FAQs: Internet Terminology

It can be difficult understanding all the tech talk and terminology out there. Especially with new products and advancements happening almost daily. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common internet terms you may come across.

What is an ISP?

An ISP (Internet Service Provider) is the company, such as Whidbey Telecom, that brings the internet to your home or business. You may access a free ISP in the library, at work, or in a coffee shop. Or you may pay for a private ISP at home.

What is a modem?

Think of your modem as a bridge that connects your home network to the internet. A modem brings the internet indoors, while a router then distributes (or routes) the signal to the devices in your home.

The type of modem differs depending on your type of connection. Whidbey Telecom provides two types of modems. One for fiber service and the other for standard DSL.  When you subscribe to Whidbey Telecom internet service, we provide you with a modem to use.

For a great overview of the difference between a modem and a router, watch our Tech Tip video here.

What is a router?

The router sits between your home internet and your devices. It lets you connect multiple devices wirelessly, without a lot of cumbersome wires and cables.

You need a modem to access the internet, but you don’t necessarily need a router. You can use an ethernet cable to connect each device to the internet. But that keeps you tethered to one location. In this day and age, mobility is key. That’s why a WiFi router is important.

What is a Mesh Network?

In some case, one wireless router isn’t enough to cover an entire home. If you have multiple floors or a lot of square footage, your bandwidth decreases the further you move from the router. That’s when a mesh network would be ideal.

A mesh network like our HOP WiFi consists of one primary router and several satellites, or access points, that relay the wireless signal from one to the next, like a chain. The mesh network points communicate with each other, and there’s no loss of bandwidth. The signal is as powerful as if you were next to the primary router.

For more information on mesh networks, read this article by the New York Times.

What is bandwidth?

Speed and bandwidth are often talked about as if they were the same thing. Internet bandwidth refers to the maximum amount of data that can be transmitted over a network in a given amount of time. The higher the bandwidth, the more activity you can process at once.

For example, if you’re streaming Netflix in 4K on your TV while you download huge files on your PC, your online gaming experience will likely suffer. This is because you only have so much bandwidth, and you’re using most of it for streaming and downloading. Once you finish these activities, your bandwidth is freed up for other uses.

What does broadband mean?

Broadband is the transmission of wide bandwidth data over a high speed internet connection. Broadband provides high speed internet access via multiple types of technologies, including fiber-optics, cable (which use the same connection as cable TV), DSL (which use your existing phone line), wireless and satellite.

What is DSL?

DSL is an internet connection delivered via the type of lines traditionally used for landline telephones. The abbreviation stands for “Direct Subscriber Line.” Telephone lines are made mostly of copper. While copper is an ideal conductor, data cannot travel as quickly via telephone lines as it can with fiber-optic systems.

For a great overview of traditional DSL versus fiber-optic internet, watch our Tech Tip video here.

What is Fiber-Optic Internet?

Fiber-optic internet is an internet connection that transfers data via fiber-optic cables. “Fiber” refers to the thin glass wires inside the larger protective cable. “Optic” refers to the way the type of data is transferred; in this case, light signals. So a fiber-optic network is an internet network in which data is delivered in light signals via small, flexible glass wires.

More questions about fiber? Read the FAQs: Fiber-Optic Internet.

What is streaming?

Streaming refers to any media content – live or recorded – delivered to computers and mobile devices via the internet and played back in real time. Podcasts, webcasts, movies, TV shows, and music videos are common forms of streaming content. Hulu, Netflix, Sling, Spotify, and Amazon Prime Video are all examples of streaming services.

All you need to stream is a reliable and fast high speed internet connection, access or subscription to a streaming service or app, and a compatible device.

What is a blog?

Short for Web Log, a blog is a writer’s online column. Amateur and professional writers publish blogs on all kinds of topics: their hobby interests in art or cooking, their opinions on health care, their commentaries on celebrity gossip, photoblogs of favorite pictures, or tech tips like the Whidbey Telecom Blog.

What is the cloud?

The cloud is just a shorthand term for cloud computing. It refers to the idea of using someone else’s servers for storing data and running programs, as opposed to the local hard drive on your own personal computer. Dropbox and Gmail are all cloud services because remote servers handle the work instead of your PC.

What is spam?

Any unsolicited messages sent over the Internet, usually in bulk, are called spam. Usually, it’s electronic junk mail, but it’s also a technique hackers use to trick people into clicking links to their malware.

Email applications are reasonably good at identifying spam and should sift it automatically to a spam folder before you see it. Occasionally, the filters get it wrong and you may find a relevant email needs to be dragged back to your inbox.

What is phishing?

Phishing attacks attempt to steal sensitive information through emails, websites, text messages, or other forms of electronic communication. They often look to be official communication from legitimate companies or individuals. The phishing site typically mimics sign-in pages that require users to input login credentials and account information. The fake site then captures the sensitive information as soon as the user provides it, giving the attackers access.

Attackers will often use phishing emails to distribute ransomware through links or attachments in emails. When run, the ransomware encrypts files and displays a ransom note demanding you pay a sum of money to access your files.

For more information on how to recognize and respond to phishing attempts, read our blog article here.

What is malware?

Malware is a blend of “malicious” and “software.” It is a catch-all term for dangerous software. Viruses, trojans, ransomware, spyware, adware, and more are all types of malware.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the name for the expansion of internet connectivity to everyday devices, making them “smart” devices. This includes lights, thermostats, and even door locks. Unlike computers and phones that humans operate, IoT devices can communicate without our intervention.

For more information on “smart” home devices, read our blog article here.