Internet 101: A Glossary of Internet Terms

Home internet is undeniably a very important part of modern life for many people. We rely on a strong internet connection for so many things—our jobs, our schooling, our hobbies, and just keeping up with what’s going on in the world. It makes sense that people want to do their research and choose the best internet that is available to meet their needs.

Choosing the right internet plan for you might involve understanding a wide range of different terms. Sometimes, it might be tricky to keep track of what all these terms mean. To help make things easier, here is a glossary of common internet terms you might want to know.

What is latency (or ping)?

Latency is the term used to describe the amount of time it takes for a connected device to send a message and get a response back. A shorter latency means a faster response from one connected device to another. Latency is especially important for things like online gaming, where quick reaction times are important. 

What are upload speeds and download speeds?

You’ll often see internet plans measured by download speeds and upload speeds. The download speed tells you how quickly you can move information from the internet onto your device. The upload speed tells you how quickly you can send information from your device out to other parts of the internet. 

What are Mbps?

Mbps stands for megabits per second. A megabit is just a measurement for an amount of data. Megabits per second tells you how many megabits of data on average will move each second.  For example, a download speed of 100 Mbps means that information can move from the internet to a device at a rate of 100 megabits each second. 

What is bandwidth?

Bandwidth is a term for the total amount of information that can be sent over an internet connection in a certain amount of time. Like download speeds and upload speeds, bandwidth is often measured in Mbps.

What is a modem?

A modem is a box that connects the devices on a home internet connection to the wider internet and vice versa. It works as a sort of translator of information that moves between your home connection and the internet at large.  

What is a router?

A router connects multiple nearby devices to form what is called a local area network (LAN). The individual devices on a LAN all connect to each through the router, usually using either Wi-Fi or ethernet cables. The router is also what connects all the other devices on the LAN with the modem. 

What is Wi-Fi?

Most of us have used Wi-Fi in our daily lives, but what exactly does that term mean? Wi-Fi is a standardized type of networking technology that uses radio waves to allow devices to connect wirelessly over a local area network (LAN). 

Sometimes, people will talk about Wi-Fi and home internet as if the two terms are interchangeable, but they are distinct concepts.  Home internet is an informal term used to describe a LAN in someone’s home, while Wi-Fi is a specific type of wireless technology used to connect devices on a LAN. There are other ways to connect to a home internet besides Wi-Fi, such as ethernet cables. 

What is a Wi-Fi gateway?

A router connects the various devices in your home, while a modem connects your router to the wider internet. A Wi-Fi gateway combines the functions of both a router and a modem into a single device. 

What is Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 is the most recent technology standard for local-area networks. If you see that a device, gateway, or router has a Wi-Fi 6 logo, that just means it’s capable of using the latest and greatest version of Wi-Fi. To learn more about the details of Wi-Fi 6, you might want to read this article.  

What are Wi-Fi extenders, Wi-Fi boosters, and Wi-Fi repeaters?

Sometimes, if you live in a large house, the signal from your router won’t be strong enough to provide a solid Wi-Fi connection across your entire home. This can lead to areas where the connection is bad, or even nonexistent. People sometimes call these areas Wi-Fi dead zones. A Wi-Fi extender is an accessory that can help solve this problem by connecting to your Wi-Fi network and rebroadcasting the signal to provide wider coverage. Two other terms for devices meant to solve the same problem are Wi-Fi boosters and Wi-Fi repeaters. 

All three of these are very similar devices, and the terms here get used rather inconsistently. Some will say that a Wi-Fi extender has a wired connection to the router, while a Wi-Fi repeater rebroadcasts the original signal wirelessly. Others will use the three terms interchangeably.  

That’s why if you’re shopping for one of these products, I’d recommend closely reading about an individual device’s features to make sure you’re getting what you’re looking for, rather than relying only on the terminology. 

What is a mesh network (or mesh Wi-Fi)?

A mesh network is different from a traditional Wi-Fi network in that it uses multiple connected routers to provide a home internet connection over a larger area. One router serves as the main router that connects to the modem. This router is often referred to as the base station. 

The other routers use Wi-Fi technology to communicate information between one another and broadcast information from the base station. These routers are often called nodes, or satellites. Some nodes might be out of the base station’s range, but the signal can still reach them without issues by travelling between the various nodes along the way. Think of it like a group of people at a dinner table passing the butter. The person on one end of the table might not be able to reach the other end, but if there are people in between, they can easily pass the butter until it arrives at its destination.   

What is a Wi-Fi hotspot?

A Wi-Fi hotspot is any location where a connection to the internet via Wi-Fi is available. That connection could be on a public Wi-Fi connection at a coffee shop, or it could be a private connection at your home. When many people talk about Wi-Fi hotpots, though, they are often specifically talking about mobile hotspots. 

What is a mobile hotspot?

A mobile hotspot is simply a Wi-Fi hotspot created on-the-go using some type of wireless technology. For example, some people will use their wireless phone plan to broadcast a Wi-Fi hotspot that they can use to connect their other devices to the internet. There are also hotspot devices that are designed specifically for this purpose. 

Two people in tent using a tablet

What is mobile broadband?

Mobile broadband is a type of internet service where customers can connect to the internet through a cellular network. This is the same type of internet people usually use when they take their smartphone on-the-go. It’s also the way that a mobile hotspot connects. In some cases, internet service providers will also use this technology to connect a router and provide home internet service over a cellular network.

What is DSL?

DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line. This is a somewhat older form of internet technology that works by transmitting data over traditional copper telephone lines. AT&T no longer offers DSL service, but faster, high-speed internet may be available in your area.

What is fiber internet?

Fiber optic broadband, sometimes just called fiber internet, is a type of internet service. Fiber internet works by sending information via light over tiny glass tubes called fiber optic cables, while traditional cable internet transmits information over copper wires. Fiber internet has the potential to transmit data at faster speeds than DSL or cable-based internet.

To learn more about the details of fiber internet and why you might want to use it, you can check out this article

What is cable internet?

Cable modem services, sometimes just called cable internet, is a type of broadband that works by using the same coaxial cables used for cable TV service. 

What is lag?

Lag is more of an informal term that people use to describe when something is delayed or “lagging” behind on the internet. It’s a popular term in gaming, because sometimes a person’s internet is slow enough that what they see on screen is slightly behind what is happening for most of the other players. In many cases, this problem comes down to latency, because the communication between the game’s server and the gamer’s computer is too slow. Many people might experience a similar problem with video calls, where the person on the other end of the call’s movements seem delayed.

Hopefully, you found this glossary helpful as you refresh your internet knowledge and potentially consider which internet service is best for you. If you’re interested in potentially considering internet service from AT&T, you can go here to visit the AT&T Internet website, or go here to see which plans are available at your address


This article is AT&T sponsored content written by Matt Johnsen, a TechBuzz contributor and AT&T employee. The statements in this article are his own and don’t necessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of AT&T.

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