give the 'average' speed. This must be the speed experienced by at least 50% of that particular ISP’s customer base between the peak hours of 8pm and 10pm. 

Fair Usage Policy

Broadband providers will often promote unlimited downloads, but in many cases, there is still a fair usage policy in place.  It means that the amount of downloading you do needs to remain in line with a provider’s own acceptable volume levels for one household.

It’s integral to keeping broadband on an even playing field, so that one heavy downloader does not drain the available speed at peak times of another user paying for the same service, but using it less frequently


Fibre-optic, or just ‘fibre’, is a type of fast broadband which uses strands made of plastic or glass to transfer data.  The strands are thinner than a human hair, and dwarf the speeds made possible with ADSL.

Fibre can be delivered a number of ways, including direct to your home (FTTP), and to a communal cabinet (FTTC), with the latter utilising your copper line for the final stretch to your premises.  Faster speeds are achievable with FTTP because there is no dependence on the slower copper technology.


Gigabyte – you’ll usually see this in reference to usage limits with a broadband deal.  Mobile broadband dongles and some home broadband packages will have an agreed monthly download cap, and because broadband transfers a huge amount of data you would expect a generous limit.  The best way to avoid worrying about breaching an agreed cap would be to look at unlimited broadband deals.


An ISP is your internet service provider, and there are several in the UK.  Most offer a range of broadband packages, and you can often combine with an inclusive home calls package.


Your landline refers to the copper phone line running to your home, and in almost all cases you will have to pay a fee for this alongside your broadband package.  Even if you don’t want a phone line and you have fibre broadband, the service may still utilise the copper line.  Any line rental cost is included in the advertised broadband package prices, as per ASA regulations.


Migration Authorisation Code – you will usually need this to switch providers.  It should be made available to you without cost by your current ISP, and always ensure that you are free of your contract before leaving, as there may be a disconnection fee otherwise.


Mbps refers to megabits per second and is the unit used by ISPs to measure download and upload speeds of broadband packages.  It is regularly, and somewhat incorrectly, shortened to Mb, so if you saw a 50Mb package advertised, it would mean a maximum of 50 megabits per second.


A router connects networks, and you would have one set up at home which could provide wireless broadband or broadband through an Ethernet cable.  Through encryption, a router can ensure that only authorised devices use a network connection.


Superfast is a term coined specifically for the broadband industry, and refers to the download speeds made achievable through fibre-optic technology.


Any time you send data whilst online instead of receiving it, you are uploading.  This could be adding photos to social media, or sending a file from your computer via email.  Upload speeds with broadband packages generally get less focus and promotion, as download speeds are more important to the vast majority of customers.


WiFi allows web-connected devices to get online wirelessly, as long as they are within range.  A WiFi password is usually required, to ensure that random devices can’t connect and drain the broadband speed.

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