People talking about the Internet can sound like they’re speaking a secret language. It gets even more arcane when Wi-Fi equipment enters the conversation, since so many devices and everyday routines depend on it. More homes and small offices are relying on their network connections to do business, go to school, apply for jobs or government benefits, watch shows and movies, play games…
So what does it all mean? All this Internet jargon is actually simple to understand. It just centers around a few central ideas, but knowing them can help you save money and get the most use out of your Internet plan.
Internet Service Provider
Your Internet service provider, or ISP, is the company that you get your connection from. Often, Internet plans are packaged together with cable or phone service, called “bundles.” Once you have Internet service, you get an IP address, which is how the Internet finds you. What type of Internet service you have depends on who is providing it.
DSL comes to you through your phone lines. Cable Internet transmits through TV lines and requires a cable modem that translates the data differently because it usually travels in larger bundles than DSL. Fiber optic travels through glass fiber cables and is usually found in urban areas. Satellite Internet is a form of wireless Internet that bounces the data to and from space.
Modem and Router
The modem is a small computer that translates data into everything you see on your screen, from websites to streams to games. The router shares this translation to multiple devices. Most units are modem-router combos, and usually also include a wireless router.
Your ISP will usually provide this piece of hardware, but you can also buy your own. There are also wireless modems and devices like TP links that get online without an Ethernet cable. Owning your own modem and router is especially important if you need to extend the reach of your WiFi signal, since you want to be sure your repeaters are compatible with your router.
Most questions about Internet equipment are actually about WiFi hardware. Wi-Fi networks are becoming more prevalent in every home and office, so it’s understandable that people want to know more. WiFi equipment isn’t as complicated as all the names and acronyms imply, and knowing what you need for WiFi is just a matter of knowing how you use your wireless access points.
These access points begin at your WiFi gateway router. What is a wireless gateway? Simply a fancy term for a WiFi router, which distributes wireless service throughout your home of office the same way an Ethernet router does. Most Ethernet modem-router combos have one built-in.
Sometimes wireless needs to be extended with antennas (called “extenders” or “repeaters”) that amplify the signal by passing it to preset points. They transmit data back and forth to the router, so it’s all on a single network. The provide secondary access points in places the main router can’t reach, called “dead zones.”
Voice-over-IP (VOIP) is becoming more prevalent in growing businesses because it is a flexible way to manage telephone service. It is telephone service offered through the Internet, and carries the signal as digital data rather than analog (like an old-style telephone).
Businesses with VOIP might have Internet voice equipment their service uses to accommodate a high number of telephone lines. Typically, this equipment includes a special phone that translates the data like a modem, or a headset that plugs into a computer which acts as a telephone.
VOIP is also hiding in plain sight in our homes and on our phones. Apps like Skype or Discord are VOIP-based and allow people from all over the world to talk to one another for just the price of an Internet connection, a computer, and a headset. These apps also allow video calls and conferencing, bringing togetherness for friends and loved ones who are far apart.
Most people think broadband is directly related to Internet speeds, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Data travels like traffic down the lines or through the signals that are carrying it to your modem. If there is a lot of data, it’s like cars in a traffic jam – it moves slowly. Broadband refers to how wide the signal is, or how much data it can handle before it gets jammed.
Most of the equipment that ensures your broadband is at its most efficient is already provided for you by your ISP – your modem, your service, and the infrastructure. WiFi repeaters and efficient use of them are the only extras you need to provide.
The more you know about the Internet, the more you will know about your own Internet. This will help you manage and use it to its highest capabilities. It will also make it easier to find the best plan available in your area.