You are here

Wireless Glossary

Glossary of Wireless Terms
Click a letter above to advance the page to terms beginning with that letter.

3

3G

Third Generation Wireless

The third generation of wireless communications beyond digital PCS (2G) technologies. 3G wireless technologies allow for much higher transmission rates of voice and data to wireless devices leading to more useful services and a better user experience.

Go to top

4

4G

Fourth Generation Wireless

The fourth generation of wireless communications beyond 3G technologies. No fully agreed upon technical specification exists. Very generally, 4G wireless technologies provide at least 100 Mbps transfer rates over an Internet Protocol (IP) packet switched network. Actual transfer rates and use of the term 4G in marketing materials may vary.

Go to top

5

5G

Fifth Generation Wireless

Further evolution of mobile telecommunication network technologies with as yet undefined but surely better, faster specifications. May be used as a marketing term without regard for actual standards.

Go to top

7

700 MHz

A wireless frequency band licensed by the FCC in 2008 for use by mobile voice and data services. Similar to PCS and AWS bands.

Go to top

A

A-Carrier

Years ago most areas of the US have two cellular carriers, each of which operated on a different frequency band. One was designated the "A" carrier (non-wireline carrier) and the other was designated the "B" carrier. In some markets there have been only one carrier; "A" or "B".

A/B Switching

When there were only two cellular frequencies(A and B) some, but not all, phones had the ability to switch manually or automatically from one to the other. This feature was useful when roaming outside your home coverage area. Phones now use a large number of frequencies and do switching automatically.

Access Fee

A monthly charge for the ability to connect to a wireless network. This fee is assessed monthly whether the phone is actually used or not.

Activation

Configuration of a wireless phone so that it is ready to be used to transmit and receive calls or data on the wireless network.

Activation Fee

A one-time up-front charge for activation of a wireless phone.

Advisor

Advisor or Adviser. Person or entity that provides practical recommendations as a guide for action.

Airtime

Total time that a wireless phone is in connected and in use for talking or data transfer. This includes use for calls both received and placed.

AMOLED

Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode

A display technology used in mobile devices. Distinguishing attributes include high refresh rate and low power consumption.

AMPS

Advanced Mobile Phone Service

An outdated analog cellular phone service standard used in the US and other countries.

Analog

A method of modulating radio signals so that they can carry information such as voice or data.

Android

An operating system for mobile devices financially backed by Google. It is open source and based on the LINUX operating system.

Antenna

A device, or part of a device, that facilitates the transmission and reception of radio signals.

APC

Adaptive Power Control

A feature of some wireless handsets that helps reduce power consumption to increase battery charge life.

Area Code

A three digit telephone number prefix assigned to a calling area.

Authentication

A feature used to reduce fraud by electronically confirming the identity of a phone to the wireless network.

Automatic Call Delivery

A service feature that allows a user to receive calls when roaming outside of the phone's home coverage area.

AWS

Advanced Wireless Service

A wireless spectrum band licensed by the FCC in 2006 in the 1700 MHz and 2100 MHz frequency ranges. Wireless carriers use this band for mobile voice and data services.

Go to top

B

B-Carrier

Years ago most areas of the US have two cellular carriers, each of which operated on a different frequency band. One was designated the "A" carrier (non-wireline carrier) and the other was designated the "B" carrier. In some markets there have been only one carrier; "A" or "B".

Backhaul

Connection of a cell site to and from a carrier's core network. The connection may be by copper, fiber optic or microwave and may be supplied by a company other than the wireless carrier.

Bandwidth

Describes the transmission capacity of a medium in terms of a range of frequencies. A greater bandwidth indicates the ability to transmit a greater amount of data over a given period of time.

Battery Life

The time over which a device's battery maintains the ability to supply sufficient power to keep it operating.

BEA

Basic Economic Area

The United States is divided into 176 geographic areas as defined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce. May also be known as EA (Economic Area). The FCC adopted these area definitions for the purpose of licensing wireless services. BEAs are used in defining PCS and AWS license areas.

Bluetooth

A short range wireless protocol meant to allow mobile devices to share information and applications without the worry of cables or interface incompatibilities. The name refers to a Viking King who unified Denmark. Operates at 2.4 GHz, see bluetooth.com.

BREW

Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless

A QUALCOMM programming platform designed to facilitate the development and use of data applications that can function on any CDMA-based wireless device. Common applications include games and software for corporate functions. See J2ME for a similar technology from Sun Microsystems.

Broadband

Describes a communications medium capable of transmitting a relatively large amount of data over a given period of time. A communications channel of high bandwidth.

BTA

Basic Trading Area

A geographic region defined by a group of counties that surround a city, which is the area's basic trading center. The boundaries of each BTA were formulated by Rand McNally & Co. and are used by the FCC determine service areas for PCS wireless licenses. The entire US and some of its territories is divided into 493 non-overlapping BTAs.

Go to top

C

Call Forwarding

A feature that allows the transfer of incoming calls to another number of the users choice.

Call Setup

Activity that occurs in order to establish a call connection between a wireless handset and the wireless system.

Call Waiting

A feature that allows a user to be notified of another incoming call while a call is already in progress, and gives the user the ability to answer the second call while the first call remains on hold.

Caller ID

A feature that displays a caller's telephone number and/or name before the call is answered.

Carrier

A company that provides telecommunications services.

CDMA

Code Division Multiple Access

A digital communication technology used by some carriers to provide mobile phone service. Also known as IS-95A or cdmaOne and other advanced evolutions. Other technologies used are TDMA and GSM.

CDMA2000 1X (Also 1xRTT)

A 3G wireless communications standard evolved from CDMA technology. It has double the voice traffic capacity of CDMA and provides peak data rates of 153 kbps.

CDMA2000 1xEV-DO (and 1xEV-DV)

CDMA2000 1xEV-DO (and 1xEV-DV) A 3G wireless communications standard further evolved from CDMA2000 technology. It is a standard optimized for data transmission providing a peak data rate of 2.4 Mbps with a typical user experience of 300 - 800 kbps. 1xEV-DV is optimized for both data and voice transmissions.

CDPD

Cellular Digital Packet Data

An outdated technology for transmitting data over analog cellular networks. Requires a special modem and the wireless carriers' network must be upgraded to accommodate such data transmissions.

Cell

The area surrounding a cell site. The area in which calls are handled by a particular cell site.

Cell Site

The transmission and reception equipment, including the base station antenna, that connects a cellular phone to the carrier's network.

Cellphone

Cellphone or Cellular Phone. Device used to transmit and receive data and voice signals over a cellular network including the ability to do so while in motion. May have many other uses and capabilities. May also be referred to as a wireless phone, mobile phone, smartphone, handset and many other terms.

Cellular

The type of wireless communication that is most familiar to mobile phones users. Called 'cellular' because the system uses many base stations to divide a service area into multiple 'cells'. Cellular calls are transferred from base station to base station as a user travels from cell to cell.

Cloning

Older wireless phones could be programmed to mimic the identity of another wireless phone. Often used to defraud a wireless carrier by placing illegal calls without any intention of payment.

CMA

Cellular Market Area

The United States is divided into 734 geographic areas as defined by the FCC for the purpose of licensing several wireless services. Wireless services licensed by CMA include Cellular and AWS.

CO

Central Office

A connection point between a carrier's wireless phone system at the MTSO and the landline phone system at the PSTN.

Coverage Area

The geographic area served by the cell sites of a carrier's wireless system. Same as Service Area.

Cross-talk

A signal leak from one channel to another - often the cause of noise and distortion. More common in outdated analog systems.

Go to top

D

DAS

Distributed Antenna System

A network of relatively small and near ground level mounted antennas each connected to a central controller which is then connected to the larger network of a wireless carrier. These antennas act together as a carrier's cell site to extend coverage to isolated spots or densely populated indoor areas.

Decibel (dB)

A unit of measure used to express relative difference in power or intensity of sound.

Digital

A method of encoding information using a binary code of 0s and 1s. Most modern wireless phones and networks use digital technology.

Dual band

When there were only frequency bands use by cell phones, this was a feature that allowed the handset to operate using either the 800 MHz cellular or the 1900 MHz PCS frequencies.

Dual mode

When digital phones were first introduced, this was a feature that allowed the handset to operate on both analog and digital networks.

Duplex

As in ordinary telephone service, a characteristic of a communications system where simultaneous transmission(talk) and reception(listen) is possible.

Go to top

E

E-mail

Feature of a device facilitating the sending and receiving of messages.

EDGE

Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution

A further development of the GSM protocol designed to handle data at speeds up to 384 Kbps. Considered to be 3G wireless technology.

ESMR

Enhanced Specialized Mobile Radio

Using frequency bands originally allocated for two-way dispatch services, companies such as Nextel and Southern LINC built digital mobile phone services similar to cellular and PCS systems. In 2013, these networks are being shutdown or reconstructed to use newer technologies.

ESN

Electronic Serial Number

The unique serial number of a cellular phone that identifies it to the cellular system for the purpose and placing and receiving calls.

Go to top

F

FCC

Federal Communications Commission

A US government agency responsible for regulating communications industries. See www.fcc.gov

Femtocell

A small cell site used to extend a cellular network to a smal area such as a house, shop or office. May use the Internet for backhaul.

Fingerprinting

See Radio-frequency fingerprinting.

Follow-Me Roaming

The ability of a wireless system to forward incoming calls to a handset that is roaming outside its home service area without any pre-notification to the wireless carrier.

Go to top

G

G

G stands for generation and designates a certain minimum level of reliability and transfer speed for a wireless network technology as set by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union)
As in 2G, 3G, 4G. Use of 'G' for marketing purposes is not regulated to match official ITU standards.

GPRS

General Packet Radio Service

An further progression of the GSM standard intended to increase data transmission speeds of wireless networks.

Go to top

H

HAC

Hearing Aid Compatibility

Wireless phones can cause problems with hearing aids due to interference from electromagnetic energy emitted by the phone's antennas, backlight or other functions. Since 2003, the FCC has adopted specific hearing aid compatibility rules for wireless phones. Hearing aids are rated according to their immunity to radio frequency interference and each wireless phone is rated by how likely it will cause interference. For use with 'acoustic coupling' hearing aids, phones are rated in the range M1 to M4 and in the range T1 to T4 for use with 'inductive coupling' hearing aids. Higher rating numbers indicate less interference. Phone manufacturers and wireless service providers must offer a range of hearing aid compatible phones with differing levels of functionality and display HAC ratings on device packaging and their websites. The FCC more fully explains HAC and offers advice to hearing aid users in this guide: Hearing Aid Compatibility for Wireless Telephones

Handoff

The transfer of a wireless call in progress from one cell site to another without disconnection.

Hands-Free Speakerphone

A feature of some wireless phones that allows the users to talk and listen to calls without holding the phone against their head.

Handset

Any hand held device used to transmit and receive calls from a wireless system. Also known as a wireless phone, a cellular phone, a mobile phone, a PCS phone and many other terms.

Handshake(ing)

Signals between a wireless phone and a wireless system to accomplish initial call setup.

Home Coverage Area

A designated area within which cellular calls are local and do not incur roaming or long distance charges.

HomeRF

A digital wireless communications protocol designed for the transport of voice and multimedia content between consumer electronic devices(including PCs) in a residential setting. Operates at 2.4 GHz.

Go to top

I

IMT2000

A set of proposals for standards defining 3G wireless network performance. An effort from the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), an organization of the United Nations.

Interconnection Fee

A fee charged between telecommunications companies for calls from wireless phones that must be routed to landline phones.

iOS

Apple's mobile operating system for its iPhone and iPad devices.

IP

Internet Protocol

The primary data transmission technology of the Internet. Defines the packets of data and the switching used to deliver them to the target addresses. Increasingly used for wireless transmissions. (IP may also be used to refer to a device's address on the network.)

Go to top

J

J2ME

Java 2 Micro Edition

A Java environment optimized to run applications on devices small devices with limited processing power and memory. See BREW for a similar technology from QUALCOMM.

Go to top

L

Landline

Traditional wired telephone service.

LCD

Liquid Crystal Display

A flat panel screen used to display numbers, characters, images and video. Often found on a wireless handset.

LMDS

Local Multipoint Distribution System

A fixed, broadband wireless system used for voice and interactive data. Generally used as a lower cost alternative to landline connections for businesses and others requiring high bandwidth connections to public networks.

LTE

Long Term Evolution

A further evolution of the GSM / UMTS wireless network data communications standard. Its improvements include faster data transmission rates and seamless call handoffs with older CDMA or GSM based cell sites. For those reasons LTE is a favorable network upgrade option for many wireless carriers.

Go to top

M

M2M

Machine to Machine

Technology that allows machines to communicate with other machines by way of a carrier's wireless network.

mAh

Milliamp Hour

A unit of electric current flow measured over time. Used to quantify a rechargable battery's ability to provide electric power to a mobile device. A higher number generally means the ability to supply power for a longer time period.

Mbps

A data transfer rate of 1,000,000 bits per second. May also be written as Mbit/s or Mb/s.

Memory Dialing

A feature of a wireless phone that allows multiple numbers to be stored in the phone itself for quick dialing by pressing one or two buttons.

MIMO

Multiple-In, Multiple-Out

Technology for the simultaneous wireless transmission and reception of data over multiple transmission paths between a cell site (or WiFi hotspot) and a particular device. Uses algorithms and multiple antennas to increase bandwidth capacity and range.

MMDS

Multipoint Multichannel Distribution Service

Often referred to as 'wireless cable' as it is a wireless system used to distribute cable television and other broadband signals to multiple users by way of a single transmitter.

MMS

Multimedia Messaging Service

Similar to SMS, but in addition to plain text, MMS messages may include multimedia elements such as pictures, video and audio. These multimedia elements are included in the message, not as attachments as with email.

Monophonic Ringtones

Ringtones made up of a series of sequential beeps at different frequencies. Before phones included full sound capabilities, they had simple ringtones that were similar to the beeping of a computer.

MSA

Metropolitan Statistical Area

An area defined by the US government for use in grouping census data and other statistics. MSAs include a city of at least 50,000 people or an urbanized area of at least 100,000 people and the counties that include these areas. Not all areas of the US are in an MSA. The FCC used these area definitions to license cellular telephone service carriers. The FCC often uses the term MSA to mean Metropolitan Service Areas; they are the same geographic areas. There are 306 regions of the US designated as MSAs.

MSISDN

Mobile Station International Subscriber Directory Number

A number of up to 15 digits assigned to identify a mobile phone number in accordance with international conventions.

MTA

Major Trading Area

An area consisting of two or more Basic Trading Areas as defined by Rand McNally & Co. These large areas are used by the FCC determine service areas for some wireless licenses. The US is divided into 51 MTAs.

MTSO

Mobile Telephone Switching Office

An office housing switches and computers to which all cell sites in an area are connected for the purpose of eventual connection to the PSTN. The MTSO handles the connection, tracking, status and billing of all wireless call activity in an assigned area.

MVNO

Mobile Virtual Network Operator

A mobile communications service provider that sells service supplied by a network owned by a separate company. The MVNO pays a wholesale price for use of another company's wireless network and sells that service under its own brand name.

Go to top

N

NAM

Number Assignment Module

A component of a wireless phone that holds in electronic memory the telephone number and ESN of the phone.

No Answer Transfer

A feature of a wireless service that if a call is not answered in a specified number of rings, it will be transferred to another phone number of the user's choice.

No Service Indicator

A feature of wireless phones that tells the user the status of wireless service (available or available) in a particular location.

Go to top

O

Off Peak

Any time of day, as determined by a wireless carrier, when there is lower communications traffic on the system. Carriers may make this distinction to offer lower rates during these periods when demand is low.

OLED

Organic Light-Emitting Diode

Displays made of organic materials that light up when charged with an electric current. Such displays are sharp, clear and viewable from wide angles.

Go to top

P

PCS

Personal Communication Services

Used to describe a class of wireless communications services authorized by the FCC through licensing. PCS systems use the 1.9 GHz radio frequency band. Digital technology was first used in the PCS band.

Peak Period

Any time of day, as determined by a wireless carrier, when there is high levels of communications traffic on the system.

Polyphonic Ringtones

Phones that play polyphonic ringtones have the ability to produce 16 separate sounds at once. This makes for music that is much richer than monophonic and the tunes sound more like the music you know.

POTS

Plain-Old-Telephone-Service

Another name for traditional wired, land based telephone service.

Prepaid Cellular / Prepaid Wireless

A service plan offered by some wireless carriers that allows subscribers to pay in advance for wireless service.

PRL

Preferred Roaming List

A database in a CDMA based wireless phone that tells it how to find and connect to locally available wireless network(s). The function of the PRL is most important when a phone is outside its home network and must seek out an alternate network. The PRL in a phone can be periodically updated to account for changes in wireless networks that the phone may encounter.

PSTN

Public Switched Telephone Network

A formal name for the world-wide telephone network.

Go to top

R

Radio-frequency fingerprinting

An electronic process that identifies each individual wireless handset by examining its unique radio transmission characteristics. Fingerprinting is used to reduce fraud since the illegal phone can not duplicate the legal phone's radio-frequency fingerprint.

REAG

Regional Economic Area Grouping

The United States is divided into 12 large geographic areas for the purpose of licensing wireless services. A REAG is an aggregation of 52 MEA. Some AWS licenses are defined by REAG.

RF

Radio Frequency

A radio signal.

RF Noise

Undesired radio signals that alter a radio communications signal causing extraneous sounds or errors during transmission and/or reception.

RFI

Radio Frequency Interference

An undesired radio signal that interferes with a radio communications signal causing extraneous noise and/or signal dropouts.

Ringback Tone

The tone or music you hear (in the earpiece) when you place a call and are waiting for the phone to be answered. The standard tone is usually an on and off ringing sound. On some wireless systems, users have the ability to choose the music heard when other users dial their number and wait for the call to be answered.

Ringtone

A sound(s) from your phone used to signal an incoming call or message. On most newer phones additional sounds can be downloaded from the wireless system or by data cable. These sounds can take the form of anything you want, the most popular sounds are music. See monophonic ringtones and polyphonic ringtones.

Roaming

Using your wireless phone in an area outside its home coverage area. May include the use of another carrier's wireless system. There may be additional charges for roaming particularly of you are outside your home country.

Roaming Agreement

A agreement among wireless carriers allowing users to use their phone on systems other their own home systems. Roaming Fee charged for roaming.

Root(ing)

To gain highly privileged administrator level access to the operating system of a mobile device in order to make otherwise prevented customizations.

RSA

Rural Service Area

Areas not included in MSAs are divided into RSAs. Generally these are the rural areas of the US. The FCC used RSAs to license cellular carriers in areas not included in MSAs. There are 428 RSAs in the US.

Go to top

S

Sensitivity

A measure of a receiver's ability to viably receive weak radio signals above any RF noise.

Service Area

The geographic area served by a wireless system. Same as Coverage Area.

Service plan

A contract between a wireless carrier and a wireless subscriber that details all the terms of the wireless service including rates for activation, access and per minute usage.

SID

System Identification Number

The 15 digit number used in Cellular systems to identify the home system and roaming status for a cellular phone

Signal-to-noise ratio

A measure of the power of a signal versus noise. A lower ratio means there is more noise relative to signal.

SIM

Subscriber Identity Module or Subscriber Identification Module

An integrated circuit microchip mounted on a flat plastic card which contains the algorithms and data needed to uniquely identify a subscriber and connect a device to a wireless network. SIMs are available in various card sizes and are generally transferable between compatible devices. In some cases a SIM may be embedded in a device.

Smartphone

A device with capabilities inclusive of and extended beyond that of a cellphone to include those of a mobile computer. An ever evolving class of devices with abilities too numerous to list.

SMR

Specialized Mobile Radio

A land based mobile communications service characterized by handsets with 'direct connect' features. Nextel and Southern Linc are two notable providers of SMR service.

SMS

Short Messaging System

More commonly know as texts or texting. A feature of mobile phones that allows users to receive and transmit short text messages using their wireless phone. The messages are 140 characters or fewer.

Spectrum

The entire range electromagnetic frequencies.

Spread Spectrum

A communications technology where a signal is transmitted over a broad range of frequencies and then re-assembled when received.

Standby Time

The time a phone is on but not actively transmitting or receiving a call or data. During this time the phone is still communicating with nearby cell sites so that the phone can be located for incoming transmissions.

Subscriber

A cellular phone user under contract with a wireless carrier for use of its wireless system.

Swype

A branded and patented technology for text input on mobile devices that use the Android operating system. The software facilitates text input by the user moving a finger across a word's letters on a touchscreen keyboard without lifting the finger. See www.swype.com

System Selection Switch

A feature of some early cellular phones that allowed switching between 'A' and 'B' cellular carriers.

Go to top

T

T9® Text Input

A feature built into some phones that allows you to use one key press per letter when entering text on your wireless phone. T9 helps make entering text on a limited keypad quick and easy. See T9 for more information.

Talk Time

The time a phone is on and actively transmitting or receiving a call.

TDMA

Time Division Multiple Access

A older digital communication technology used by some carriers to provide wireless phone service. Other technologies used are CDMA and GSM.

Telecommunications Act of 1996

Federal legislation passed in 1996 intended to increase competition among wireless and wireline carriers for the benefit of consumers. This act opened up more wireless frequencies for use by consumer mobile devices.

Text Messaging / Texting

The sending of short (140 characters or less) messages from a mobile device over a wireless network; more formally known as SMS or MMS,. The messages can include attachments such as pictures, video or audio.

Toll Charges

Charges for placing long distance calls.

Toll-Free Calling Area

An area in which calls can be placed without incurring long distance charges.

Go to top

U

UMTS

Universal Mobile Telecommunications System

The third generation (3G) of the GSM standard for mobile network systems. The underlying transmission standard is WCDMA.

Go to top

V

Voice Mail

A system that answers calls and allows users to reply to, save, delete or forward messages.

Voice-activated Dialing

A feature that allows users to speak words into a wireless phone to cause it to dial pre-programmed telephone numbers without using the buttons.

VOIP

Voice Over Internet Protocol

Transmission of voice as data using the packet switching of an IP (Internet Protocol) network.

VoLTE

Voice Over LTE

Voice transmission over a LTE data network. Calls are packet switched versus circuit switched.

Go to top

W

WAP

Wireless Application Protocol

A global protocol used in some wireless devices that allows the user to view and interact with data services. Generally used as a means to view Internet web pages using the limited transmission capacity and small display screens of early portable wireless devices.

WCDMA

Wideband CDMA

A 3G wireless communications standard evolved from CDMA. The standard, often called UMTS, uses wider 5 MHz channels(vs. 1.25 MHz for CDMA) for increased voice traffic capacity and peak data rates of 384 kbps.

WiFi

A wireless data networking protocol generally used connect any type of device to a network over relatively short distances. There are several frequencies and evolving standards used. It is the most common means of wireless networking.

Wireless

Transmission and/or reception of signals between devices using radio waves and without the use of any physical connection.

Wireless Carrier

A company that provides wireless telecommunications services.

Go to top

Find Service

Find and research all the cellular phone companies serving your area.
Enter your ZIP code to start your search!

Poll

Which of These High End Phones Will Be Your Next (or current) Phone?
Feedback