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LetsTalk Wireless Glossary

Cellular terms got you confused? The wireless industry's jargon grows as fast as (if not faster than) its technology; here's your key to making sense of it all. Check out the top ten terms for Service Plans, Cell Phones, and Technologies below, or click here for the comprehensive alphabetical listing.

SERVICE PLANS

  1. Activation The process by which your account is created, your phone number assigned, and your phone programmed so that you can make and receive calls.
  2. Anytime Minutes Refers to minutes which can be used anytime, without regard to peak/off-peak, day/night, or weekday/weeknight restrictions. Usually a specified number of these minutes are provided with a wireless plan.
  3. Calling Plan Service agreement between wireless user and carrier outlining what services and features the user will be provided, i.e. caller ID and voice mail, a number of "free" minutes, and methods of payment and use.
  4. Cancellation Fee A fee charged for canceling a service agreement before the end date of the agreement.
  5. Contract Term Agreement between wireless user and carrier, requiring user to pay a set amount for a set length of time in exchange for the carrier's services. Often specifies a cancellation fee.
  6. Coverage Area Refers to the geographical area covered by a service provider's network, within which you can use your wireless device to send and receive calls or information. Coverage areas vary greatly from carrier to carrier.
  7. Off-peak The time of day or week when wireless services offer cheaper airtime rates, usually in the evenings or on weekends.
  8. Peak The time of day when wireless phone users are charged a higher rate for using their wireless services.
  9. Prepaid Cellular Allows for advance payment for wireless services. It can be a good solution for minimal users or credit-challenged individuals.
  10. Roaming Refers to using a wireless device outside the coverage area. Users are sometimes charged for this service, depending on their service agreement with the carrier.

CELL PHONES

  1. Alphanumeric Memory Dial Enables user to automatically dial from the phone's memory, either by selecting from a display of names and numbers or by recalling names using the letters on the keypad.
  2. Backlit Display The light built into the display screen that illuminates the screen for better viewing in low-light environments. There are two types of backlighting: indiglo, which provides soft blue-colored, glow-in-the-dark like lighting, and standard, which provides ordinary white-colored lighting.
  3. Dual Band Refers to certain phone models' ability to use both 800 MHz cellular and 1900 MHz PCS frequencies to send and receive calls; basically, the phone can operate in either digital cellular or PCS frequencies.
  4. Dual Mode Refers to certain phone models' ability to use both analog and digital networks to send and receive calls.
  5. Internet Microbrowser Part of WAP technology, it utilizes the cellular phone's screen to display web pages served in the wireless markup language.
  6. Signal Strength Meter Provides a visual indication of the relative strength of the cellular signal to ensure quality of the calls you place.
  7. Standby Time Refers to the amount of time that a phone will stay on and be able to receive a call. Wireless phones will use some battery power when in standby mode, but they use much more battery power when you are actually talking.
  8. Talktime The length of time a user can actually talk on their wireless phone without having to recharge their phone’s battery. A wireless phone uses more power when being used for talk time than it does when it is in standby mode.
  9. Tri-Mode The term for wireless phones that can operate on two digital frequencies and one analog frequency; in other words, phones with both Dual Mode and Dual Band capabilities.
  10. Vibration Alert Refers to the feature on some wireless phones and most pagers that makes the device vibrate, rather than ring, when receiving an incoming call or page.

TECHNOLOGIES

  1. 3G (Third-Generation) A term used to describe up-and-coming technology to provide wireless users with faster transmissions and the ability to roam globally.
  2. Air Interface A wireless network's operating system, enabling communication between a cellular phone and its carrier. The main interface technologies are AMPS, TDMA, CDMA, GSM, and iDEN.
  3. Analog (AMPS) Cellular network technology involving the modulation of radio signals, enabling information in the form of sound waves to be transmitted through radio signals. In contrast to digital technology, which allows upwards of 15 calls per channel, analog only permits 1 call per channel.
  4. CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) The wireless technology that temporarily assigns unique codes to digitized conversations; channels can carry up to 15 conversations at a time by distinguishing between these codes.
  5. Digital A method of encoding a transmission that involves translating information (in the case of digital phones the information would be a voice conversation) into a series of 0's and 1's. Digital communications technology offers cleaner calls without the static and distortion that is common with analog phones.
  6. GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) The digital wireless telecommunications standard used throughout Europe and Asia and in select areas of the U.S.
  7. iDEN (Integrated Digital Enhanced Network) Motorola's enhanced specialized mobile radio network technology that unifies two-way radio, telephone, text messaging, and data transmission.
  8. PCS (Personal Communications Services) A newer type of wireless communications service that relies on digital technology at 1900 MHz for the transmission and reception of digital voice signals, data, and messages.
  9. TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) The wireless technology that improves on analog by allowing up to 3 conversations to share a channel. It involves sending digital voice information over radio frequencies in timed intervals so that, when coordinated correctly, frequencies do not intersect and cause interference.
  10. WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) Enables users to securely access information directly from the Internet via handheld wireless devices like phones, pagers, and palm devices.



Alphabetical Listing

0-9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

0-9

3G (Third-Generation) A term used to describe up-and-coming technology to provide wireless users with faster transmissions and the ability to roam globally.

A

A/B Switching Designates your cellular phone's ability to switch between the "A" and "B" frequency bands, especially useful when roaming outside your home coverage area.

Abbreviated Dialing Enables frequently-called numbers to be dialed with an abbreviated numeric code rather than with the entire seven or ten digit sequence.

Access Fee A fee charged by the wireless carrier to access their local network.

Activation The process by which your account is created, your phone number assigned, and your phone programmed so that you can make and receive calls.

Activation Fee Most carriers charge their customers a one-time fee for activating wireless phones. This fee generally ranges from $0 to $50, depending on plan and carrier.

Advanced Mobile Phone Service See AMPS.

Air Interface A wireless network's operating system, enabling communication between a cellular phone and its carrier. The main interface technologies are AMPS, TDMA, CDMA, GSM, and iDEN.

Airtime The time spent actually talking on a wireless phone. Unless your plan specifies airtime minutes included with your access fee, every minute you talk is a minute you pay for. Peak period charges range from twenty to forty-plus cents per minute, varying by plan. Most carriers offer reduced Off-peak usage.

Alphanumeric Information composed of both letters ("alphas") and numbers ("numerics"). This term is most often used to describe the display capabilities of a wireless device.

Alphanumeric Memory Dial Enables user to automatically dial from the phone's memory, either by selecting from a display of names and numbers or by recalling names using the letters on the keypad.

AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone Service) The standard technology in North America for analog phones, first developed and implemented in 1983. See also Analog, D-AMPS, and NAMPS, or click here for more information on cellular networks.

Analog (AMPS) Cellular network technology involving the modulation of radio signals, enabling information in the form of sound waves to be transmitted through radio signals. In contrast to digital technology, which allows upwards of 15 calls per channel, analog only permits 1 call per channel. Click here for more information on cellular networks.

Antenna The component of all wireless devices that enables transmission and receipt of radio signals. Antennas are either built into the device or external to it.

Anytime Minutes Refers to minutes which can be used anytime, without regard to Peak/Off-peak, day/night, or weekday/weeknight restrictions. Usually a specified number of these minutes are provided with a wireless plan.

APC (Adaptive Power Control) Found on certain models, it reduces the phone's overall power consumption and increases the battery's charge life.

Authentication Phones with this feature verify the caller's authenticity with the wireless network to prevent fraud.

Automatic Answer A feature on certain phone models that allows for automatic answer after two rings. It's great for hands-free use while driving!

Automatic Call Delivery Enables receipt of calls outside of the local coverage area.

Automatic Redial Automatically redials for you if the system is initially too busy to handle your call.

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B

Backlit Display The light built into the display screen that illuminates the screen for better viewing in low-light environments. There are two types of backlighting: indiglo, which provides soft blue-colored, glow-in-the-dark like lighting, and standard, which provides ordinary white-colored lighting.

Bandwidth Refers to the amount of data that a set of frequencies can carry at one time. Greater bandwidth means less distortion and higher throughput on a transmission medium.

B-CDMA (Broadband Code Division Multiple Access) Developed by InterDigital Communications Corp, the broader bandwidth enables ISDN and bandwidth on demand, allowing services such as wireline quality voice, high speed fax, data and multimedia, including video. See also CDMA.

Billing Increments The rate at which carriers bill customers for airtime. Most carriers bill in increments of a minute; Nextel bills by the second after the first minute.

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C

Call Blocking Allows wireless phones to block incoming calls. Some phone models block specified incoming phone numbers, and others block incoming calls with blocked caller ID.

Call Forwarding Forwards calls automatically to a number of your choice; some carriers charge airtime during the forwarded call. Some people find convenience and savings in having calls forwarded to them at their desk telephone during work hours.

Call Restriction Enables a wireless phone to prevent certain types of calls from being made, i.e. permitting only local calls, or allowing only incoming but not outgoing calls.

Call Timers Enable users to keep track of the length of their wireless calls. Often multiple timers are available (i.e. last call, roaming calls, all calls).

Call Waiting Works just like your home phone-- a tone notifies you of another call trying to reach you. If you choose not to answer a Call Waiting, most services then forward the call to voice mail. If you don’t have voice mail, the second call goes unanswered.

Caller ID A feature that displays the caller's phone number in the wireless phone's display window.

Calling Party Pays (CPP) More common outside the U.S., a service offered by some calling plans in which the caller is billed and not the receiver; the user pays for calls received as well as for calls placed.

Calling Plan Service agreement between wireless user and carrier outlining what services and features the user will be provided, i.e. caller ID and voice mail, a number of "free" minutes, and methods of payment and use.

Cancellation Fee A fee charged for canceling a service agreement before the end date of the agreement.

Car Charger Accessory that enables a user to plug his/her wireless phone into a vehicle's cigarette lighter socket, the allowing phone's battery to charge continuously, even while in use. Also know as CLA, or Cigarette Lighter Adapter.

Car Phone A wireless phone located installed in a car. All of the phone's equipment is powered by the car's battery and the phone's antenna is located outside the car (like a standard radio antenna).

Car Kit An accessory for wireless phones, composed of an external speaker and microphone, that allows for hands-free talking while driving.

Carrier Also known as "service provider," the communications company providing services and plans for wireless phones.

CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) The wireless technology that temporarily assigns unique codes to digitized conversations; channels can carry up to 15 conversations at a time by distinguishing between these codes. See also B-CDMA, or click here for more information on digital wireless technologies.

CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data) Utilizes digital networks to transmit wireless data through larger-bandwidth networks in bursts called "packets," enabling more to be sent, faster and with more accuracy.

Cell Site Where a wireless antenna and network communications equipment is located.

Clone Refers to a wireless phone programmed with stolen data from a legitimate phone, allowing calls to be made under someone else's account. Theoretically, only analog phones can be cloned.

CMRS (Commercial Mobile Radio Service) FCC-designated term for any carrier operating for profit or whose wireless network is connected to the public switched telephone network.

Code Division Multiple Access See CDMA.

Collocation Refers to concentration of several carriers' antennas in one place, reducing both real estate cost and environmental impact.

Conference Calling More sophisticated plans let you concurrently speak with as many as five people at once while also enabling private conversation with any one participant. See also Group Call.

Contract Term Agreement between wireless user and carrier, requiring user to pay a set amount for a set length of time in exchange for the carrier's services. Often specifies a cancellation fee.

Coverage Area Refers to the geographical area covered by a service provider's network, within which you can use your wireless device to send and receive calls or information. Coverage areas vary greatly from carrier to carrier.

CPNI (Customer Proprietary Network Information) Refers to the data possessed by a carrier regarding specific customer usage. This information is confidential and the FCC has forbidden carriers to use that information for marketing purposes.

Cradle A device in which a wireless phone can be placed to prevent it from sliding around in a moving vehicle.

Crosstalk Mainly associated with analog phones, refers to the sound quality distortion resulting from a signal leak from one channel to another.

Customer Care (also called "Customer Service") is offered by many carriers, and can be anything from general information hotlines to phone repair or 24 hour service.

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D

D-AMPS (Digital Advanced Mobile Phone System) Ericsson Inc. uses this term to describe the technology known as IS-136 time division multiple access. See also AMPS and TDMA.

DCMA (Dynamic Channel Multicarrier Architecture) Based on a carrier's requirements, this technology can configure the bandwidth and number of voice and data channels for specialized mobile radios and radio networks.

Dead Spot Refers to an area within the larger coverage area where service is not available due, for example, to tunnels, heavy foliage, or a strong electric field.

Digital A method of encoding a transmission that involves translating information (in the case of digital phones the information would be a voice conversation) into a series of 0's and 1's. Digital communications technology offers cleaner calls without the static and distortion that is common with analog phones.

DMN (Digital Multi-Network) An acronym referring to dual band and dual mode wireless phones.

Downlink A term describing the path of telecommunications signals from a satellite to a point on Earth.

Drive Test A method for measuring the strength of telecommunications signals in a given coverage area.

Dual Band Refers to certain phone models' ability to use both 800 MHz cellular and 1900 MHz PCS frequencies to send and receive calls; basically, the phone can operate in either digital cellular or PCS frequencies.

Dual Mode Refers to certain phone models' ability to use both analog and digital networks to send and receive calls.

Dual/Multiple NAM (Number Assignment Module) Refers to the ability of certain phone models to be assigned more than one number; the cellular user selects which phone number he/she wants active at a given time.

Duplex Also "full duplex," a term describing a telecommunications system that can simultaneously handle the transmission and reception of signals, i.e. your wireless phone. In contrast, a two-way radio is not duplex as it only allows transmission in one direction at a time.

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E

E911 A wireless 911 service being developed that will automatically provide the caller's identification and geographic location to the 911 call center, facilitating police and rescue service dispatch to the scene.

Encryption A method of coding or "scrambling" an electronic message such as a digital phone message or an email.

End Key A button on a wireless phone's keypad that ends a phone call.

ESMR (Enhanced Specialized Mobile Radio) Digital mobile radio networks which provide two-way radio, voicemail, and cellular data, e.g. Nextel.

ESN (Electronic Serial Number) Refers to the unique identification number programmed into a phone by its manufacturer; when a call is made, the ESN is utilized by the carrier to verify against fraud and bill to the proper account.

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F

FCC (Federal Communications Commission) The government agency that is responsible for the regulation of the communications industry.

First Incoming Minute Free Some wireless calling plans do not charge for the first minute of an incoming call.

Flash Memory Refers to the ability of certain phone models to retain stored memory data even when without power.

Follow-Me-Roaming Refers to the automatic forwarding of incoming calls to a phone that is roaming outside of its local coverage area, without having to first be acknowledge by the carrier.

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G

Group Call A feature unique to Nextel phones, Direct Connect Group Call is similar to conference calling but allows up to 100 people to join the conversation; the initiator of the call is charged a per-second fee for each caller involved.

GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) The digital wireless telecommunications standard used throughout Europe and Asia and in select areas of the U.S. Click here for more information on digital phone technologies.

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H

Handoff Refers to the process when a mobile phone call is automatically switched from one cell site to another as you move between coverage areas.

Hands-free Refers to devices that allow you to talk without holding the phone in hand.

Hard Key As compared to the multi-function Soft Key, this button will always perform the same function.

HDML (Handheld Device Markup Language) Derived from HTML, defines hypertext-like content and applications for handheld wireless devices.

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I

iDEN (Integrated Digital Enhanced Network) Motorola's enhanced specialized mobile radio network technology that unifies two-way radio, telephone, text messaging, and data transmission.

Internet Microbrowser Part of WAP technology, it utilizes the cellular phone's screen to display web pages served in the wireless markup language.

IS (Interim Standard) Designated by the American National Standards Institute, refers to a wireless industry protocol, as in IS-95 (TDMA).

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L

Landline Refers to traditional cable and wireline phone systems or services.

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) The flat screen on wireless phones or pagers used to display numbers and/or characters, depending on technology.

Lock Device Enables the cellular user to lock his/her phone while not in use, preventing others from using the phone without knowledge of the unlock code.

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M

Microcellular This technology directs cellular signals to various isolated locations, enabling cell sites to have greater coverage.

MIN (Mobile Identification Number) Refers to the unique number assigned to all wireless units, i.e. your phone number, used to identify the unit within a wireless carrier's network.

MTSO (Mobile Telephone Switching Office) Processes traffic back and forth between cell sites and the public switched telephone networks.

Multiline Display Refers to the ability of some wireless phones and pagers to display two or more lines of text concurrently.

Mute Control Enables the user to silence the microphone; muting lets you say things you don't want the other party to hear.

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N

NAM (Number Assignment Module) Memory-storage of the phone's number and ESN.

NAMPS (Narrowband Advanced Mobile Phone System) Technology that combines cellular voice processing with digital signaling so that AMPS technology has a greater capacity and increased functionality. See also AMPS.

Narrowband PCS The newest paging networks that includes two-way and "wireless answering machine" paging.

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O

Off-peak The time of day or week when wireless services offer cheaper airtime rates, usually in the evenings or on weekends.

OTASP (Over-The-Air Service Positioning) Refers to the wireless carrier's ability to add new services to a wireless device without requiring physical access; this means services can be added to your phone remotely.

P

Paging Refers to a wireless device's ability to receive numeric or alphanumeric messages.

PCS (Personal Communications Services) A newer type of wireless communications service that relies on digital technology at 1900 MHz for the transmission and reception of digital voice signals, data, and messages. To read more about cellular networks, click here.

PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) Refers to a portable, wireless device that can transmit and receive data.

Peak The time of day when wireless phone users are charged a higher rate for using their wireless services.

Personal Communications Services See PCS.

PIN (Personal Identification Number) A code used to prevent unauthorized use or fraud.

Prepaid Cellular Allows for advance payment for wireless services. It can be a good solution for minimal users or credit-challenged individuals.

Private Call Found only on Nextel phones, refers to a person-to-person two-way radio call. Contrast to a Group Call, during which the conversation is audible to all involved parties.

When the person you are trying to reach is unavailable, or you don't want to disturb them, use Private Call. Push the alert button on your phone, and the recipient's phone will chirp (as opposed to a constant ring): an onscreen notification appears, alerting them you wish to talk.

PTN (Personal Telephone Number) An acronym used by Nextel, referring simply to your mobile phone number.

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R

Repertory Dialing See Abbreviated Dialing.

Roaming Refers to using a wireless device outside the coverage area. Users are sometimes charged for this service, depending on their service agreement with the carrier.

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S

Scratchpad Memory A feature found on some wireless phones that enables a user to store a phone number during a call.

Send Key A button found on a wireless phone's keypad that initiates a call after the number has been dialed.

Signal Strength Meter Provides a visual indication of the relative strength of the cellular signal to ensure quality of the calls you place.

Sleep Mode Enables automatic power switch-off when the wireless device has not been used for a certain time period, thereby conserving battery usage. The power switches back on if the phone receives an incoming call or if any button on the keypad is pressed.

Smart Antenna This wireless technology would reduce interference and dropped calls while also improving the quality of calls and the capacity of various channels. The antenna focuses its beam on a desired signal in order to reduce interference and it would be used at wireless network base stations.

Smartphone Refers to a class of wireless phone that can handle data in addition to its voice capabilities.

SMS (Short Messaging Service) The service that allows you to receive short text messages on a wireless phone.

Soft Key A multi-function button designed to perform whatever function concurrently appears on the display screen; compare to Hard Key.

Speed Dialing See Abbreviated Dialing.

Spread Spectrum Originally used by the military, this technology reduces interference by "spreading" radio signals over a greater bandwidth than necessary.

Standby Time Refers to the amount of time that a phone will stay on and be able to receive a call. Wireless phones will use some battery power when in standby mode, but they use much more battery power when you are actually talking.

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T

Talktime The length of time a user can actually talk on their wireless phone without having to recharge their phone’s battery. A wireless phone uses more power when being used for talk time than it does when it is in standby mode.

TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) The wireless technology that improves on analog by allowing up to 3 conversations to share a channel. It involves sending digital voice information over radio frequencies in timed intervals so that, when coordinated correctly, frequencies do not intersect and cause interference. Click here for more information on digital wireless technologies.

Termination Charges Refers to the fees a wireless phone company must pay to terminate calls on another carrier's wireless or landline network.

Third-Generation See 3G.

Time Division Multiple Access See TDMA.

Toll Charges Synonymous with long-distance charges.

Toll-Free Calling Areas Refers to the geographic area in which wireless calls can be made without incurring long-distance charges.

Transportable Phone A phone that is essentially a car phone and comes equipped with the headset, handset, battery, antenna, and adapter all packaged in a portable carrying case. The phone can function when plugged into a car's cigarette lighter or when attached to a portable battery pack.

Triangulation The "old-fashioned" method of tracking an individual caller's location by using a compass, map, and radio receivers.

Tri-Mode The term for wireless phones that can operate on two digital frequencies and one analog frequency; in other words, phones with both Dual Mode and Dual Band capabilities. See also DMN.

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U

UHF (Ultra High Frequency) Refers to radio frequencies that range between 300 MHz and 3 GHz.

Unified Messaging Software technology enabling Internet service providers and wireless carriers to manage the flow of voice messages, fax messages, e-mail, and other data from any phone, PC, or information device.

Uplink A term describing the path of telecommunications signals from a point on Earth to a satellite.

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V

Vecoder/Vocoder ("Voice Coder") Enables conversion of voice data into digital signals for transmission via digital wireless networks.

VHF (Very High Frequency) Refers to radio frequencies that range between 30 MHz and 300 MHz.

Vibration Alert Refers to the feature on some wireless phones and most pagers that makes the device vibrate, rather than ring, when receiving an incoming call or page.

Voice-Activated Dialing Enables the wireless phone user to place a call by speaking the name of the person being called rather than dialing the number.

Voice Mail Also known as voice messaging, voice mail is an automated answering service that picks up calls when a user is unable to answer the phone. Voice mail generally enables users to save, delete, reply to, or forward voice messages.

Voice Recognition The technology found on some wireless phones, PCs, and other communications devices that enables them to respond to spoken commands.

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W

WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) Enables users to securely access information directly from the Internet via handheld wireless devices like phones, pagers, and palm devices. Click here for LetsTalk.com's comprehensive WAP reference.

Wireless Technology that uses radio frequencies for the reception and transmission of voice, data, and video communications.

Wireless Carrier A company that provides wireless users with all their telecommunications services.

Wireless IT (Wireless Information Technology) The way in which computer technology is managed, controlled, and repaired through the wireless network.

Wireless LAN (Local Area Network) A network that uses wireless transmissions like radio signals to connect data tools and devices.

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X

XDSL Technology that enables subscribers to access voice and high-speed data transmissions simultaneously over traditional ("landline") copper wires.

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