Telecommunications Terms. A Glossary for Telecommunications Terms and Acronyms.


Telecom Terms and Acronyms You Should Know

Prior to the internet, wireless and high speed communications, "fax" and "vcr" were the buzzwords of the day. Now terms and acronyms enter our vocabulary on a monthly (if not daily) basis. Here is a short list of terms and acronyms that are essential lingo in today's telecom and techno world.
If you can’t find the term you’re looking for here. Try Newton’s Telecom Dictionary or check out an online technical dictionary called Techtionary.

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ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode)

Very high speed transmission technology. ATM is a high bandwidth, low-delay, connection-oriented, packet-like switching and multiplexing technique. 

ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee)

It’s not really a word, but an acronym for the Advanced Television Systems Committee. ATSC is a committee formed to establish voluntary standards for advanced TV systems, focusing on digital television, broadband multimedia communications standards, and interactive systems. ATSC has 54 members including television networks, producers, trade associations, members of the academic community, plus others.


This is very important and can be confusing for someone new to higher education.  In a nutshell, it means that the coursework meets specific academic requirements Programs can be regionally or nationally accredited so check with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) for more information.  Most often, tuition assistance is available for regionally accredited colleges and universities and coursework taken from regionally accredited colleges and universities is more readily transferable than that taken from schools that are not regionally accredited.

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In a hierarchical telecommunications network the backhaul portion of the network comprises the intermediate links between the core network, or backbone, of the network and the small sub-networks at the "edge" of the entire hierarchical network. For example, while cell phones communicating with a single cell tower constitute a local sub-network, the connection between the cell tower and the rest of the world begins with a backhaul link to the core of the telephone company's network (via a point of presence).


The width of a communications channel. In analog communications, bandwidth is typically measured in Hertz. In digital communication, bandwidth is measured in bits per second (bps).


A short-range wireless connection standard. Its aim is to link a wide range of computers, electronics and telecoms devices. The technology uses a low-power, two-way radio link, which is built into a microchip. The Bluetooth standard is allowing for greater wireless internet capability in the office and for consumers.


In telecommunications, broadband means a wide range of frequencies over which information can be transmitted.

 A simple way to compare broadband and narrowband Internet connections is to picture a highway. Only one car can travel at a time on a one-lane highway (narrowband). However, when a highway is six or eight lanes wide (broadband), more traffic can drive on the road at the same time. 

 Think back to when you had a dial-up Internet connection. Now think about the Internet today. You have ‘always-on’ data connections that enable you to access multiple media sources and a wide range of information at the same time. That’s broadband.


‘Triple-play’ and ‘quad-play’ are ways that telecom companies package (bundle) their services. While they used to only offer home telephone service, they now provide home phone, Internet connection, television and maybe even cell phone service. 

Each telecom carrier offers different products and services so their packaging is different. Some even establish relationships with other companies to deliver services. For example, Century Link partners with DIRECTV to offer satellite TV services to its customers. 

Expect to see more bundling in the future. Who knows, there may even be a quint-play on the horizon.   

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CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access)

 CDMA is a channel access method used by different radio communication technologies- one way to understand CDMA is to think of a party where everyone is talking at the same time. Lots of confusion, right? CDMA assigns different codes to each group of users, so other groups hear just noise-- and tune out.

CLEC - Competitive Local Exchange Carrier

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened the door to competition for local phone service. This act mandated that the Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILEC) such as Verizon, Bell South, or SBC provide the necessary interfaces so that CLECs could provide seamless local service. For example, MegaPath is a CLEC.

CPE (Customer Provided Equipment)

Telephone equipment (key systems, PBXs, answering machines, etc.) which live on the customer’s premises. 

CSP (Communication Service Provider)

An umbrella term used to describe both traditional providers of communication services (ie: telecom) and alternate providers such as cable TV companies and other over-the-top providers.

CSR - Customer Service Record

A copy of how your telephone records appear in your local carriers' database. It contains information items and charges such as: type of service, federal access charge, number portability charge, calling blocks on the line, 911 charge, etc. It is the "snapshot" of your entire service for each line.


A company that is authorized by regulatory agencies to operate a telecommunications system.  Examples include AT&T,  Alltell, and Verizon.

Central Office (CO)

In almost every neighborhood there is a windowless building that houses the switching equipment that connects your telephone to your neighbor's telephone or routes your call to another central office for long distance calls. This building is called the central office. The central office has switching equipment that can switch calls locally or to long-distance carrier phone offices. 


Collection of technologies through which businesses or consumers pay to use software that lives in another company’s data center. The benefit is that server capacity can increase or decrease in response to customer demand, freeing companies from having to invest as much in hardware and ultimately saving them money.

This relates to telecommunications because the information in the cloud is accessed through broadband connections. Cloud computing is driving large volumes of new traffic across telecom networks and making businesses increasingly reliant on telecom services. 

A report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project explains further.

A wide variety of players is rushing to exploit these business opportunities in the new evolving Cloud ecosystem. Over-the-top (OTT) providers (for example, Google and Amazon), system integrators, pure Cloud providers and many others seem eager to grab a slice of the Cloud pie. Also, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) have recognized Cloud as a source of new revenues. A number of them have made offering Cloud-based services to clients an integral part of their business strategies.

Collective Bargaining

A negotiation between an employer and a trade union.


In telecommunication and computing in general, a connection is the successful completion of necessary arrangements so that two or more parties (for example, people or programs) can communicate at a long distance. Connectivity can be tied to both hardware and software. 


The tendency for different technological systems to evolve towards performing similar tasks. A great example of this is smartphones.  Not only can you make calls, you can also use them as a personal computer to surf the web, send text messages and monitor your home security system. 


A value that is assigned to a class and/or degree that is often related to how often the course meets, how much content is covered, and the number of student outcomes.

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DAC (Digital Analog Converter)

A device which converts digital pulses (ie: data) into analog signals so that the signal can be used by analog devices such as phones. 

DC Power Plant

Each Central Office houses an AC power plant as well as an AC/DC converter that runs the majority of the telecommunications equipment. Some Central Office Technicians focus on keeping these power plants running efficiently 24/7.

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)

The technology used between a customer’s premises and the telephone company to support the transport of higher bandwidth digital signals on the copper twisted wire pairs already in place as part of the telephony infrastructure. Also known as generic name signifying the family of Digital Subscriber Line technologies including ADSL, HDSL, VDSL, etc.

DSO, DS1 & DS3 (Digital Signal 0, 1, 3, etc)

Different levels of digital hierarchy for the amount and speed of data carried on a circuit. The fundamental speed level is DS-0, which is a voice grade channel.  

DWDM (Dense Wave Division Multiplexing)

The higher-capacity version of WDM, which is a means of increasing the capacity of fiber-optic data transmission systems through sending many wavelengths of light down a single strand of fiber.


 A portable mobile broadband adapter connected to a laptop or PC via a USB port.  

What a weird word!  

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Ethernet is a standard for using various transmission media, such as coaxial cables, unshielded twisted pairs, and optical fibers.

*definition from TIA

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This is a Verizon product.  Learn about FIOS here. 


 Think "Fiber to the ____".  In the acronyms above, the ____ is Cabinet, Home and Business and relate to optical fiber extentions. Translation?  Access networks that consist of optical fiber from the exchange to the cabinet//home/business. 

Facility (facilities)

A facilities person assigns the cable or fiber pair numbers. The facilities assignment refers to where the telephone number starts in the central office and the route it takes from the central office to the end address (includes those boxes you see on the side of the street).


Femtocells enhance coverage and capacity inside buildings which means fewer dropped calls.  This has potential to allow cell phone calls to travel over the internet.

“Femtocells. They will be everyplace. And the cheaper they are, the easier to install. the better coverage you get.”

- Ivan Seidenberg, CEO Verizon

Fiber / Fiber Optic Cable

Transmits light signals along glass strands, permitting 10-100 times faster transmission than traditional copper wire.  What this means to the consumer, is faster, more efficient cell phones and Internet connections. 

You may hear FTTH (fiber to the home), FTTP (fiber to the premises).  Those terms simply mean – how close the fiber comes to a building, house…end user.  The closer it comes, the faster the connection. 


A firewall is a part of a computer system or network that is designed to block unauthorized access while permitting authorized communications. It is a device or set of devices which is configured to permit or deny computer based application upon a set of rules and other criteria.

Launch Video


A rack to which telecommunications equipment is mounted.  You will see these in Central Offices. 

Frame Relay

The standard for high-speed data communications, offering users transmission speeds of 2.048 megabits per second and higher. It allows faster speeds than the X.25 packet switching standard because it does away with elaborate error-correction and routing information. Its main application is interconnecting local area networks.

Functional Areas

These are different areas of a business.  Most businesses consist of a number of different departments, each of which has a specific job or task to do - these are called 'functions'. There are certainly more than what are shown here but this simple diagram will give you an idea of some functional areas. 

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HCS (Hierarchical Cell Structure)

Hierarchical Cell Structure: the architecture of a multi-layered cellular network where subscribers are handed over from the macro to the micro to the pico layer, depending on the current network capacity and the needs of the subscriber.

HD Voice

 A technology that provides better audio quality by delivering at least twice the sound range (wideband) of a traditional (narrowband) telephone call. 

HDSL (High Bit Rate Digital Subscriber Line)

This is digital access technology typically used by businesses.  It requires two copper wire pairs (or in some cases fiber) but doesn’t require complex engineering and installation. 

HSPA (High Speed Packet Access)

 Often referred to as 3.5G, this is an extension to the original 3G standard providing significantly higher data rates.  HSDPA (downlink) can provide theoretical maximum downlink speeds of 168 Mbps. HSUPA (uplink) supports maximum uplink speeds of 22 Mbps. 


Hypertext Markup Language. The authoring language used to create web pages for the World Wide Web. HTML identifies each element of information in a document using HTML "tags" surrounded by the < and > signs. HTML also allows for links to other webpages on the same server or somewhere else on the internet. The software (browsers or email programs) then converts the contents to a suitable format for viewing.

HetNet (Heterogeneous Network)

A heterogeneous network is a network connecting computers and other devices with different operating systems and/or protocols.

*definition from Wikipedia

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IP Address

An IP address is a 32-bit number that identifies each sender or receiver of information that is sent in packets across the Internet. When you request an HTML page or send e-mail, the Internet Protocol includes your IP address in the message (actually, in each of the packets if more than one is required) and sends it to the IP address that is obtained by looking up the domain name in the Uniform Resource Locator you requested or in the e-mail address you're sending a note to. At the other end, the recipient can see the IP address of the Web page requestor or the e-mail sender and can respond by sending another message using the IP address it received.

An IP address has two parts: the identifier of a particular network on the Internet and an identifier of the particular device (which can be a server or a workstation) within that network. On the Internet itself - that is, between the router that move packets from one point to another along the route - only the network part of the address is looked at. 

* definition supplied by

IPTV (Internet Protocol Television)

Digital television delivered over the Internet.  It can be accessed through a closed or public network, with a computer or a set-top box capable of processing the video streams.  This is in direct competition with traditional cable and broadcast television.  IPTV can be bundled with VoIP and Internet access for a triple play service, increasing the competition that other television providers face. 


This is an incredibly important part of the communications industry.  Roughly 25% of all telecom workers are involved with telecom infrastructure – in its simplest terms, infrastructure includes the pieces and parts that make sophisticated communications systems work.

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L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol)

Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol is an IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) standard tunneling protocol for VPNs. ISPs use this to provide secure, node to node communications in support of multiple, simultaneous tunnels in the core of the internet or IP based networks.

LAN (Local Area Network)

Locally owned and administered network for data communications that provides a relatively high bandwidth over a limited geographic area for communication between attached devices (typically personal computers and servers). LANs are most often at a customer site. An Ethernet is a common example of a type of LAN.

LATA - Local Access and Transport Area

Geographic area covered by one or more local telephone companies, which are legally referred to as local exchange carriers (LECs). A connection between two local exchanges within the LATA is referred to as intraLATA. A connection between a carrier in one LATA to a carrier in another LATA is referred to as interLATA. InterLATA is long-distance service. The current rules for permitting a company to provide intraLATA or interLATA service (or both) are based on the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

LTE (Long Term Evolution)

LTE is a broadband access technology that enhances the ability of mobile users to access larger amounts of data. LTE operates on a lower frequency of 700 MHz giving it enhanced signal range and building/obstacle penetration.  AT&T and Verizon Wireless are building their 4G networks with LTE technology.

This is a big deal because for the most part, consumers want more and more data.  In fact, a recent IBM report shows that when people are asked what they would be least likely to cut back on to save money - people chose mobile phones and broadband Internet only after their homes. 

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MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service)

 The standard in mobile messaging services, adding photos, pictures and audio to text messages. 

MUX - Mulitplex

To transmit two or more signals over a single channel. In the world of CAT5 the explosion of choices that digital TV is bringing the multiplex means to offer subscribers a choice of various starting times for movies and events. 

Mobile Broadband

Wireless high-speed internet access through a portable modem, telephone or other device.

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A telecommunications network is a collection of terminals, links and nodes which connect together to enable telecommunication between users of the terminals. Networks may use circuit switching or message switching. Each terminal in a network must have a unique address so messages or connections can be routed to the correct one.

*Wikipedia definition

Network Operations Center (NOC)

A network operations center (or NOC, pronounced "knock") is one or more locations from which control is exercised over a computer, television broadcast or telecommunications network. 

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This acronym stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. Many types of technicians need to be familiar with products from various manufacturers.


Electronic testing device that can display wave forms and other information on a TV-screen like cathode ray tube.  As basic fixture in sci-fi movies. 

Outside Plant

Refers to all of the physical cabling and supporting infrastructure (such as conduit, cabinets, tower or poles), and any associated hardware (such as repeaters) located between a demarcation point in a switching facility to another switching facility or to a customer premises. 

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Private Branch Exchange Digital or analog telephone switchboard located on the customer premises and used to connect private and public telephone networks.

PBX (Private Branch Exchange)

A private (as in owned by the telephone company) exchange (as in the Central Office). A PBX is a small version of the phone company’s larger central switching office.  In other words, an analog telephone switchboard located on the customer premises and used to connect private and public telephone networks. 


A general term for all equipment used by a telephone company to provide telecommunications services. In the telecom business, plant comes in two variations – inside and outside plant.  Inside is in a building.  Outside is outside the building – on poles, in the ground.


At a customer’s location/premises.  This could be anything from an office to a factory to a home. 

Prior Learning Assesment (PLA)

The process by which a student's former learning, both formal and informal is tested and evaluated for possible academic credit.  Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) can include:  transfer credit, school-sponsored challenge exams, standardized national exams developed by CLEP and DANTES, ACE (American Council on Education) recommended credit and portfolios.

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RBOC (Regional Bell Operating Company)

There are seven (also known as Baby Bells) which own the local exchange carriers in the US following the divestiture/breakup of AT&T ('Ma Bell') in 1984.

Regionally Accredited

The determination by one of six regional accrediting bodies in the United States that a college or university meets a set of quality standards; the six regional agencies include: 

  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

See the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) for more information.

Remote Access

Check out this CenturyLink video to better understand Remote Access.


Telecommunications companies that purchase network capabilities from external sources and resell those services to private households or businesses. 

Routing / Router

The process of selecting paths in a network along which to send network traffic. Routers are the equipment used to make this happen. 

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SDH (Synchronous Digital Hierarchy)

SDH and SONET are essentially the same thing. Standard multiplexing protocols that transfer multiple digital bit streams over optical fiber using lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Lower rates can also be transferred via an electrical interface.

*definition from Wikipedia

SONET (Synchronous Optical Network)

A family of fiber optic transmission rates created to provide the flexibility needed to transport many digital signals with different capacities and to provide a design standard for manufacturers. 

SS7 (Signaling System Number 7)

An international, standard, set of telephone signaling protocols which are used to set up most of the world's public switched telephone network telephone calls. The main purpose is to set up and tear down telephone calls. 


Satellite telecommunications establishments are made up mostly of government and private organizations that transmit a variety of data through satellites, including photos of the earth, messages to and from public safety officials, and a variety of other information. Direct-to-home satellite TV providers, however, are classified with wired telecommunications.

Service Management System (SMS)

A highly reliable computer system that is connected to telecommunications Network systems.  


A smartphone is a mobile phone on steroids. It offers more advanced computing and connectivity than a contemporary basic ‘feature phone’. Smartphones can be thought of as handheld computers integrated within a mobile telephone.


The joining of two or more cables together by splicing the conductors together.  In copper wire telephone cables, splicing is on a mechanical basis and pair-to-pair, with the pairs organized by binder groups and color codes.  In optical fiber cables, the splicing is fiber-to-fiber, with the fibers organized by ribbon or colored buffer tube and color code.  Fiber optics splicing may be either mechanical splicing or fusion splicing. 

Switch - switching

A device that channels incoming data from any of multiple input ports to the specific output port that will take the data toward its intended destination. In the traditional circuit-switched telephone network, one or more switches are used to set up a dedicated though temporary connection or circuit for an exchange between two or more parties. On an Ethernet local area network (LAN) a switch determines from the physical device (Media Access Control or MAC) address in each incoming message frame which output port to forward it to and out of. In a wide area packet-switched network such as the Internet, a switch determines from the IP Address in each packet which output port to use for the next part of its trip to the intended destination.

* definition from

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TIRKS (Trunks Integrated Record Keeping System)

An operations support system developed by the Bell System during the late 1970s. It was developed for inventory and order control management of interoffice trunk circuits that interconnect telephone switches. It grew to encompass and automate many functions required to build the ever-expanding data transport network. Supporting circuits from POTS and 150 baud modems up through T1, DS3, SONET and DWDM, it continues to evolve today, and unlike many software technologies today, provides complete backward compatibility. TIRKS is in use at AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, and Cincinnati Bell Telephone.


Transmitting signals over a distance in order to communicate. The classic ‘tin can’ telephone is a very simple telecommunications system. 

Emerging technologies have brought us far from that model. Today’s communication could be via telephone, television, radio, satellite, wireless network, computer network, telemetry, or other means.  

These technologies, plus many more are converging—you can access the Internet, play videos, or track your children's movements via global positioning system (GPS) technology on your cell phone—so the lines between telecommunications and other industries like computer hardware, application software, consumer electronics and entertainment are getting blurrier all the time.

Telecommunications systems

Networks of leading-edge technologies such as fiber optic systems, satellites, wireless, telephony, and cable, which are connected to computers that allow organizations and individuals throughout business and industry to communicate instantaneously around the world.


A device that receives calls and allows them to be transmitted to the next local calling area, thus avoiding toll or access charges.

Trunk / Trunking

A communication line between two switching systems.  The term switching system typically includes equipment in a Central Office and PBXs. A tie trunk connects PBXs.  Central office trunks connect a PBX to the switching system at the Central Office. 

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AT&T U-verse is a VDSL service offered by AT&T in various parts of the United States. It provides broadband internet access, TV, and phone through a fiber-to-the-node communications network.

See a video from AT&T about their UVerse product here. 

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The acronym VIVID includes each component of the evolving communications industry:  Voice, Information, Video, Infrastructure & Data.  Check out our Industry Overview page to see some of the vivid components of telecom in action.

VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)

Harnesses the power of broadband internet connections to allow consumers access to telephone services over the internet. In other words, your words get converted into data signals and travel over the internet. Once they get to their destination, they are converted from data signals back into analog signals and transmitted.

Upgrades in technology helped combat problems with early VoIP, such as poor quality and availability of service.  Today’s VoIP is a viable competitor to traditional telephony. As businesses continue to cut costs and limit travel budgets, expect to see the use of VoIP increase. 


 VoLTE, or Voice Over LTE is similar to VoIP- but goes one step further. Instead of using the hardware at the ends of the call (the phones), VoLTE offloads the heavy lifting to the network- creating VoIP HD. Beyond a crisp and clear sound, VoLTE includes the ability to cancel echos and background noise on the back end, not the handset itself *.

*definition taken from


For more information, check out this video on Verizon's 3G and 4G network- it includes an overview of VoIP and VoLTE


Audible communication over a traditional land-line, wireless cellular or smart phone or even through a computer via VOIP.

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Wide Area Network (WAN)

A computer or communications network that covers a geographic area which is larger than a business campus. Usually, the dividing line between a local or campus network and an Wide Area Network is a router. On the local or campus side, the transmission lines in a network (copper or fiber) are usually owned by the enterprise. On the WAN side, the lines are typically owned by a carrier and leased to an enterprise. 

By far, the most familiar – and largest WAN is the Internet.


Wireless telecommunications carriers provide telephone, Internet, data, and other services to customers through the transmission of signals over networks of radio towers. The signals are transmitted through an antenna directly to customers, who use devices, such as cell phones and mobile computers, to receive, interpret, and send information.


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3G and 4G

These terms refer to third- and fourth-generation cellular wireless capabilities. 3G and 4G networks allow mobile and smart phone users to access more information and services on their devices faster. It’s because of these technological advances that you can video chat, watch Internet TV, play online games, download videos and listen to streaming music on your phone. Simply put, 3G and 4G allow you to do more.

Both 3G and 4G—now enhanced by LTE technology—are available across most of the U.S. today. The major difference between the two is speed. In general, 4G LTE networks are much faster than 3G LTE networks.

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