3G / 4G: A general term that refers to new wireless technologies which offer increased capacity and capabilities delivered over digital wireless networks.
Air Time: Actual time spent talking on the wireless telephone. Customers are generally billed based on how many minutes of air time they use each month.
Analog: The traditional method of adapting radio signals so they can carry information. AM (Amplitude Modulation) and FM (Frequency Modulation) are the two most common analog systems. Analog has largely been replaced by digital technology, which are more secure, more efficient and provide better quality.
Antenna: A device for transmitting and receiving signals. Often camouflaged on existing buildings, trees, water towers or other tall structures, the size and shape of antennas are generally determined by the frequency of the signal they manage.
App (Application): Downloadable tools, resources, games, social networks or almost anything that adds a function or feature to a wireless handset which are available for free or a fee.
Base Station: The central radio transmitter/receiver that communicates with mobile telephones within a given range (typically a cell site).
Bluetooth: The code name for a new technology that enables mobile devices equipped with a special chip to send and receive information wirelessly. Using Bluetooth, electronic devices such as desktop computers, wireless phones, electronic organizers and printers in the 2.4 GHz range can “talk to” each other.
Broadband: [See Wireless Internet].
Cache (or “Cookie”): Many websites store the initial visit so that when the mobile device user visits again, the data from the same website can appear faster.
Carrier: Also known as service provider or operator, a carrier is the communications company that provides customers service (including air time) for their wireless phones.
CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access): A technology used to transmit wireless calls by assigning them codes. Calls are spread out over the widest range of available channels. Then codes allow many calls to travel on the same frequency and also guide those calls to the correct receiving phone.
Cell: The basic geographic unit of wireless coverage. Also, shorthand for generic industry term “cellular.” A region is divided into smaller “cells,” each equipped with a low-powered radio transmitter/receiver. The radio frequencies assigned to one cell can be limited to the boundaries of that cell. As a wireless call moves from one cell to another, a computer at the Mobile Telephone Switching Office (MTSO) monitors the call and at the proper time, transfers the phone call to the new cell and new radio frequency. The handoff is performed so quickly that it’s not noticeable to the callers.
Cell Site: The location where a wireless antenna and network communications equipment is placed.
Cell Splitting: A means of increasing the capacity of a wireless system by subdividing one cell into two or more smaller cells.
Channel: A path along which a communications signal is transmitted.
CMRS (Commercial Mobile Radio Service): An FCC designation for any wireless carrier or license owner whose wireless service is connected to the public switch telephone network and/or is operated for profit.
Co-Location: Placement of multiple antennas at a common site to reduce environmental impact and leasing costs, and to speed zoning approvals and network deployment. Some companies act as brokers, arranging cell sites and coordinating many carriers’ antennas at a single cell site.
Common Short Codes (CSC): Five– or six–digit numbers which allow wireless devices to send text messages for value-added services such as tele-voting campaigns, mobile coupons, charitable donations and other programs.
Congressional Budget Office (CBO): An independent office reporting directly to the U.S. Congress, that “scores” or measures potential costs to be incurred by the government of any legislation being considered before any committee in either body of the federal legislature.
Contract Plan (Post-Paid): The most popular cellphone plan in which a subscriber agrees to a contract for certain period of time, usually a year to two and in exchange, the carrier provides the customer with a lower monthly rate and subsidized handset. There may be a fee if you want to cancel the contract before it expires, also known as an “early termination fee.” CTIA developed a voluntary Consumer Code to help consumers make informed choices when selecting wireless service.
“Cyberbullying”: Annoying, threatening, harassing, humiliating or embarrassing messages sent to victims by kids or teens using a text, e-mail, instant message, blog, social network or the Internet generally.
Digital: Technology that converts signals (including voice) into the binary digits ‘0’ and ‘1’. This data is compressed, and then transformed into electronic pulses for a wired network, optical light waves for fiber optic networks or radio waves for wireless networks. Digital wireless technology is rapidly replacing analog, because digital offers better sound quality, more secure signals, more callers per cell site and faster data services.
Digital Download: A ringtone, application (or app), song, game, e-book, GPS, video, movie or tv show are all considered purchases of digital commerce. The user will download these goods or services via wireless or high-speed broadband, by purchasing that item from their wireless carrier or from an app store.
Digital Goods & Services Tax Fairness Act of 2011: This is bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress (Wyden-Thune, S. 971 and Smith-Cohen, H.R. 1860) intended to set a national framework for the one-time taxation of digital commerce. Currently, tax law allows consumers to be taxed for these purchases by multiple jurisdictions.
Department of Justice (DOJ): A U.S. government agency that serves as the chief law enforcement organization and central agency for enforcement of federal laws.
ESN (Electronic Serial Number): The unique serial identification number programmed into a wireless phone by the manufacturer. Each time a call is placed, the ESN is transmitted to a nearby base station so the wireless carrier can validate the call. The ESN differs from the Mobile Identification Number, which identifies a customer’s cellular phone number. MINs and ESNs are electronically monitored to help prevent fraud.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC): An independent U.S. government agency responsible with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. This includes all aspects of the wireless industry and such as devices, policies, programs and outreach initiatives.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC): The only federal U.S. agency with both consumer protection and competition jurisdiction in broad sectors of the economy. The FTC pursues vigorous and effective law enforcement; advances consumers’ interests by sharing its expertise with federal and state legislatures and U.S. and international government agencies; develops policy and research tools through hearings, workshops, and conferences; and creates practical and plain-language educational programs for consumers and businesses in a global marketplace with constantly changing technologies.
Filters: Most wireless carriers provide parents with the ability to filter Internet content accessed on a wireless phone on their network. [Also see Parental Controls]
“Friending”: Building your social network by accepting friends, family or acquaintances who ask to join your social network profile, particularly on Facebook, etc (See Social Network).
GPS (Global Positioning System): A worldwide satellite navigational system, made up of 24 satellites orbiting the earth and their receivers on the earth’s surface. The GPS satellites continuously transmit digital radio signals, with information used in location tracking, navigation and other location or mapping technologies.
GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications): A technology that works similarly to TDMA by dividing wireless calls into time slots. GSM is most common in Europe, Australia and much of Asia and Africa. But, GSM phones from the United States are not compatible with international GSM phones because they operate on different frequencies.
Handoff: The process when a wireless network automatically switches a mobile call to an adjacent cell site with a stronger signal.
Hertz: A measure of electromagnetic energy, equivalent to one “wave” or cycle per second.
Interconnection: Connecting one wireless network to another, such as linking a wireless carrier’s network with a local exchange network.
Interoperability: The ability of a network to coordinate and communicate with other networks, such as two systems based on different protocols or technologies.
LAN: Local Area Network (LAN) is a small data network covering a limited area, such as a building or group of buildings. Most LANs connect workstations or personal computers. This allows many users to share devices, such as laser printers, as well as data. The LAN also allows easy communication, by facilitating e-mail or supporting chat sessions.
Location Based Services (LBS): An information, advertising or entertainment service that uses the geographical position of a cellphone. CTIA developed voluntary Best Practices and Guidelines for Location-Based Services to promote and protect user privacy. (See Privacy Settings).
mHealth (Mobile Health):The use of mobile devices and technology in health care. This includes text message reminders to prompt them to take medication, follow a certain diet, engage in physical activity, check glucose levels, monitor blood pressure and more. It can also be used to monitor patients’ health and track and guide self-care beyond the doctors’ offices.
mLearning (Mobile Learning): Education that takes advantage of the opportunities mobile devices provides, including not being prohibited by location. This includes sending text messages for in-class participation or voting, accessing the mobile Internet for information or conducting homework assignments.
Megahertz: Megahertz (MHz) is a unit of frequency equal to one million hertz or cycles per second. Wireless mobile communications within the United States occur in the 800 MHz, 900MHz and 1900MHz bands.
MIN (Mobile Identification Number): The MIN, more commonly known as a wireless phone number, uniquely identifies a wireless device within a wireless carrier’s network. The MIN is dialed from other wireless or wireline networks to direct a signal to a specific wireless device. The number differs from the electronic serial number, which is the unit number assigned by a phone manufacturer. MINs and ESNs can be electronically checked to help prevent fraud.
MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area): One of the 306 largest urban markets as designated by the U.S. government, based on population. At least two wireless operators are licensed in each MSA.
MTA (Major Trading Area): A Personal Communications Services area designed by Rand McNally and adopted by the FCC. MTAs are usually several neighboring basic trading areas (BTA’s). There are 51 MTAs in the United States.
NAM: (Number Assignment Module) The NAM is the electronic memory bank in the wireless phone that stores its specific telephone number and electronic serial number.
Packet: A piece of data sent over a packet-switching network, such as the Internet. A packet includes not just data but also address information about its origination and destination.
Packet Data: Information that is reduced into digital pieces or ‘packets’ of bytes, so it can travel more efficiently across radio airwaves and wireless networks.
Parental Control Tools: Services offered by wireless carriers or third parties or built-in to a wireless device that allow parents to limit or monitor their child’s cellphone use. CTIA developed voluntary Guidelines for Carrier Content Classification and Internet Access.
PCS (Personal Communications Services): A two-way digital voice, messaging and data service, which operates in the 1900 MHz band. Considered the ‘second generation’ of wireless services.
PDA (Personal Digital Assistant): A portable computing device capable of transmitting data. These devices offer services such as paging, data messaging, e-mail, computing, faxes, date books and other information management capabilities.
PIN (Personal Identification Number): An additional security feature for wireless phones, much like a password. Programming a PIN into the Subscriber Information Module (SIM) on a wireless phone requires the user to enter that access code each time the phone is turned on.
POPs: For wireless, Persons of Population refers to the number of people in a specific area where wireless services are available. For traditional ‘landline’ communications, Point of Presence defines the interconnection point between the two networks.
Pre-paid Plan: This plan allows customers to purchase a pre-determined amount of minutes for a set price and then “re-fill” the minutes at the customer’s choice. Some prepaid plans include text messaging and other wireless data services. CTIA developed the voluntary Consumer Code to help consumers make informed choices when selecting wireless service.
Premium Text: Text to or from a commercial entity that delivers news, information, images, ringtones or entertainment for a fee above standard messaging rates.
Privacy Settings: Ability to determine how much personally identifiable information (PII) is shared digitally. Many wireless services and apps allow users to determine the PII available to third parties including friends, advertisers and the general public.
Public Service/Utility Commission (PSC/PUC): A state government’s agency responsible for regulating intrastate communications. Although many states preempt a PSC/PUC’s authority to regulate wireless, federal law permits non-preempted states to regulate a wireless carriers terms and conditions but not rates.
Rating System: A system for classifying and providing information about specific content such as games, music, TV, movies and apps. Wireless carriers and manufacturers may rate content or utilize existing rating system to help parents filter content available to children. (See CTIA Wireless Content Guidelines Classification Criteria).
Regressivity:If low-income and high-income individuals use a service or goods that are taxed at the same rate, low-income individuals are paying a higher rate of their income in taxes than the others.
Repeater: Devices that receive a radio signal, amplify it and re-transmit it in a new direction. Used in wireless networks to extend the range of base station signals and to expand coverage. Repeaters are typically used in buildings, tunnels or difficult terrain.
Roaming: When traveling outside their carrier’s local area, roaming allows users the ability to move from one carrier’s coverage area to another, without interruption in service or dropped calls.
RSA (Rural Service Area): One of the 428 rural markets across the United States, as designated by the FCC.
“Sexting”: The sending or receipt of inappropriate explicit or implicit sexual messages or images electronically, but primarily between cellphones. Parents are encouraged to monitor their underage children to prevent this sort of behavior, and all adults should remember to avoid participating in inappropriate conduct while online, particularly using mobile.
SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) Card: A small card that fits inside some cellphones and communicates with a wireless network using a unique code. A SIM card can be removed and transferred to another wireless device.
Smart Antenna: A wireless antenna with technology that focuses its signal in a specific direction. Wireless networks use smart antennas to reduce the number of dropped calls, and to improve call quality and channel capacity.
Smartphone: Wireless phones with advanced data features and often keyboards or touch screens. What makes the phone “smart” is its ability to manage and transmit data in addition to voice calls and text messages.
SMS: Short Messaging Service enables users to send and receive short text messages (usually about 160 characters) on wireless handsets. Available on many ‘second generation’ and all advanced wireless networks.
“SMSishing”: A combination of ‘Short Message Service’ (SMS) text messaging and email ‘Phishing’. It begins when you receive what appears to be a legitimate text message, but from an unknown number. If you respond, you could place yourself at risk for identity or information theft at the hands of crafty cyber thieves.
“SPAM”: Unsolicited and unwanted emails or text messages sent to wireless devices. While carriers are constantly filtering their networks to stop SPAM text messages, spammers are evolving and changing their methods to try to get through. If you receive a SPAM email on your mobile device, file a complaint with the FCC. The FCC’s CAN-SPAM ban only applies to “messages sent to cellphones and pagers, if the message uses an Internet address that includes an Internet domain name (usually the part of the address after the individual or electronic mailbox name and the “@” symbol)”. The FCC’s ban does not cover “short messages,” typically sent from one mobile phone to another, that do not use an Internet address. [Also known as SMSishing, spyware or malware]
Spectrum Allocation: Process whereby the federal government designates frequencies for specific uses, such as personal communications services and public safety. Allocation is typically accomplished through lengthy FCC proceedings, which attempt to accommodate changes in spectrum demand and usage.
Spectrum Assignment: Federal government authorization for the use of specific frequencies within a given spectrum allocation, usually in a specific geographic location. Mobile communications assignments are granted to both private users such as businesses, and commercial providers such as wireless and paging operators. Spectrum auctions and/or frequency coordination processes, which consider potential interference to existing users, may apply.
Spread Spectrum: A method of transmitting a radio signal by spreading it over a wide range of frequencies. This reduces interference and can increase the number of users on one radio frequency band.
Status Update: Publishing a personal message over a social network regarding an emotion, comment or information.
Text (Short Message Service/SMS): SMS enables users to send and receive short text messages (usually about 160 characters) on wireless handsets. Usually referred to as “text messaging” or “texting.”
Text4Baby: In an effort to help expecting and new mothers to increase the health of their babies, the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB) launched Text4Baby™.
Third-Generation (3G): A general term that refers to increased capacity and high-speed data (up to 2 megabits) via digital wireless networks. Tri-Mode Handset: Phones that work on multiple frequencies, typically in the 1900 MHz and 800 MHz digital, or the 800 MHz analog frequencies.
“Tweet”: Twitter is a social networking platform used predominantly via mobile device, that composes information or messages in a simple, text-like 140 character limit. When a user tweets a comment, unless account-protected the entire online community can access that tweet, and a friend or “follower” will find that comment in his/her timeline.
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol): VoIP is a two-way communication service that can allow users to communicate via voice or video. Based on Internet technology, VoIP is also used to transfer a wide range of different type traffic.
Voice Recognition: The capability for wireless phones, computers and other devices to be activated and controlled by voice commands.
WAP: Wireless Application Protocol is a set of standards that enables wireless devices, such as phones, pagers and palm devices, to browse content from specially-coded Web pages.
Wi-Fi®: Wi-Fi provides wireless Internet access to the immediate local area and is used in homes, businesses and other similar settings to allow people to go online without using a cord or wire. Wi-Fi offers local area connectivity to Wi-Fi enabled computers and devices, typically smartphones.
Wi-Max (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access): A wireless technology based on the IEEE 802.16 standard providing metropolitan area network connectivity for fixed wireless access at broadband speeds.
Wireless: General term for using radio-frequency spectrum for transmitting and receiving voice, data and video communications.
Wireless AMBER Alerts: Wireless companies have partnered with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Department of Justice to make AMBER Alerts™ available to wireless consumers via text messages. Wireless AMBER Alerts will significantly increase the reach of the overall AMBER Alert program, by informing people of emergency situations wherever they are.
Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN): Using radio frequency (RF) technology, WLANs transmit and receive data wirelessly in a certain area. This allows users in a small zone to transmit data and share resources, such as printers, without physically connecting each computer with cords or wires.
Wireless Tax Fairness Act of 2011: This is bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress (Wyden-Snowe, S. 543 and Lofgren-Franks, H.R. 1002) intended to place a five-year freeze on discriminatory, new state and local wireless taxes and fees; additionally, to set a national framework for the taxation of wireless services. H.R. 1002 was unanimously passed by the House as a voice vote in November, 2011. The legislation was scored at zero significant additional cost to government by the C.B.O. in July, 2011.