The essential broadband glossary




Get your bandwidths confused with your bits and bundles? You’re not alone. Cut through the broadband jargon with our quick-fire glossary.

Broadband speeds

How fast can you go?

Find your new home's broadband speed

Arrange broadband
Compare deals

ADSL line – broadband using the existing telephone network. Quite a bit slower than fibre optic. See ‘fibre optic.’ 

Bandwidth – the capacity of a connection. Higher bandwidth means more data can be carried at a faster speed. Equally, something which uses a lot of bandwidth – such as high-definition video streaming – can make other activities slower.

Broadband – high-speed internet connection, now used by the vast majority of UK households. A far cry from the old dial-up internet access. See ‘dial-up.’

Bundle – where you get your digital TV and home telephone tied in with your broadband. Bundling with the same provider can save you money compared to buying the services separately. Do your research before signing up to ensure it makes sense to bundle.

Cancellation fee – broadband providers usually require you to enter a contract lasting for 12 months (and sometimes longer). If you want to leave before this has expired, you may have to pay a cancellation penalty or exit fee.

Cable – this type of broadband connection is, for the most part, still fibre optic. However, with cable, the crucial ‘last mile’ – the stretch between the local exchange and your home – is provided over coaxial cables. As these carry data quicker, this means connections can be much faster than fibre-optic broadband. The main cable broadband provider in the UK is Virgin Media, though there are smaller ones as well.

Cap – this refers to the usage limit or allowance on the amount of data you can use during any one month. You may be charged if you exceed this limit. Also known as download limit. 

Cooling-off period – generally speaking, you can’t break a broadband contract once you’ve signed up without facing a penalty. However, you can usually terminate it for free if you’ve only just signed up and are now having second thoughts, as regulations may allow you to cancel within the first 14 days of your contract.

Dial-up – internet access over regular telephone lines. A much slower service than broadband, this has become largely redundant. See ‘broadband.’

Dongle – small device you plug into your laptop so you can access the internet.

Download speed – the figure advertised on your broadband package, and the first thing you should check when comparing broadband. This refers to the speed at which information is transferred from the internet to your computer. It is usually expressed as ‘megabits per second’ or Mbps – or simply Mb.

A faster download speed means you get photos, video and music from the internet faster than with a slow connection. It will also mean you can watch films and TV shows online without so many interruptions for loading.

Fair use policy – these rules set out how much data you can download before being penalised by your provider. The key is to keep an eye on the amount you’re downloading. That said, these days, a lot of packages are unlimited. See ‘unlimited’.

Fibre optic broadband – uses fibre optic cables to send data, and delivers fast and reliable broadband. Connections are usually made up of fibre optic lines to your local street cabinet which then connects to your home via copper phone lines. While speeds are fast, they are not as fast as cable. See ‘cable’.

High-user – someone who spends hours on the internet, streaming films, uploading photos to Facebook and other social media, and downloading music, movies and games. If this is you, it’s worth looking at a very high – or unlimited – download allowance. See ‘unlimited’. 

Hub – See ‘router’.

Introductory deal – broadband providers can often offer enticing introductory deals with low prices and added incentives when you sign up, such as routers or gift vouchers.

ISP (internet service provider) – the company responsible for providing your internet connection – and billing you for it.

Light user – someone who only uses the internet for the basics, such as checking emails and occasional browsing. If this is you, seek out a no-frills package, as you won’t need a very large data allowance, and this will be a lot more economical.

Mbps – See ‘download speed.’

Mobile broadband – high speed internet access using mobile network signals.

Ofcom – the communications watchdog. 

Quad play – this is an arrangement which bundles broadband, landline, TV – and also mobile – into one contract. Providers include Virgin Media, BT and TalkTalk.

Router – also known as a hub, this electronic device directs traffic on a network. It is responsible for connecting to the internet, as well as providing networking in your home.

Superfast – a connection with download speeds of 24Mbps or more. Generally speaking, you get these speeds with fibre and cable –though you can also get superfast speeds through mobile broadband, and occasionally copper lines.

Unlimited – broadband without limits. With this type of package, there are no monthly data allowances meaning you can use it as much as you like without having to worry about charges or restrictions. A good option for multi-user households.

Wi-fi – a way of linking devices to the internet without the need for wires. These days, almost all home routers come with wi-fi.

Broadband speeds

How fast can you go?

Find your new home's broadband speed

Arrange broadband
Compare deals

You might also be interested in...

Moving soon? Move smarter with our interactive checklist, the Zoopla MovePlanner.

  • Save money
  • Save time
  • Reduce stress