How to speak telecom jargon like a pro

Mike Butts profile image January 17, 2023 | 4 min read

Do you think cramming is what students do before exams? That POTS are what you cook in? Or that slamming refers to a poetry competition?

You may not realize these terms have multiple meanings. In fact, they’re all part of the telecommunication world’s jargon. And it can leave the uninitiated scratching their heads.

Common telecom terms

This brief telecommunications glossary will demystify some common telecom terms you may encounter when researching phone services and products. At the very least, it will help impress your Bellhead (old school phone employee) and techie friends.

  • Bandwidth. A term that’s often bandied about when someone is stretched to the limit: “I just don’t have the bandwidth to take on another project.” In telecom-speak, it refers to the transmission capacity of a computer network or other telecommunications system. A system needs sufficient bandwidth to transmit a signal without losing information or distorting it.
  • Broadband. Like a superhighway with vehicles representing different types of data, broadband refers to an integrated, high-capacity transmission technique that provides access to a range of services simultaneously: voice, high-speed data, video, email. The larger the bandwidth, the more data that can travel over it at maximum speed. Too little bandwidth and too much data can cause a traffic jam. At least it’s not the kind that will make you late for dinner.
  • BYOD. No, it’s not a typo on the invite to your friend’s birthday party. BYOD means, “Bring Your Own Device,” and is commonly used when employees are asked to bring their personal smartphone, tablet, or laptop to the workplace for easier collaboration. Some phone service providers also use BYOD to let customers know they don’t have to purchase new devices when signing up for phone service.
  • Cellular. You’re thinking of mobile phones, right? Not so fast; there are actually many other devices that can use cellular technology—from laptop computers to drones to luxury cars. They emit radio waves that are sent through the air, across a network of cell towers that receive and transmit communications.
  • Common carrier. This is a person or business that transports passengers or goods to the general public for a fee. So if you see this in your phone’s terms and conditions, it refers to your phone service company.
  • Cramming. In this case, cramming refers to customers being billed for enhanced features they didn’t order. Rest assured, Ooma will never do this.
  • Dial-around. Sounds like looking for a date in the rotary phone era, but this term actually refers to dialing an access code to bypass your chosen long-distance carrier to make cheaper international calls. Or they used to be cheaper. Depending on where you call, VoIP international calling rates may be less expensive.
  • Jitter. This could mean nervousness before a job interview or a phone call for a date, but in telecom jargon, it refers to undesirable interference in the transmission of data across the network. It also degrades your VoIP quality, the last thing you want if your nerves are on edge.
  • Phone line. What could be more straightforward? Nothing is as simple as it seems in telecom jargon. This obviously used to mean the literal phone line into your home, but with VoIP that’s not the case. Instead, think of a phone line as virtual access to your phone service provider’s network. A phone number is then assigned to that line. It becomes even more complicated for business, because you can have one phone line split between three or more users. And each user can get his or her own extension for that line.
  • Port. No, this doesn’t mean a harbor, though it does involve travel: Port lets customers know they can transfer (port) their phone number when switching to a new service provider.
  • POTS. When talking tech and not cooking, POTS is an acronym for Plain Old Telephone Service. It’s the traditional analog voice transmission system that relies on copper wires to connect callers. A POTS line is a single phone line with a single number, like a home landline phone or a dedicated fax line. Even some life-safety systems, such as fire alarms, elevator phones and building entry systems rely on POTS lines.
  • Presence. Some of us have it in spades; others wish they did. Applied to telecom, “presence” refers to a unified communications productivity feature that indicates the status and location of users as soon as they connect to the network. In other words, they know when you’re busy (and when you’re not).
  • Roaming. It’s the wanderlust young adults often feel, as well as the astronomical per-minute charges their cell phone service provider may charge them when they make or receive calls outside their home service area. Fortunately, these days most plans cover free calls within the U.S., so roaming rates seldom apply unless you’re making international calls.
  • Slamming. In telecom jargon, slamming refers to switching a customer’s long-distance service from one provider to another without the customer’s permission. Not cool—and against FCC regulations!
  • Telephone line test set. Also known as a butt set or lineman’s handset, this portable phone is used by line workers when installing and testing phone lines to make or butt into calls. An early version of a butt-dial.
  • Telephony. It’s not a kid’s word for the telephone, but the science of transmitting voice over a telecom network. When saying “telephony,” emphasize the second syllable so it rhymes with the name of the Greek goddess, Persephone.

That’s your short course in telecom jargon. Feel free to amaze and impress your friends at BYOB parties. Nope, that’s not a typo. And there won’t be a quiz. Enjoy.

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