Internet 101: Understanding the Internet

Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, use a lot of terms that the everyday customer might not recognize. This simple guide and helpful video can help you decode our lingo and better understand your connection.

Types of Internet

Broadband: Broadband refers to “bandwidth data transmission” and is interchangeable with the term Internet. When we talk about broadband, we are talking about the Internet.

A Customer’s Guide to Internet Service Provider Lingo: A picture of the layers of a coaxial cable.

An example of a coaxial cable.

Coaxial (Cable): Coaxial or cable connections use cable networks to transport data. It has a copper core, but its shielded design allows it to transfer voice, TV, and broadband signals at much higher speeds than traditional DSL.

DSL: DSL, which stands for Digital Subscriber Line, uses copper lines to transmit data via electricity. It is the most popular type of broadband used by ISPs because it utilizes existing copper phone lines.

VDSL: VDSL stands for Very High-Speed DSL. It uses twisted-pair copper wires over high frequency to provide high-speed Internet.

Fiber-Optic: Fiber-Optic Internet uses light and glass to transport data. It is widely considered the fastest and most reliable broadband solution in the telecommunications industry.  

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Fixed and Satellite Wireless*: Wireless Internet uses radio waves to transmit data from a tower to a home. Fixed Wireless Internet comes from wireless towers, similar to cell phone towers, that sends the signal to an antenna at your home. Satellite Wireless comes from orbiting satellites that transmit radio waves down to a Satellite Dish on your home, like Satellite TV.

*Wireless Internet and WiFi are two separate things


Attenuation: Weakening or loss of a signal.

Bandwidth: Bandwidth is the rate at which data transfers through your connection. It is measured in bits per second.

Binary:  A code of ones and zeros that builds everything you see online.

Bits: The individual ones and zeros that make up binary code. Represented as a lower case “b” when used to measure Internet speeds. As in KbpsMbps, and Gbps. 

Data: Anything sent or received over the Internet.

Download and Upload Speeds: Everyone uses the Internet in one of two ways, downloading or uploading. When you watch something on Netflix, you are downloading. When you upload a video to YouTube, you are uploading. Downloading and uploading are represented as so: download/upload Mbps.

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Gbps: Gigabits a second, or a billion bits per second.

Kbps: Kilobits per second, or a thousand bits per second.

Latency: The time (usually in milliseconds) it takes for data to leave your computer and travel over the Internet to its final destination.

Mbps: Megabits per second, or a million bits per second.

Ping: The measurement of latency between your computer and your data’s destination. 

Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Speeds: Speeds are either symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetrical speeds mean the upload and download rates are the same. Asymmetrical speeds have different download and upload rates.

SR360n Wireless Modem Angled

An example of a wireless modem.


Cable Modem Termination System: A CMTS acts as a very large router, providing Internet for everyone on the cable network. When the CMTS receives signals from a modem, they convert them into Internet Protocol (IP) packets and then distribute them across the web. When the CMTS sends a signal, it translates the transmission into something that can be sent to your modem.

CPE: CPE stands for Customer Premises Equipment. It refers to the equipment ISPs use to bring the broadband signal to a residence or business.

Modems and Routers: The modem brings the Internet signal into your home. The router then converts that signal into WiFi. Often, providers will use modem router combos.

Other Common Terms

Analog Signal: An electrical signal that alternates its voltage between positive and negative in a sine-wave pattern that represents the sound wave or video signal.

Digital Signal: Video or audio signal recorded as a series in binary code and transmitted electronically. 

Ethernet: Ethernet is used to connect devices on a Local Area Network or a Wide Area Network so that they can communicate. An Ethernet cord sends the Internet signal from your modem to your router, which allows your router to send out WiFi throughout your home.

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Firewall: Your network is a two-way street, meaning good and bad things can find their way through it. Firewalls protect your network from the bad stuff, like viruses, and let in the good stuff, like cat videos!

WiFi*: WiFi is your Internet signal, being sent wirelessly throughout your home network by your router.

There is More Where that Came From

If you want to learn more about how the Internet works, check out our Complete Guide to Fiber Optic Internet! It has a ton of great information about the Internet, Fiber, broadband access, and a helpful glossary to aid you in your broadband explorations.

An Extensive Guide to Fiber Optic Internet