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Broadband Terminology and Technology

Rinky Dink Inc

Understanding the many different terms and technology within the broadband world can be very daunting for many, and it can confuse some people enough to put them off purchasing broadband services at all. The words and terminology used needn’t be confusing. In this guide, I’ll attempt to unscramble these words so that you can begin to understand what you are buying and what you need for a broadband package.

What is Broadband?

Broadband in the term used to describe the bandwidth on which a signal is transmitted through copper of fibre optic cables. It is called broadband because it uses a wide range of frequencies to transmit the signal whereas narrowband uses a smaller range of frequencies.


A router is a device which you will be supplied by your broadband provider or a device which you can buy separately. It allows traffic to be ‘routed’ through your network and allows you to connect to the telephone line to receive a broadband connection. A modern broadband router will have wireless capabilities meaning that you can connect to the router wirelessly around your house.

A router can be very important for a strong Internet connection. Some broadband routers can be made cheaply and therefore may experience problems from time-to-time. With the router being so important it makes sense to look into the capabilities of broadband routers and see where you can benefit. Some of the benefits of advanced routers are that they can extend the range of your wireless signal and offer restricted access where needed.

IP Address

The Internet Protocol (IP) address is the name given to the unique access point to your device or router. These will usually be in a series of 4 3 digit numbers separated by a full stop such as Every IP address will be different and can be seen as a way to connect to a computer or server just like if you where to ring a phone number. Generally, you won’t need to use this too much, but you may come across it certain circumstances. When ordering broadband, you may come across the option to purchase a static IP address which means that your address will remain the same all the time regardless of how often you disconnect from the Internet. An advantage to a static IP address is in circumstances where you need to connect to a computer or device remotely. For example, if you want to check a CCTV system while on the move.

MAC Address

This is similar to an IP address although the difference being that the MAC address is assigned to the device and won’t change if you connect to a different network. It is sort of like a serial number.

Contention Ratio

This isn’t something you will necessarily come across when buying broadband from a supplier, but it does play an important role in how well your broadband will perform and is specific to each broadband supplier. The contention ratio is the number of users you are sharing a connection with in your area. The more users that share the connection, the slower the Internet will be. Contention ratio can be as high as 50:1, especially for cheaper broadband packages. If you require fast broadband all the time, then it is sensible to get hold of broadband with a lower contention ratio. Do your research, and find out what the contention ratio is of each package before committing to buy.


This isn’t actually a wall of fire! It is though a good way of understanding it. Essentially, the purpose of a firewall is to prevent unwanted traffic from gaining access to your network or devices. This can come in the form of software or hardware and will basically make it extremely hard for anyone or anything to gain access to a network if it is configured correctly.

It is very important to purchase a firewall of some sort if you intent to connect to the Internet with your computer or device. A router firewall is not always very strong, and you may require extra security.


This stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line and is the type of broadband that can be accessed by most of UK at various speeds. This technology works by using existing telephone network cables and uses copper cables to transmit data to your home phone landline.

Fibre Optic

This is a newer technology that uses fibre optic cables instead of copper. Fibre optic allows data to be transmitted at the speed of light and so, therefore, speeds are very quick compared to copper cables. Fibre Optic networks are still being upgraded, and so fibre broadband speeds are not available to everyone but the speeds can be up to 200mb in certain areas whereas the maximum speed that ADSL broadband can achieve is 17mb per second.


This is the technology that allows you to connect to your router or another router through the air. It uses wireless antennas on both your device and the router which will then transfer data. Wireless technology is always improving, and data transfer speeds are always increasing. It is now possible to transfer data of dual band routers which will give speeds of 2.4ghz for older wireless devices and 5ghz for newer devices that require higher speeds to operate effectively.


Ethernet is the way of connecting your network using Ethernet cables. These cables will transfer data at high speed over the building and were originally the only way you could connect to your router. There are benefits to using Ethernet cables to connect your network, the main one being that it is more stable than wireless which allows for faster file transfer and less interference which you can witness with wireless connectivity.


This is a small peripheral device that comes with most broadband packages and routers. It allows for the signal to be split between telephone signals and Internet signals so that you can make phone calls without interference.


This is the term used when you receive information to your device or computer. Every time you view something on a website, you will be downloading information so that it can display and every time you watch a TV show or film on Netflix you will also be downloading data to your device.


This is the opposite of download, and you will only be doing this if you are sharing information with someone else or if you need to transfer information to another server. For example, if you have a Dropbox account you may be uploading files to your cloud storage all the time.


This stands for Internet Service Provider and is the company that provides you with your broadband connection such as BT Broadband or Sky Broadband. This will be the company you need to contact when you are told to “contact you ISP.”

Data Limit

This is the amount of data you are allowed to use before you start incurring extra charges. More often than not a broadband package will have an unlimited data allowance which means that you do not have to worry about how much you are downloading before you exceed your cap. Broadband packages can be cheaper if you purchase a package with a data limit. The issue with data limits, however, is that if you exceed the limit, you will pay a lot more for the extra data.

Network Key

A network key is a passcode you use to access a wireless connection. Whether in your own home or a local café, you will need a network key in order to gain access to a secure network. There are some networks that do not require a network key. However, these networks are not very secure, and so it is advised not to connect to these networks or your data may be compromised.

Fair Usage Policy

You will often come across this when you sign up to an unlimited download broadband package. A fair usage policy is a vague policy that a broadband supplier will put in place to stop you abusing the broadband service. You ISP (Internet Service Provider) will monitor how you use the Internet and can place a block on your usage after they have warned you about abusing it. If you wish to avoid this fair usage policy, there are some broadband providers like Virgin Media Broadband who have packages which have no traffic management so you can use and abuse your Internet connection. These packages are generally a lot more expensive.


This is the term used to describe watching or listening to a video or song while downloading the file at the same time. Years ago you had to download a file before being able to watch it. Nowadays, it is possible to watch a video or listen to music as it finishes downloading. Streaming is often used on services like BBC iPlayer and Netflix so that you can choose a show and watch it ‘on-demand.’


Cookies are a sweet biscuit often with chocolate chips. They are also files that your browser will download in order to store information for particular websites. The information it can store maybe things like usernames and passwords if you let it or preference for certain sites. The most comprehensive sites like Facebook or betting sites like Bet365 may have larger cookie files as they store more of your preferences like layouts and language preferences.


This is software that you install on your device that stops any threatening files that can cause problems with your computer such as accessing sensitive information or stealing credit card details and passwords. A good anti-virus will protect against any threats and will constantly update to protect from any new viruses that are created. Some good brands to get are MacAfee and Kaspersky although you can use free anti-virus like Avast.


Similar to Antivirus, this software will protect from any malicious programs from running and displaying adverts or displaying webpages that can steal information. Anti-Spyware can come with many antivirus packages, and so it’s important to purchase a complete package to stay well protected online.

Local Loop Unbundling (LLU)

This is a process that allows Internet Service Providers to offer their own services on the BT Openreach network. It allows providers such as Sky Broadband or TalkTalk to install their own equipment and services on the network and offer services to customers within the area of the local exchange.

Wireless Adapter

A wireless adapter is a device on your computer or device that allows you to find wireless connections in your area and then connect to those networks. A device must have a wireless adapter if you wish to connect to the Internet. Without a wireless adapter, you will either have to use the device offline or connect using an Ethernet cable if possible.


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