Phone Glossary

There are many technical terms used in the mobile phone world. Here you'll find some of the key technical terms explained.

2G / 3G  This refers to 2nd generation and 3rd generation of mobile networks. 3G networks offer a much faster connection than 2G - with video calling, web browsing and multimedia downloads up to seven times faster than standard 2G networks.

3.5G  See HSDPA

4G  Fourth generation. The next generation of mobile communication standards. 4G offers data transfer speeds up to ten times faster than 3G. Currently only available to half the population. 

A2DP  Advanced Audio Distribution Profile - enables wireless Bluetooth streaming of music in stereo from your phone to compatible headphones or speakers.

Accelerometer  A movement sensor that enables you to control what you see on a phone’s display by moving the handset rather than pressing the keys.

Airtime  See Talk Time.

AMOLED  Active-matrix light-emitting diode. Screen technology offering improvements over LCD.

Amplified Sound  On some phones, handset and speaker volume can be amplified to help compensate for hearing loss. The level of amplication will sometimes be stated, for example, 'amplified by up to 30dB.’ 

Android  A smartphone operating system, and software platform based on Linux. Owned by Google, Android is one of the most common operating systems in smartphones. This OS is known as 'open source' meaning that it can be modified by developers. The different versions of Android are named after sweet treats, e.g. Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycombe, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean..

App  Short for application. Apps are computer programs that can be downloaded to smartphones and other devices to add functionality.

Band  Quad, Tri etc. The frequency bands on which a mobile phone is capable of operating.

BlackBerry  Smartphones characterised by their 'Qwerty' keyboards (see below) and push email teachnology. Blackberry smartphones run their own OS.

Bluetooth  Enables a wireless connection to other phones and devices such as headsets and computers over about 10 metres.

Camera  Resolutions of three and five megapixels (MP) are now commonly available with 8MP available on top models.

Candybar  A design of phone, which is a solid device with no moving parts except for the keypad buttons, and in some cases, the antenna. See Clamshell. 

Cell Phone  Another name for a mobile phone (US).

Clamshell  A phone that is divided into two equal halves with a hinge connecting the halves, so the phone can be folded in half to close when not in use. This type of mobile phone usually has the buttons on the bottom half and the screen and speaker on the top half. Some may also have a second small display on the outside.

Coverage  Areas where mobile phones can receive signal to make and receive calls etc.

CPW  The Carphone Warehouse - a popular, high street retailer of mobile phones.

Credit  Funds added to your phone to pay for phone calls or texts.

CSTN  Colour Super-Twist Nematic. An LCD screen technology developed by Sharp.

DECT  Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications, is a digital communication standard, which is primarily used for creating cordless phone systems.

Dongle  In the ‘mobile’ world the word dongle is used to describe the small USB device that enables laptops to use mobile broadband.

Dual SIM  A phone with a dual SIM facility enables users to have two phone numbers for the same phone. For example one could be used for work and the other for personal calls. They are not popular with phone networks, for obvious reasons!

Dual-band  Phones that can switch between two different bands of frequencies. Most phones in the UK are now dual-band, capable of switching between GSM1800 and GSM900 frequencies.

EDGE  Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution, is a fast 2G internet connection (3 times faster than GPRS) allowing you to surf the internet or download music more quickly. Sometimes called ‘2.5G/2.75G’

E-Ink  A new display technology used in electronic books and a few mobile phones such as Motorola’s F3. The advantages are its ultra-low power consumption and thinness, but resolution is not as good as LCD.

Emergency/SOS button   Typically, when pressed and held for a number of seconds, the phone automatically sends a pre-recorded SMS text message to a list of contacts and begins dialling each number in a call list until someone answers. 

Facebook  A social networking site on the internet.

Fall detector  A built-in sensor that automatically detects when the user has fallen and is motionless, triggering a pre-recorded alert message to be sent to a list of contacts.

Feature phone  The general term to describe phones that aren’t smartphones.

Femtocells provide mobile phone signal coverage in weak signal areas. In effect small transmitters, they connect to the phone network via broadband. Vodafone is currently the main UK supplier with its Sure Signal technology.

Frequency  See dual-band, tri-band and quad-band.

GB Gigabytes - a measurement of memory storage. 1GB is equivalent to 1024 MB. See also MB.

GPS Global Positioning System- technology which uses satellites to determine the location of your phone/device.

GPRS  General Packet Radio Service. Lets you download quickly to your phone. Unlike WAP over GSM, GPRS is always on and you are only charged for the volume of data you use instead of the time you are using the service.

GSM  Global System for Mobile Communications. A digital mobile phone communications standard used throughout Europe, and elsewhere around the world.

HAC  Hearing Aid Compatible. There are two sets of standards: an ‘M’ rating for acoustic coupling with hearing aids that do not operate in telecoil mode, and a ‘T’ rating for magnetic coupling with hearing aids operating in telecoil mode. A phone is considered hearing aid compatible for acoustic coupling if it has an ‘M3’ or ‘M4’ rating, and for magnetic coupling if it has a ‘T3’ or ‘T4’ rating. M4/T4 is the best possible HAC rating.

Handset  Another term for a phone.

Handsfree A safety feature that allows you to talk/use your phone without holding your phone, mostly used by drivers. Usually involves a separate accessory such as a Bluetooth earpiece. See also Speakerphone and Voice Dialling.

Haptic   Haptic feedback is usually in the form of vibration when you press a key or operate a function.

HD High Definition- An optical system that can produce images in higher resolution than standard. With mobile phones, HD usually refers to the quality of video recording. To be classified as HD, video quality must be 720p or 1080p (1280 x 720 pixels or 1920 x 1080 pixels screen resolution).

HSDPA (3.5G)  High-Speed Downlink Packet Access - An improvement to 3G networks - sometimes called 3.5G. It enables networks to provide fast data transfer and internet access at speeds of up to four to five times that of 3G.

HSUPA  High-Speed Uplink Packet Access. The converse of HSDPA, offering higher upload data speeds (useful for sending photos or video to the web). Not yet widely available in phone models or from phone networks.

HTML  Hyper Text Markup Language is the code in which web pages are written. To display ordinary webpages fully, a phone’s internet browser should support HTML or xHTML (designed for phones’ more limited capabilities).

IM  Instant Messaging. Internet text-based chat services, such as Windows Live, can now be accessed via your mobile using Mobile Instant Messaging (MIM).

IMAP  Internet Message Access Protocol. It is a method of accessing email that is kept on a mail server. Email stored on an IMAP server can be manipulated from a desktop computer at home, a workstation at the office, or via a laptop computer or mobile phone while travelling, without the need to transfer messages or files back and forth between these devices.

IMEI  The 15 digit IMEI number is the unique serial number of your phone.

I-mode  O2 branded service offering content and faster downloads than WAP.

IMSI  International Mobile Subscriber Identity - the IMSI uniquely identifies mobile subscribers to a mobile network and is stored on the handset’s SIM card. It enables phone networks to track the location of phones and to assign call charges.

Infrared  A wireless technology that enables connection to other infrared devices over short distances of a metre or so.

iOS Apple's operating system. This OS is known as 'closed source' meaning that developers cannot modify the system. iOS is only available on Apple devices, such as the iPhone or iPad. 

IP  Internet Protocol-  a set of rules for exchanging digital data. 

Internet Browser  Most phones support WAP - a streamlined version of HTML. Increasingly handsets offer full internet browsing, HTML and xHTML.

Java  Phones that support Java can install games and useful applications like Google Maps.

LCD  Liquid Crystal Display - a technology used in phone and TV screens.

MB Megabyte - A measurement of memory storage. A typical MP3 music track uses approximately 5MB of storage, a photo (depending on quality) can take between 1-5MB, while a 3 minute video uses around 35MB of storage.

Megapixel (MP)  A megapixel is 1 million pixels - a term frequently used to describe the resolution of a digital camera or camera phone.

Memory  Fixed, built-in to the phone, or expandable by using memory cards.

Memory formats  SD, microSD, TransFlash, miniSD, MultiMedia (MMC), MemoryStick Duo, Memory Stick Micro (M2). The main two in use are microSD and Memory Stick Micro. Sizes are increasing with cards up to 64GB commonly available.

MMS  Multimedia Messaging Service, commonly known as picture or photo messaging. MMS runs in conjunction with GPRS. This means you must have GPRS enabled in order to have the MMS service working.

MP3  A type of digital audio file used by computers and MP3 music playing devices.

MSN  Microsoft Network. MSN is Microsoft’s website that includes MSN Messenger - the popular Instant Messaging service. Renamed Windows Live Messenger in 2006, the name MSN is still widely used.

Music formats  Popular formats are MP3 (MPEG Audio Layer 3), AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) and WMA (Windows Media Audio). Sometimes refers to as codecs.

MVNO  A Mobile Virtual Network Operator is an organisation that provides a mobile (sometimes called wireless or cellular) service to its customers but does not have an allocation of spectrum (Ofcom definition). Companies such as Virgin Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Talkmobile use other companies’ phone networks.

Network operators  Companies such as Vodafone or Orange who maintain a network of mobile phone masts.

NFC  Near Field Communication enables wireless communication between two devices in close proximity to each other, usually by no more than a few centimetres. Currently being developed and used as a way of making payments by mobile phone.

Nomophobia  The fear of being out of mobile phone contact!

OLED  Organic Light Emitting Diode. Technology used in screens for mobile phones and portable media players.

OS  Operating System  The software which powers a phone. Advanced smartphones have OSs, see Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Symbian

PAC  Porting Authorisation Code. A special code provided by your current service provider that lets you move your mobile number to a new network. It takes up to 48hrs for this to take effect.

Pay-as-you-go (PAYG)  Service plans with no contract or line rental where you buy credit in advance for calls. Each network has its own pre-pay service.

PCS  Personal Communications Service or PCS is the name for the 1900-MHz radio band used for digital mobile phone services in Canada, Mexico and the USA.

PDA  A personal digital assistant (PDA) is a handheld computer, also known as small or palmtop computer. Some newer PDAs can also be used as mobile phones. 

PIN  Personal Identity Number. A four or eight digit code that is used to prevent unauthorised use of your phone.

Polyphonic ringtones  Realistic sounding tones - not just beeps.

Pre-pay  Another term for pay-as-you-go.

PUK  Your Personal Unlocking Key is an eight-digit number you’ll need to unlock your phone if you enter your PIN number incorrectly three times.

Quad-band  Phones that can switch between four network frequencies (850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz), which will work on networks worldwide.

QWERTY  The modern day keyboard layout on computers and some most smartphones. Devised in the days of typewriters, QWERTY was the layout which best prevented keys jamming when typing quickly due to common letters being well-spaced. The name is the first six letters on the keyboard.

RDS  Radio Data System. Used to send information such as track name and station ID over FM radio.

Roaming  Another term for using your phone abroad.

SAR  Specific Absorption Ratio, a measure of how much radiation a phone emits when signalling. The legal SAR limit in the EU and UK is set at 2.0 (W/kg in 10g of tissue). All phones are tested to ensure they comply before they can be sold in this country

SD Card Security Digital Card - a compact memory card with high capacity for storage. A typical example of 'external memory'. Although SD cards are available with up to 64GB of storage, phones tend to have a limit on the amount of external storage that can be used. 

Service Plan  A contract selected by subscribers when they purchase a pay monthly mobile phone, it usually consists of a base rate for network access and a the number of call minutes, text messages, or data access included in the contract price for each month.

SIM Card  A SIM card or Subscriber Identity Module is a portable memory chip used in mobile phones. The SIM holds personal identity information, phone number, phone book, text messages and other data. SIM cards come in different sizes; many new smartphones use a micro or nano SIM card. Feature phones tend to use standard size SIM cards. 

SIM-only  A network tariff where you only pay for the SIM card and the calls you use - usually on a one-month rolling contract. No phone is included with the contract.

Skype  Skype enables computer users to make free calls to other Skype users via the internet. Some phones now offer Skype features.

Slide phone  A handset which is divided into two, like a clamshell design, but slides open and shut rather than being hinged. The screen can be viewed when the phone is both closed or open.

Smartphone  A phone able to run operating software such as Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, or iOS. These operating systems offer the ability to add applications to enhance the phone’s functions.

SMS  Short Message Service. See Texting.

Speakerphone Built-in loud speaker/microphone that allows you to have a phone conversation without holding your phone.

Standby time  The time the battery remains charged while the phone is on, but not in use.

Symbian  Symbian OS is an operating system, used predominantly on Nokia smartphones. In June 2008 Nokia purchased the remaining Symbian shares it did not already own. In 2013, Nokia announced no longer be manufacturing Symbian phones.

T9  T9 stands for Text on 9 Keys. T9 makes it easier to type text messages by predicting what the user is typing. The system uses a built-in dictionary to recognise the most commonly used words for each sequence of key presses, plus new words can be added. It is used on phones from a range of manufacturers.

Talktime  The battery life while the phone is in use. Can also refer to the actual time spent talking on the phone with reference to your allowance of time available on your monthly phone contract (also known as air time).

Texting  A very popular way of sending short text messages of up to 160 characters, usually to another mobile phone. Also known as SMS (Short Message Service).

TFT  Thin Film Transistor - a technology used with some LCD-type screens.

Top-Up  Adding credit to your phone account - by phone using a credit card, using a voucher, the internet, or by other means.

Tone Control Extra feature on some phones, which enables you to adjust the bass and treble of the handset for a sound quality best suited to your individual hearing.

TrackID  A useful feature, and a currently free service, found on some Sony Ericsson phones. TrackID is a song recognition program developed by Gracenote. After recording a few seconds of any audio, the servers will return the artist and song title. Requires data access. Some Samsung music phones offer a similar feature.

Tri-band  Phones that can switch between three network frequencies (900MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz), which will work on some networks beyond Europe.

UMA  Unlicensed Mobile Access - a technology that enables mobile phone networks to utilize/connect to internet networks - usually via WiFi or Bluetooth.

UMTS  Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) is the term for third-generation (3G) mobile phone technology used in the UK.

USB  Universal Serial Bus. A type of connector or cable used to connect a phone to a computer. 

VGA  Video Graphics Array is a computing term. It has become adopted in the mobile phone world to describe a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels.

Voice dialling  Using your phone’s voice recognition technology to dial a number. Useful if you are driving or using the phone handsfree.

Voicemail  Another term for an answer machine message.

VoIP  Voice over Internet Protocol - is technology, such as Skype, that enables phone conversations to be carried via the internet.

WAP  Wireless Application Protocol. Utilising a streamlined version of HTML for viewing on small screen displays, WAP compatible mobile phones are able to access internet-type services such as news, travel, entertainment, finance and sport.

WCDMA  Wideband Code Division Multiple Access - An advanced 3G data transfer system allowing fast internet access and data transfer.

WiFi  Wireless connection to another device or a wireless local area network hotspot.