3G stands for the third generation of wireless telecommunications technology, which allows cell phones to access the internet (not through WiFi). It is an upgrade from the previous generation, 2G. The average speed of 3G is reported to be around 8Mbps.
4G stands for the fourth generation of wireless telecommunications technology, which allows cell phones to access the internet via mobile data. It is an upgrade from the previous generation, 3G. The average speed of 3G is reported to be around 50Mbps.
5G stands for the fifth generation of wireless telecommunications technology, and is the newest generation. 5G data speeds are yet to be confirmed since access is still very limited. However, carriers are promising speeds up to 20 times faster than 4G.
This feature allows smartphones to turn off cellular data and all wireless communications besides WiFi. It can be used when in-flight if an airline requests that all electronic devices be switched to this mode. Cellular texts and phone calls will not go through when this feature is turned on.
Google’s operating system (OS) for smartphones. Versions of Android have code names, as well. For example, Android 8 is “Oreo.” Android 9 is “Pie.” Apple is nearly the only smartphone company that does not use Android as the base for their OS. Samsung, LG, Motorola, HTC, and many others all include Google Android software on their devices.
A wireless radio frequency technology used to help connect computers, cell phones, and other devices together and communicate or transfer data across rooms. Bluetooth is included most smartphones and electronics, including speakers, headphones, car stereos, and even some televisions. There are several versions of Bluetooth, such as Bluetooth 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0. The range of wireless Bluetooth 5.0 could theoretically reach 800ft.
A type of high-speed internet. It’s also known as wideband transmission. ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, Google Fiber, and Verizon are all examples of companies offering broadband services.
Code Division Multiple Access is a type of digital cellular technology that is used by many U.S. cellular carriers, including Sprint, US Cellular, and Verizon Wireless.
The size and area cellular carrier networks can provide service. In the U.S., the big four networks, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, provide service across most of the country. For more information, read about the best coverage map.
Similar to throttling, this describes when internet and cellular providers reduce internet speeds, temporarily, of specific customers based on peak times of internet traffic to reduce congestion over networks. Carriers will usually deprioritize (or slow down) customers who have used more data, giving high-speed data access to those who have used less data that month.
Early Upgrade Plan
A monthly plan option that allows you to upgrade to new phones without any extra costs before an original financing agreement or installment plan concludes. Early upgrading extends the length of your original agreement and may cost more.
Picture characters used to express emotions when texting or chatting on the web.
An Apple application used on iPhones for video chatting with friends and family.
A plan used by cellular carriers to pay for devices on a monthly basis rather than up front. It’s also known as an equipment installment plan. Unlike leasing, you will be paying for a device in full, so payments are higher than they might be for Sprint Flex Lease options. A credit check is required and a down payment and interest can be required depending on your credit score.
One billion bytes or 1,000 megabytes of information. A gigabyte is used to measure the data size of computer files, internet content, and the general consumption of information over the internet.
Global System for Mobile communications is a type of digital cellular technology that is the international standard for many parts of the world, especially across Europe. AT&T and T-Mobile are the two cellular carriers that use GSM for cellular service.
The main screen of a smartphone that holds your most-used applications, as well as your phone, messages, clock, and anything else. This is the screen your phone immediately goes to when you turn it on or press the "home button."
See "Mobile Hotspot."
This describes the way cellular carriers charge customers every month for a phone.
Apple’s operating system which runs on all of their “i” devices, such as iPhones and iPads. Apple’s laptops and desktops run on macOS.
Internet Service Providers. AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Google Fiber are all ISPs.
Kilobytes per second. This can measure the speed of data over a network. 3G download speeds, for example, averages between 600kbps and 1.4Mbps.
Kilobyte or Kilobytes. A measurement of bytes. 1KB can equal 1,024 bytes (binary) or 1,000 bytes (decimal).
Leasing describes an alternative method of paying a cellular carrier for a phone. Rather than paying off a device with a financing agreement, a carrier will charge you a monthly fee for your phone for a specified amount of time (i.e. 18 months); but rather than owning a device at the end of the lease, you will have to return the device or purchase it for an extra fee. Sprint is the only U.S. carrier offering leases on phones through their Flex Lease program.
Milliamp hour, or mAh, describes a battery’s entire capacity for holding a charge. A 3,000mAh battery is generally a good minimum size for a smartphone battery.
One million bytes of information. A megabyte is used to measure the size of data size of computer files, internet content, and the general consumption of information over the internet.
One million pixels per inch. This describes the amount of visual information captured by a digital camera and also determines the resolution of each picture or image taken.
- A feature in a smartphone (or a device) that can be used to create your own personal WiFi hotspot or network for the purpose of connecting laptops, computers, or other electronics to the internet. These devices connect to your carrier network and use cellular data from your plan to connect to the internet. Some cell phone plans include 10GB of high-speed hotspot data, for example. Other plans may charge you by the MB or GB of data used during each session.
- Wireless networks available for the public (in businesses, restaurants, malls, etc.) may be referred to as mobile hotspots. These are wireless access points connected to traditional internet service providers.
Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO)
MVNOs are smaller networks that utilize larger carrier networks including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. These providers pay licensing fees to use carrier networks while providing plans, phones, and services to their own customers. They generally offer more affordable plans than larger networks. They’re usually prepaid plans that do not require a credit check or any contracts.
Near-field communications is a way for smartphones to communicate when proximate to each other (an inch or less). NFC technology is similar to Bluetooth but is meant for very proximate exchanges of information. It also supports secure encryption, so it’s perfect for use like mobile payment. This technology is standardized by the NFC Forum which was created by Nokia, Philips, and Sony in 2004.
Operating System (OS)
The main software program that boots when you turn on a smartphone or any other computer is known as its OS. This allows your hardware to operate via software communication. Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS both examples of a smartphone OS.
Prepaid describes cell phone plans where you pay for a cellular carrier’s service at the beginning of each month rather than at the end. This type of plans is better for temporary phone use, those who need more affordable service, for traveling, or people who would prefer not to go through a credit check for more premium service. They also are contract-free, which used to be their main selling point before postpaid carriers stopped signing customers to service contracts.
Transferring your phone number to a new cellular carrier. This is called “Porting in,” and is many times required for special promotions offered by cellular carriers in order to attract new customers.
Postpaid describes traditional cell phone plans where you pay for your cellular carrier’s service at the end of each month. It’s the most common way to receive cellular service, and AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular are the carriers that offer them.
Quick response code. Like a barcode, a QR Code is a two-dimensional barcode that can be scanned to read the information within it. It can store more information than a traditional barcode, so it’s more useful with the ability to embed internet URLs and other data. There are software applications capable of reading the information of QR codes through smartphone cameras.
Random access memory. This describes the system memory in a device.
Any piece of hardware, computer, or smartphone that is being sold as used. Many times refurbished implies they were repaired into working order. Cellphone carriers occasionally sell refurbished smartphones for heavily-discounted prices.
The ability to move around the country without losing connection. Some cell phone carriers offer unlimited roaming (with talk, text, and data) within the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. However, many cell phone plans restrict roaming or charge for specific roaming destinations. In the U.S., if roaming is done outside of North America, specific roaming terms and features vary between international roaming, global roaming, global texting, or even international voice calls.
The image quality of a picture or device’s screen measured using pixels. A standard image resolution is written with the total horizontal pixels first, followed by the vertical (i.e. 1920 x 1080 = 1080p/HD content) pixels. The higher the pixel count, the higher the resolution of the image or screen. A 4K video has 3840 x 2160 pixels.
Secure Digital cards are memory cards used to store files, generally for digital cameras and smartphones. MicroSD cards are smaller versions of these (15mm x 11mm x 1mm) that are designed to be inserted into some Android phones like Samsung Galaxy models for additional expanded storage of apps, photos, music, or any other files.
SIM or SIM Card
SIM stands for subscriber identification module. SIM cards are used to connect phones to GSM networks and store data (like phone numbers, identification, location, phone number, security keys, text messages, and digital contacts) for cellphones. They are also used to connect to 4G LTE networks. SIM cards come in three sizes: regular, micro and nano.
This describes the maximum length of time a phone will continue being powered by its battery when idle. For example: According to Samsung, the Galaxy S9 has a 3.5-day standby time.
The number of minutes a cellular offers for phone calls. This can describe minutes used in any capacity, including for international phone calls.
Cellular and broadband bandwidth throttling is the slowing of cellular data or broadband internet speeds. There are a number of reasons why carriers may throttle your data, including if you've reached your high-speed data cap for the month or if you're on an MVNO plan that just comes with slower speeds.
Universal Serial Bus. This is a port used to transfer data and charge devices. There are a myriad of USB port standards, including USB, Mini USB, Micro USB, and USB Type-C (or USB-C) that have different shapes to their external (male) plugs. USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 describe different technologies that transfer data at different speeds. Most new smartphones use Micro-USB, USB-C, or Apple Lightning cables for charging and data transfer.
User Interface (UI)
This describes how an individual interacts with a phone, computer, or a device, traditionally through software with graphics user interface.
Voicemail and Virtual Voicemail
An automated system used to record messages after incompleted phone calls. Smartphone features like virtual voicemail allow you to transcribe and listen to voicemails through a phone app rather than over the phone.
Voice over internet protocol. This feature allows you to make calls over the internet rather than your cell phone carrier. You can do this on a computer or a smartphone. Some larger carriers and MVNOs included this service as a feature, which can help save people money on long-distance calls. Depending on your internet connection, VoIP calls tend to have less reliability and lower audio quality than traditional phone calls made via cell towers.
A trademarked term for a wireless network used to connect to the internet via IEEE 802.11x. Wireless networks are broadcasted via routers or mobile hotspots and allow computers (and smartphones) to send and receive data between other wireless devices.