Bigblu’s A to Z Guide to Broadband Jargon: Part I

6th July 2018

Struggle to tell the difference between your Ethernet and your Coaxial cable? Have no idea if your computer speaks JavaScript or Gobbledegook? Always wanted to know the difference between a modem and a hub? Well, then you’re in the right place (and probably know as much as I did when I started work here at bigblu, but don’t tell anyone that).

We know the Internet and the language it has spawned can feel alien and daunting and that is why we’ve put together this Broadband A to Z Guide. Today we kick-off with the first thirteen letters of the alphabet (apologies to all you triskaidekaphobics out there). Come back next week and we’ll take you all the way to Z (for Zip file).

A is for Attenuation
When your signal strength drops off causing slow or no connection, too many spinning circles and too many flipping egg timers. It affects wireless and hard-wired broadband and is mostly down to distances the signal has to travel and condition of cables.

B is for Bandwidth
Refers to the amount of data your computer can transmit in a set amount of time. As with a hot dog-eating champion’s mouth, the wider the ‘band’ the more can be squeezed in before the bell goes.

C is for Coaxial Cable
Coaxial cable is used to carry data/signals from a satellite dish to a satellite receiver. It is one of the unsung wonders of eccentric 19th century English inventors. The delightful named and entirely self-taught engineer Oliver Heaviside patented the coaxial cable in 1880 and almost 140 years later it’s durability and easy set-up mean it’s still the cable of choice for satellite broadband installation.

DHCP is like the Post Office, it gives your computer an address so other computers can know exactly where to send the letters to.

D is for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)
Ok, bear with us, because DHCP is one of the most complicated IP protocols around. Think of your computer like a house; every house needs an address so people can send you mail and so the postman knows where to deliver that mail; and every computer must have an address to be able to send and receive letters to other computers. DHCP is like the Post Office, it gives your computer an address so other computers can know exactly where to send the letters to.

E is for Ethernet cable
Another cable?! Nerdy but necessary, the Ethernet cable is one of the most common forms of network cable used on wired networks and connects devices within a local area network, such as PCs, routers, and switches. It looks like a phone plug and cable that has seen one too many all-you-can-eat buffets (it features more wires). The advent and growth of wireless technology has seen more and more Ethernet cables consigned to that box buried at the bottom of your wardrobe.

F is for Fair Use Policies
A tool designed by broadband providers to stop a user from, essentially, eating all the pies available for all the users all month long. If they eat too much the provider will cut off or severely limit their pie supply so less greedy users can have their fill. If you really want to, you can see what one of ours looks like here.

G is for Geostationary Earth Orbit
The satellites we use are placed in geostationary orbit. It is an orbit roughly 22,000 miles above the equator that follows the direction of Earth’s rotation, whereas to us here on the ground, the satellites appear to remain in a fixed position in the sky. The reason we do this is that our Earth-based satellite antennae don’t have to rotate to track them but can be pointed permanently at the position in the sky where the satellites are located.

Hubs give hope to the idea that man may survive the onslaught of Artificial Intelligence

H is for Hub
These little things are about as basic as it gets in network terms but they’re pretty handy as a way of connecting up all network devices, like your printer, any storage devices, another workstation or server. They give hope to the idea that man may survive the onslaught of Artificial Intelligence as they are, basically, stupid. They don’t know exactly what data is being sent to exactly who but they will make sure that whatever is being sent will end up in the right place (mainly by sending it to every device it is connected to!).

Internet Protocol (IP) address
For a computer to communicate with other computers and web servers on the Internet, it must have an IP address; it is the way devices on a network are differentiated from one another. Let’s return to postal analogy we used in DHCP, where DHCP was the post office. Well, in this case, your device’s IP address is like the recipient’s name, house number, street name and postcode all rolled into one.

J is for JavaScript (JS)
JS is a full-fledged programming language interpreter embedded inside your web brows…okay, scrap that. It will be easier for me to describe what JavaScript does rather than what it is. Think of a web page (perhaps on your favourite news site), it is made from three fundamental components: HTML, CSS and JS. In short, HTML gives a page its basic structure (text, image, graphics), CSS controls the look of the page (colours, fonts) and JS makes it all dynamic and come alive. Thanks to the genius of JS, you can interact with menus, forms and slideshows, the page can create cookies and detect your browser. All the fun stuff really.

What you’re hearing is the way 20th century technology tunnelled through a 19th century network

K is for Kilobytes
A bit is a single binary unit of data, either a zero or a one. A byte is eight bits. Therefore, while a kilobit is 1,000 individual binary data units, a kilobyte is 8,000 bits. Throughout the last few decades, both microprocessor speed and hard drive capacity have increased so much so that today’s measurements are now based on bytes. The kilo is the baby of the byte family, his bigger brawnier siblings being Mega and Giga. Kilobytes are most often used to measure the size of small files. So, a plain text document may contain 10 KB of data and would have a file size of 10 kilobytes.

L is for Latency
To keep it as simple as possible, in satellite broadband terms, ‘latency’ is the delay between when you click something and when you see it. When you click on a link it sends a request for data from your device to a server (like a website) via the satellite. That signal must then literally go to space and back. Most of the delay comes in the processing and re-transmitting of that signal – and that is what they call latency.

M is for Modem
You remember the noise: Pshhhkkkkkkrrrrkakingkakingkakingtshchchchchchchchcch*ding*ding*ding. Those distinctive sounds, familiar to anyone with ears in the 90s, were created by digital data being sent over the analogue voice line. And those dings let you know that your computer was connecting to a network and it was doing so through a modem (in this case a dial-up modem). Computer technology is purely digital (it uses numbers to transmit info) and telephone technology is still part-analogue (it uses electrical signals to transmit info). The two of them have to talk to each other and swap info to make a connection and the modem (a combo of Modulator and Demodulator) acts as the translator. In Alexis C. Madrigal’s memorable line about dial-up modems, “What you’re hearing is the way 20th century technology tunnelled through a 19th century network.” In simple terms, a modem is the device that hooks up your computer to the Internet.

Remember, come back next week for the N to Z of our Guide to Broadband Terminology.