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October 4, 2023

Glossary of Telecom & Tech Terms


Third Generation.  Term used to refer to the third generation of wireless services, which extends beyond personal communications services.  3G networks will be able to transmit much more data (2 Mbps) than earlier generations.  Demand is growing for high-speed Internet access and streaming video, which third generation networks will support.

Active components:
Semiconductor and networking components that require external power in order to function and respond to input, as opposed to a passive component, which needs no external power.

Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line.  High transmission method that sends data at speeds up to 1.5 Mbps downstream -- from the carrier to the subscriber's premises -- and 16 Kbps upstream.  Like DSL, it can simultaneously carry voice and data streams and is able to utilize traditional copper phone wires to make the connection.  See also DSL.

Asynchronous Transfer Mode.  A specific technique for switching and transmitting data over a high-speed network.  ATM is a high-speed, connection-oriented, packet-like switching and multiplexing technique. 

The part of the communications network responsible for shouldering the most traffic.  Essentially the highway that connects smaller networks or nodes to one another.  Often used to describe the connections between LANs.

The width of a communications channel.  The greater the bandwidth, the more data that can flow at one time. 

Bandwidth Glut:
New term reflecting the speculation that a future overabundance of high-speed networks will result in too much bandwidth, thus dropping the value of bandwidth and service providers.  In our opinion, the bandwidth glut is a complete fallacy.

The smallest unit of data recognizable by a computer.  A bit is in binary form, meaning it can represent only a one or a zero.  Bit is a contraction for binary digit.

A proposed standard protocol, designed to allow for dissimilar computers or handheld PCs to communicate.  Bluetooth was conceived as a way for increasingly diverse handheld products -- such as PDAs, mobile smart phones and notebooks -- to exchange data easily and consistently.

A backup of data occurring at a specific point on a network.  Oftentimes, a bottleneck occurs at points where high traffic moves from a high-speed medium (such as fiber) to a lower speed medium (such as copper wire).  Bottlenecks slow down data transmission.

A term that defines the ability of a facility to offer bandwidth in excess of 45 Mbps.  These systems are generally fiber-optic based. 

Code Division Multiple Access.  A new form of digital cellular service that allows for 10 times the capacity of analog service, as well as a more efficient use of bandwidth.  Other advantages of CDMA are: reduced probability of a dropped call, better battery power conservation for a subscriber's unit, and increased signal integrity.  See also TDMA.

In a cellular system, a cell is the individual geographical unit of coverage.  Each cell is equipped with a low-powered receiver/transmitter, which services the immediate area.

Commonly used to refer to integrated circuits used as components in computers, telephone systems, etc.  In actuality, it is the physical structure upon which the integrated circuits are fabricated.

Competitive Local Exchange Carrier.  (Pronounced SEE-leck)  The original competitors to the deregulated national phone giants.  These smaller companies offer their own alternative phone services over leased wires or their own networks.  See also ILEC.

Coaxial Cable:
A cable consisting of a single conducting wire, surrounded by insulation and another single conducting wire.  This is often the kind of cable that supplies your home with cable TV.  Coaxial cable can carry very large amounts of information. 

The idea of different markets or industries (in telecommunications, generally) growing and eventually overlapping in offered goods or services.  For example, cable television providers have long hoped for the technology that would allow them to offer phone service and Internet access.  Phone companies hope to one day use their existing lines to offer 400+ video channels.  Thus, the two markets would converge.

Copper Wire:
This is the medium that the phone company has traditionally used to transmit voice signals.  Now, copper wire is being used to carry data transmissions for Internet connections.  Copper wire can't provide as much bandwidth as the newer fiber, but because copper is already deployed and in place in infrastructure worldwide, and installing fiber is expensive, copper wire remains the biggest carrier of "last mile" transmissions.

Dark Fiber:
A fiber-optic cable that is not being used, and therefore has not been turned on, or ‘lit.'  Dark fiber carries no signal, and is referred to as ‘dark' because it lacks the light transmission by which fiber carries data.  See also Lit Fiber.

Digital Subscriber Line.  A generic name for the digital services offered by local telephone companies.  Such a connection allows for transfer rates up to 8 million bits per second.  Also called an ISDN, the line utilizes traditional copper telephone lines and can simultaneously transmit both voice and data.  See also ADSL.

Digital System Processor.  A specialized computer chip capable of performing quick and complicated operations on digital signals that were once analog.  DSPs offer tremendous advantages in video and audio compression.  They are rapidly becoming common in everything from hearing aids to fetal monitors.

Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing.  An even more powerful and efficient type of WDM capable of increasing the capacity of a fiber strand even further.  It is currently the preferred method for fiber transmission as it greatly reduces the amount of fiber required by a network.  See also WDM.

A local area network used for connecting computers, printers, workstations, etc.  The Ethernet uses twisted wire or coaxial cable.  Ethernet connections can send data at speeds up to 10 Mbps.  See also Gigabit Ethernet.

A term used to describe a factory that makes or fabricates -- hence the name -- semiconductor products like IC chips or components.

Federal Communications Commission.  The government's regulatory agency responsible for the regulation of communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable.

Very pure glass strands no thicker than a human hair, capable of transmitting data digitally in the form of light.  Fiber can transmit much more data, much faster than traditional copper wire.  Though very expensive, fiber is currently being deployed in network construction around the world. 

Facility that produces metal castings.

Gigabits per second.  A term attached to a specific number, indicating the amount of data (in gigabits) that can be transmitted through a given medium in one second.

An amount of data equal to one billion bits.  See also bit.

Gigabit Ethernet:
(Gig-E) The latest improvement on the Ethernet, able to support data transmissions at speeds up to 1 Gbps.  The Gigabit Ethernet is used primarily as a LAN backbone.

General Packet Radio Service.  The data service for European GSM.  It is considered to be the next big development in GSM service.  It would provide high-speed mobile datacom usage -- such as mobile Internet browsing, e-mail and push technologies -- at rates up to 115 Kbps.  See also GSM and UMTS.

Global Positioning System.  A system that allows a person to find his/her exact location anywhere on earth.  Based on a system of tracking satellites in orbit, the GPS is able to keep track of individuals, vessels and other objects and pinpoint them in relation to the rest of the planet.  Used already in military, agriculture and fleet management applications, to name a few, GPS is already widely available, and is expected to become increasingly deployed in cars, planes and by individuals.

Global System for Mobile communications (previously Groupe Speciale Mobile).  This is the standard digital cellular phone service found in Europe, Japan and elsewhere -- 85 countries total.  See also GPRS.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.  The world's largest technical and professional society.  The IEEE tries to "focus on advancing the theory and practice of electrical, electronics and computer engineering and computer science."  Most significantly, the IEEE works to create standards in the fields of computers and telecom.

Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier.  One of the older, traditional local exchange carriers not associated with the Bell System.  See also CLEC.

Internet Protocol.  The standard on which the Internet functions.  This protocol describes the function of software that keeps track of networks and nodes, routes data packets, and recognizes incoming messages.  It also allows exchanges between dissimilar computers to take place.

IP Telephony:
The field of communications involved with developing voice transmissions that can take place over an Internet connection.  As such, traditional long distance charges can be avoided entirely.  While long distance companies have lobbied against IP telephony, the FCC has stated that it has no intentions of regulating the new technology.  Currently, only about 1% of (U.S.) long distance calls utilizes the still developing IP telephony.

Integrated Services Digital Network.  A digital network designed to handle telephone switches, computer telephony, and voice processing systems. ISDN is becoming the favored Internet access upgrade among desktop users, since it can transmit at 144,000 bits per second, and can simultaneously handle full-speed voice and data exchanges.

Internet Service Provider.  A company offering access to -- and related services of -- the Internet and Web to its customers.  Most ISPs offer their services through phone lines via modem. 

Local Area Network.  A small, geographically convenient network, usually contained within a single building or campus.  It links computers, printers, workstations, etc., usually for the purpose of resource sharing.

Laser or LASER:
Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.  A device that produces light of a single frequency.  A laser's beam can be turned on and off rapidly to send data in digital form.  Lasers are used in telecommunications to send data, as light signals, through fiber.

Last Mile:
The stage of data transmission between an end-user, usually at home or work, and the telephone company.  Not literally one mile, the term refers to the problems associated with sending a signal at the poorly wired local level, usually only a couple miles or less.  Generally, transmissions at this stage are carried through traditional copper wires, which represent a significant problem for high-speed operators trying to widely offer their products to the consumer. 

Lit Fiber:
A fiber-optic cable that has been turned on, as opposed to dark fiber, which is off.  Lit fiber actively transmits data in the form of light.

Long Haul:
This refers to a network that spans distances larger than a local area network.  Because electrical and optical transmissions fade over distance, long haul networks are difficult and expensive to implement.  It is a variable term, as there is no official distance that defines a "long haul" network, but they are generally over 100 miles in length.  Even longer distances are often referred to as ultra long haul.

Metropolitan Area Network.  A data network, which covers an area greater than a LAN, but less than a WAN.  Oftentimes, a MAN is several LANs connected to one another for the purposes of creating a larger network.  See also LAN and WAN.

MicroElectroMechanical System.  Tiny, computer controlled machines that are custom built for specific purposes.  MEMS appear in a variety of products from medical devices to airbags.

Mesh Architecture:
A network structure using mesh architecture is one in which each node is directly connected to every other node.  In this way, if any -- or even several -- links go down, data can still be routed through alternate routes to successfully reach its destination.

Moore's Law:
In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted that computer chip complexity would double every year for the next 10 years.  He was proven correct 10 years later.  A subsequent forecast by Moore has come to be known as Moore's Law, and currently it predicts chip complexity will double every one-two years, depending on whose interpretation you read.

Refers to an older, slower network connection, though there is no single speed associated with the term.  See also Broadband.

The point of entrance to a network.  The furthest removed, independent device responding on a network, often a single computer.

Original Equipment Manufacturer.  An imprecise term used to indicate the manufacturer of original equipment from start to finish. Companies that buy and incorporate other manufacturers' components (like Dell or Compaq) are not OEMs, but using another company's components in your own product is often referred to as "OEMing" the component.  Yes, this does seem contradictory and confusing -- sorry.

Optical Network:
A data network built on fiber-optics technology, which sends data digitally, as light, through connected fiber strands.  Optical networks offer an enormous increase in both transmission capacity and speed from traditional copper wire-based networks.

The variety of components and materials used in fiber-optic transmissions systems.  Because all data transmissions rely on an original electrical signal, opto-electronics is based on transferring that signal to an optical signal, sending it through a network or medium and converting it back to an electrical signal.

Open Systems Interconnection.  The only internationally recognized industry model for communications between systems built by different vendors.  OSI utilizes seven layers of protocol to structure the exchanges between systems.  Not a standard, but OSI's structure is by far the most heavily favored one used today.

A bundle of data, packed for transmission through a network.  Packets are arranged in a specific format for transmission, so the network can determine what kind it is and where it should go. 

Packet Switching:
A method of data transmission that sends small blocks of data through a network to a remote location.  Larger files are first segmented into smaller packets and given identifying information.  While the packets may then be routed separately or even arrive out of order, they are reassembled correctly on the other side. This packetization of data and information is the future of telecom as far as we're concerned.

Passive components:
In the semiconductor or network industry, a component that does not require any external power to function other than the signal that is being transmitted through it, as opposed to an active component, which does.  See also Active component.

Personal Digital Assistant.  Small, consumer electronics device that is basically a handheld computer.  Usually, it's used for specific purposes like a diary, appointment book, memo taker, or multimedia player.  Often, PDAs have communications capabilities, which take place through a phone line or through wireless.

See Opto-electronics

Point Of Presence.  The point at which ISPs exchange traffic and essentially connect users to a network or the Web.

Plain Old Telephone System.  Pronounced pots.  The basic telephone system that allows for calls to be placed and received by routing them through the public switched network.  No frills, no added features like call waiting or caller ID. 

A set of rules that govern the exchanges between computers.  Protocols are designed to facilitate data transfer by dictating quick, standardized procedures for computers to connect.  Two data devices must have the same connection protocol in order to successfully connect.

Public Switched Telephone Network.  The entire, interconnected telephone system we use on an everyday basis.  Includes local, international, and long distance phone companies.

Radio Frequency:
The group of electromagnetic wavelengths between 500 KHz and 300 GHz.  These wavelengths are used to transmit data or voice signals through the air, to avoid dependence on terrestrial wire transmissions.

Radio Frequency.  See Radio Frequency.

The central switching point for the Internet and most area networks.  Routers work as an interface between networks, directing data packets to their intended destinations.  They are highly intelligent and able to consider the network as a whole and respond accordingly -- which often greatly increases network speed, and reduces traffic. 

Material that discriminately transmits electricity.  Semiconductors will only allow voltages within a certain range to be carried, thus the ‘semi.'  Because a high voltage is necessary to turn on a semiconductor, most are mixed with an impurity -- in process called doping -- that allows their conductivity to be increased.  The most common types of semiconductor material are silicon and germanium.

Semiconductor Industry Association. 

Synchronous Optical NETwork.  An optical interface standard that allows network transmission products from different vendors to communicate.  SONET was designed with flexibility in mind, and is generally considered to offer significant advantages over the asynchronous transport mode (ATM).

A mechanical or electrical device that opens or closes electronic connections, or completes or breaks a network connection.  Switches are used to route and direct data transmissions through a network.

Time Division Multiple Access.  A technology that is able to split a finite amount of over-the-air bandwidth into multiple conversation transmissions.  Wireless phone providers use TDMA to permit many simultaneous conversations to take place over a limited broadcasting spectrum.  See also CDMA.

Telecommunications Act of 1996:
A deregulating act to "promote competition and reduce regulation in order to secure lower prices and higher quality services for American telecommunications consumers and encourage rapid deployment of new telecommunication technologies."  Mainly served to allow long-distance services from local providers. Seen as a watershed in telecom history, as it opened up the field for competition, gave some wiggling room to the underdogs and smaller start-ups and deregulated the playing field.

A unit of measurement used in data transmission.  A terabit is basically a million million bits.  See also Gigabit and Bit.

Universal Mobile Telecommunications System.  A technology considered to be the next generation of GSM.  It allows for wireless data transmissions to mobile units -- usually for Internet applications.  Faster than GPRS, it supports transfer rates up to 2 Mbps.  See also GSM and GPRS.

Voice-over Internet Protocol.  See IP Telephony.

A thin disk of crystal semiconductor, usually silicon-based, upon which chips are fabricated.  Extremely thin (1/50th of an inch) and usually only four or five inches in diameter.

Wide Area Network.  Covers a wider geographical area than a LAN, but usually has less individual sites.  See also LAN.

Wireless Application Protocol.  A set of applications and protocols designed to allow wireless devices to communicate with the Internet and provide access to other special services.

Wavelength Division Multiplexing.  A method of dramatically increasing the signal capacity of a strand of fiber by dividing a light beam into component wavelengths.  Each wavelength is capable of carrying its own independent signal at full speed.  The current maximum number of wavelengths able to be divided in a single fiber is 150.  Another version is DWDM.  See also DWDM.

Literally, without wires.  Most often it is a phone system that operates without wires.  Wireless phones instead use radio waves or satellites to transmit their signals.   Cellular phones are the most common wireless devices.

Wireless Internet:
The ability of the latest cellular and handheld products to access the Internet remotely, without the physical connection of copper or fiber lines.

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