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3Gstore Glossary

3Gstore helps all kinds of customers, from early adopters who have been using mobile broadband from the start to people who just learned of it from a Google search this week. Unless you're a tech junkie, chances are you've run across an unfamiliar word or two on your quest to learn about mobile broadband, and likely even gotten frustrated as a result.

To help make the process of learning about and using mobile broadband a little easier, we've put together a "3Gstore Glossary" that defines many of the common terms you'll see on our sites. These short and to-the-point definitions are perfect to reference while you're researching a product to purchase (what the heck is "Wireless N"?) or trying to make sense of a discussion on the EVDO Forums (why are the gamers talking about "ping time"?). Please note that this is not an encyclopedia and certainly is not intended to be the final word on any issue. For a more complete technological explanation of any of these topics, we recommend searching our forums or perusing Wikipedia's many resources.

1xRTT: 2G mobile broadband technology used by Sprint, Alltel and Verizon (aka “National Access”). Upload and download speeds average about 50Kbps - 100Kbps with bursts up to 144kbps, slightly faster than a standard 56K dial-up connection. In areas where 3G is not available, your Sprint/Verizon device (including aircards, USB modems, ExpressCards, phones, or embedded devices) will attempt to connect to the 1xRTT network. Generally, if your carrier has cell phone coverage in a particular area, there should be 1xRTT coverage even if 3G or 4G has not yet arrived there. 1xRTT is comparable to AT&T/T-Mobile's EDGE network.

2G: A broad term indicating the "second generation" of standards for mobile networking. Unlike their analog predecessors, 2G networks are digital. 1xRTT (Verizon and Sprint) and EDGE (AT&T and T-Mobile) are 2G networks.

3G: A broad term indicating the “third generation” of standards for mobile networking. 3G networks – including EVDO and HSPA - enable network operators to offer users a wider range of more advanced services while achieving greater network capacity through improved bandwidth efficiency.

3G Router: A networking device that accepts cellular modems as the source of internet connectivity. The router re-distributes the 3G/cellular signal so that multiple computers can connect either via WiFi or directly with an Ethernet cable. If you want to share the connection your 3G or 4G modem provides with multiple devices (including computers, gaming consoles, WiFi-enabled devices like the iPhone/iPad, etc), the easiest way to do this is with a 3G/4G router. “Standard” routers that you may have used in the past for DSL or cable connections are NOT equipped to accept cellular modems.

4G: A broad term used to describe all of the "fourth generation" advances in wireless technology that will eventually replace 3G technology. LTE is a 4G technology used by Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint; and WiMAX is a 4G technology used by Sprint and CLEAR.

4G Router: see "3G Router" above for base explanation. 4G routers can work with either 3G modems and newer 4G modems.

Aircard: While "aircard" is technically a trademarked name Sierra uses for many of their wireless modems, it is often used as a generic term for any wireless modem used to connect to a mobile broadband network (even by us!). Aircards come in several form factors: USB, ExpressCard, and PCMCIA.

Amplifier: A device used in conjunction with at least one antenna to boost cellular signal. Amplifiers are generally capable of improving signal strength better than an antenna alone. With a direct-connect amplifier, an outdoor antenna connected to one side of the amplifier draws in the signal, which is then boosted and pushed by the amplifier directly to the device (modem or cell phone) via a cable on the other side. Wireless amplifiers, or “repeaters”, utilize an indoor antenna to rebroadcast the boosted signal; multiple cellular devices can then all benefit from the boosted signal (see our "Repeater FAQ" to read more about repeaters).

Bandwidth: A measure of available or consumed data communication resources expressed in bits or multiples of it (kilobit/s, megabit/s etc). Internet service providers (ISPs) often impose a “bandwidth allowance” on the amount of data a user can receive and/or transmit in a certain amount of time to avoid overloading the channel (a 5GB monthly allowance is very common - for more info on how much data 5GB is, see our What Does 5GB Get Me?" chart).

Benchmark Test: AKA Speed Test. A tool used to test the performance of your internet connection. There are multiple sites such as speedtest.net that utilize servers located around the globe to communicate with your computer and determine the download (the speed of receiving data from the server to your computer) and upload (the speed of sending data from your computer to the server) speeds you are experiencing. Monitoring your speeds will help you determine if you are getting the most out of your internet connection.

Cat 5 Cable: A twisted pair Ethernet cable commonly used in computer networking, designed for less cross-talk between pairs, and allows transmission speeds up to 1 Gigabit Per Second. Cat 5 cable is often used to connect computers to a router if the computer does not have WiFi capabilities.

EDGE: 2G technology used by AT&T and T-Mobile. Upload and download speeds average about 50Kbps - 100Kbps, slightly faster than a standard 56K dial-up connection. In areas where 3G is not available, your HSDPA-enabled device (including aircards, phones, iPhones, or embedded devices) will attempt to connect to the EDGE network. EDGE is comparable to Verizon and Sprint's 1xRTT network.

Embedded Device: A 3G or 4G modem that is built into a piece of equipment like a router or laptop. Just like a traditional modem/aircard, you will still need to sign up for service with a provider (Verizon, AT&T, etc) in order to use an embedded modem. The Cradlepoint ARC Series and IBR COR routers are routers that have built in Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint 3G or 4G modems (making them all-in-one units, as opposed to purchasing separate modems and routers).

Ethernet Cable: See "Cat 5 Cable"

EVDO: AKA “Evolution-Data Optimized”. The mobile broadband 3G technology used by Verizon, Sprint, and Alltel. EVDO Rev-A provides typical speeds of 600-1400kbps download and 500-800kbps upload, with bursts up to 2000kbps.

Failover: A feature supported by many routers that enables the router to automatically connect to a backup internet source if the primary source fails. For example, a Peplink Balance 20 connected to a cable modem and a Verizon USB modem could be set up to use the cable modem as its primary source of connectivity but to automatically connect to Verizon mobile broadband if the cable goes out.

Grid antenna: A very large, high gain, highly directional, single band, cellular antenna. They can be highly effective for some users, but in most cases the potential benefits do not outweigh the difficulty in shipping, installing, and aiming the grid. 3Gstore does not sell grid antennas due to logistical reasons (they are extremely large and very expensive to ship) and because we find that the antennas we sell and/or an amplifier are a more appropriate solution in most cases.

HSPA: 3G technology used by AT&T and T-Mobile. Speeds are comparable to EVDO, with typical download speeds of 700-1700kbps and 500-1200kbps upload.

LAN: Stands for “Local Area Network” and indicates a computer network that spans just a small area, such as connecting computers in a home or small office. In a LAN, individual computers can share data and connections, including printers and Internet access. A LAN can be created with Ethernet cables or wirelessly with a router.

Latency: Latency refers to how much time it takes for a packet of data to get from one designated point to another. Latency can be affected by many factors, including the medium of transmission (e.g. if the data is being transmitted via satellite as opposed to fiber optic cable) and intermediate devices between the source and destination of the data (such as switches and bridges). Latency is rarely affected by the signal from cell tower; most latency is on the network after the cell tower. Also see “Ping Time”.

Load Balancing: With a load balancing-capable router, you can use multiple modems and balance the bandwidth burden carried by any one of them. This is a great solution for people doing heavy downloading or wishing to double their 5GB cap by using modems from multiple providers. Load balancing is NOT the same as aggregation/bonding, wherein the speeds from the modems are actually combined to make one faster link. For more information, read this article on the topic.

LTE: 4G mobile broadband technology used by Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint. Download speeds average 5-12Mbps and upload speeds average 2-5Mbps.

National Access: The name used by Sprint and Verizon for 2G 1xRTT connectivity.

Omni Antenna: An antenna that is capable of pulling in signal from 360 degrees – no aiming or knowledge of tower locations is necessary for it to be effective. Omni antennas are ideal when there are multiple towers serving your location. Check out several omni antennas at http://3gstore.com/antennas

Packet Loss: The loss of packets of information means that portions of what you were sending or receiving over the internet failed to go through. It can be caused by signal degradation, oversaturated network links, corrupted packets, faulty networking hardware, maligned system drivers or network applications, or normal routing routines. This can affect performance of gaming, VOIP, VPN, and streaming.

Passive Antenna Adapter: An antenna adapter cable that does not connect directly to an antenna port on a phone/modem (instead, it velcros to the device to passively provide a signal boost). While passive adapters do work, they do not perform as well as antenna adapters that plug directly into an antenna port.

Ping time: The amount of time in milliseconds that it takes for a target server to respond to a request. The longer it takes, the more your performance will suffer. Long ping times can affect gaming, VOIP, VPN, and streaming media. Also see Latency.

PRL: AKA Preferred Roaming List. The information within your cellular device that tells it which towers in any area are 'native' and which are 'roaming'. As coverage expands or changes, your PRL can become out of date because it won't know the correct status of nearby towers. It is a good idea to update your PRL periodically to ensure that you are able to connect to the nearest towers.

Repeater: A wireless amplifier that does not require a direct connection to the cellular device. The amplifier connects to two antennas: one outdoors to draw the signal in, and an indoor antenna to then broadcast the boosted signal. Multiple cellular devices can then benefit from the boosted signal at once. If your cellular device does not have an antenna port, a repeater will be your best option to improve signal strength. If you only need to boost the signal to one device and it has an antenna port, a directly connected amplifier is your best choice. See our "Repeater FAQ" to read more about repeaters.

RSSI: Stands for Received Signal Strength Indicator. This is a numerical representation of your signal strength in terms of dBm. It appears as a negative number and the closer to zero, the better the signal: -65 is much better than -85, which is better than -95. -80dBm is considered a solid 3G signal and at that level you are likely to be getting the maximum performance from your tower that you can get; for 4G, -70dBm is a good target. For more information and instructions on where to find your RSSI, click here.

Tethering: AKA “phone as modem” or PAM. Using your cell phone/PDA as a 3G or 4G modem by connecting it to a computer or router via USB or Bluetooth. Tethering typically incurs an extra fee from the provider and not all phones are tether-capable.

WAN: Stands for “Wide Area Network” and describes a network made up of two or more LANs. Computers connected to a WAN are often connected through public networks, such as a DSL line from the phone company.

WDS: Stands for "Wireless Distribution System". WDS allows you to connect multiple access points (such as a router) to a wireless network.

WiFi: A wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide wireless internet and network connections. Wi-Fi works with no physical wired connection between sender and receiver by using radio frequency (RF) technology. There are several industry standard wireless radio, the most common being "G" and "N".

WiFi-as-WAN (WAW): A feature available on many newer routers and wireless bridges that allows the router/bridge to use an external WiFi hotspot as the source of internet connection. Read more at the WAW Faq.

WiPipe (TM): Technology used by Cradlepoint in their routers that includes proprietary algorithms and functions to insure the best use of available bandwidth while delivering a responsive, uncomplicated user experience. Benefits include Traffic Shaping and added security. For more details, join the discussion at the WiPipe thread on EVDO Forums.

Wireless N: The latest WiFi radio technology. Wireless N allows for greater range, meaning you can be further from the router and still access its connection. If you have a Wireless N router, your wireless receiver does not need to be N to be compatible with and take advantage of the power of an N router (although having an N receiver will allow you to take fuller advantage of the improved range).

WWAN: Stands for "Wireless Wide Area Network" and indicates connectivity to the internet using cellular tower technology.

Yagi Antenna: A high-gain directional antenna designed to manage the power in the wanted direction and reduce it in unwanted directions. In order to use a Yagi antenna, you must know where the nearest tower is. If a Yagi is not aimed properly, it will lose its effectiveness. If there are multiple towers serving you or you are unsure of your tower’s location, an omni-directional antenna is a better solution.