The Optimum Home Internet Glossary
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"Run an internet speed test for bandwidth, then unplug your modem and wireless router for 30 seconds. After you plug them back in, contact your ISP to run a line test."
If you understand every word of these instructions, you'll be in reasonably good shape if you need to troubleshoot a home internet issue. If not, troubleshooting a home internet issue may feel complicated and even stressful.
That’s because unfamiliar terminology can turn one task (fixing your home internet) into two tasks (learning new words, and then fixing your home internet).
To help with the "learning new words" part, we put together this glossary. Read it, skim it, save it, and come back whenever you need.
HOME INTERNET CONNECTIONS & NETWORKS
What is a connection?
As simply put as possible, when one thing sends information and the other thing receives it, that’s a connection.
What is a network?
Whenever two or more devices connect to each other, that counts as a network.
With a definition that broad, it’s little wonder you see the term used so often and in so many different ways.
In your home, a network includes every device that's connected to or through the internet. Networks can also be gigantic, such as a cellular network that stretches all the way across the country (including within your home).
What is bandwidth?
"Bandwidth" refers to the amount of data signal your internet connection can send or receive at a given time. A lot of bandwidth means fast, easy data transmission. Low bandwidth can make your home internet connection slower and more halting.
Your actual bandwidth can change according to your connection speed, network capacity, number of devices using the internet, and data size. For example, streaming 4K video on multiple devices in one home can be taxing to your home internet bandwidth.
Depending on your internet service provider, bandwidth may also be reduced by your neighbors. If every single one of your neighbors uses the same network as you to stream 4K on multiple devices at once, it can reduce bandwidth for everybody. It works similarly to the way your home water pressure drops when somebody flushes the toilet while you're in the shower.
What is an ISP?
"ISP" stands for "Internet Service Provider" - obviously, we hope you'll choose Optimum, but other examples include Comcast, Turner, and Verizon. Whoever bills you for your home internet service each month is your ISP.
What is an IP Address?
The “IP” part of “IP Address” is an acronym for “Internet Protocol.”
It's kind of like an identification card that gains you admission to the internet. Every single connected device - on every single network throughout the entire internet - has a distinct IP Address. Without getting too technical, you need an IP Address to send or receive data. Each successful transmission is like a handshake between IP Addresses.
For regular home internet connections, you don’t really need to know your own IP addresses to use the internet, unless you’re involved in some fairly technical steps of networking or troubleshooting.
Think of your IP Address as the internet equivalent of the four additional routing numbers that come after a zip code. If you absolutely need to know it, you can look it up.
What is WiFi?
“WiFi” is short for “wireless fidelity,” and it’s a kind of data signal transmission that allows various devices to connect to the internet.
WiFi signals pass between a wireless router and any WiFi-enabled device in range. This connection is called a "wireless network." For data security reasons, most WiFi networks have a password.
So whenever you use a WiFi-enabled device in range of a wireless router, and connect to that router’s network by using its password, you’re accessing the internet through WiFi.
Many devices remember the passwords of the various wireless networks you’ve used, and can connect automatically when they detect a familiar WiFi network signal.
What is cellular data?
Cellular data is a different kind of wireless signal that can also be used to connect to the internet. Basically, it converts internet data into the same kind of signal traditionally used to connect phone calls through a cellular network.
These networks are often referred to by the name of the company that owns or uses them (Optimum, Verizon, Sprint, etc.), and/or by the technology behind the transmission capacity they offer (3G, 4G, LTE, 5G).
Cellular data has a much wider transmission range (nationwide coverage in many cases) than WiFi, but generally sends less data and isn’t as quick as WiFi. Using a cellular network to connect to the internet can also be costly, depending on whether your cellular plan includes unlimited data or not.
Interested in setting up an unlimited cellular data plan? Try Optimum Mobile.
What is Ethernet?
Ethernet is a kind of network connection that relies on cords rather than wireless signals. Before WiFi became prevalent, Ethernet was the primary method of connecting to the internet. Now it's mainly used in offices, campuses, libraries, and other large institutions.
An Ethernet cable looks like a thicker version of a “land line” phone cord, with a similar plastic clip on either end.
What is cable internet?
A "cable internet" connection implies that your home connects to the internet through a coaxial cable - the same kind of wire used to connect "cable TV." This type of cord sticks out of the wall. It's the one with a pointy wire sticking out of the end and a screw thread around the edges. For a home internet setup, this wire hooks up to a modem rather than a cable box or TV input.
What is fiber internet?
The "fiber" part of fiber internet is shorthand for fiber optic, which is a kind of wire that sends information signals using light rather than electricity. This transmission method is much faster than anything else.
You won’t see any fiber optic cables, but they are usually part of the extended network that connects your home to all the computers and servers around the world that make up the internet.
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HOME INTERNET HARDWARE
What is a modem?
In most cases, a modem is a little box with blinking lights that plugs into the wall near your home internet hookup - and it’s the reason why your home has the internet.
A modem translates all the data your devices send and receive into a format that can connect with the rest of the internet.
What is a router or a wireless router?
A router disperses internet data to and from multiple devices. It can do this by connecting to each device through wires, or, if it's a "wireless router," by transmitting a WiFi signal for wireless internet.
Usually in the home, the modem and wireless router are two components of a single, combined device. That's why the terms "modem," "router," and "wireless router" are often used interchangeably. They all describe that same blinking box.
What is a WiFi amplifier?
WiFi amplifiers boost the range and fidelity of wireless signals sent to and from a wireless router. Think of them as extra antennas you can add throughout the home to ensure that every device can connect to the internet in every room. You might not need one, but they can help strengthen your home WiFi connection.
What is a Hotspot?
A "hotspot" is a device that connects to your devices to the internet via cellular data rather than regular WiFi. This basically turns computers (or any other device) into smart cell phones when WiFi isn't available. Most recently, smart phones come with a hotspot feature built-in, but you can also purchase separate hotspot devices for more range and bandwidth.
HOME INTERNET DEVICES
What is an IoT device?
"IoT" is short for "Internet of Things." Any device that uses the internet in a limited fashion to be better at what it does - without accessing or browsing the whole internet - is an IoT device.
You might also hear IoT devices be called “smart” or “connected” devices as a stand-in for “IoT.” Popular examples include thermostats, video doorbells, refrigerators, washer/dryers, or any appliance with the ability to send timer alerts or be controlled remotely through an internet connection.
What is a digital assistant device?
Some home internet devices can serve as a digital command center for everything you do on the internet. These come equipped with a "digital assistant" feature that can coordinate across your computer, phone, TV, watch, or other IoT devices.
Digital assistant programs are usually associated with devices such as Google Home, Amazon Echo, or Facebook Portal. But they can also be hosted virtually on multiple devices at once, such as with Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa.
What is a video streaming device?
A video streaming device can be anything that transmits video from streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, etc.). Technically, your computer is a video streaming device.
But there are products that only stream video. Some of these are standalone boxes, such as a Roku, that connect your TV to streaming video via WiFi. Video game consoles can offer this function as well. There are also video streaming devices that can send video signals from a WiFi connected device such as a laptop, phone, or tablet to a larger TV screen, with the host device functioning like a digital remote control.
What is a Smart TV?
A Smart TV connects to the internet on its own, and can stream video directly without any need for an additional streaming video device. Smart TVs can also be connected to digital assistants, so you can tell your TV to turn on and play something without looking for the remote.
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