What does it mean?

Some of the following terms (in alphabetical order) have found their way into our mobile vocabulary since the start of cellular radio:


A-GPS or Assisted Global Positioning System (GPS) –Mobile feature that provides the geographic location of a mobile on a map displayed on the mobile screen. GPS position fixing requires a direct line of site to the GPS space satellites so when this is not possible the mobile uses its relationship to its base station connections to estimate the location of the mobile.

AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System) – The first analogue mobile network technical standard used for cellular radio networks used in the USA. It survived for many years in rural USA long after analogue networks were closed down in Europe.

Android – The software Operating System produced by Google and used in the majority Smart Phones in the world. It comes in different versions: Donut (v1.2), Cupcake (v1.5), Donut (v1.6), Éclair (v2.1), Froyo (v2.2), Gingerbread (v2.3), Honeycombe (v3.1), Ice Cream Sandwich) (v4), Jelly Bean (v4.2),

Bluetooth– A small very low power transmitter/receiver that allows a mobile to connect to nearby devices such as ear pieces and car loudspeakers.

BREW – The software Operating System used on a number of CDMA mobile phones using Qualcom technology

CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) – A means by which different users share the same radio bearer by each having different codes in a pseudo-random data stream. For a long while it was also a shorthand title for the 2nd generation digital mobile network technology standard that was based upon proprietary Qualcom technology. The technology evolved from the original IS-95 into CDMA2000 and later EV-DO. However a wide band version of CDMA (W-CDMA) was used for the 3G technology.

C-NET – A first generation analogue technology used largely in Germany and now obsolete. It is only of interest to collectors of vintage mobiles.

CIF (Common Intermediate Format) – Describes a particular digital picture quality in terms of the number of digital active dots (pixels) that make up the picture. The more pixels the better the detail is displayed. A CIF format resolves a picture into 352 horizontal by 288 vertical pixels which totals 101,376 pixels overall. Mega (1 million) Pixels is the normal way of presenting this figure so the total pixels for the CIF format is usually given as 0.1 MP (Mega Pixels).

Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP) – Taking the signals received from different cells and processing them to improve link performance either through interference cancellation techniques (down-link) or additive techniques (up-link).

D-AMPS (Digital AMPS) – A first generation analogue technology used largely in the USA. It was supposed to be the official US technical standard for second generation mobile network technology but was probably the biggest loser in the battle for 2ndgeneration mobile network technology standards.

DAN (Demand Attentive Network) – A smart network that is attentive to the demand a user is likely to make on a network and moves resources to be ready to meet that demand. With such a philosophy, where a user always finds just sufficient resources, the perception is given of a network of infinite resources. An example of DAN philosophy would be a user that regularly down-loads a particular on-line magazine at the same time every week – a DAN network might push this content in advance over-night to the users smartphone memory. The user then enjoys an instant response and the network saves peak network capacity.

DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) – A set of industry guidelines from an informal industry standards group established by Sony in 2003 to make it easier for consumers to use and share their digital photos, music and videos. Members include Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and LG but not Apple who use an incompatible proprietary standard.

D1 Video Format – A video picture format that equates to the quality of normal TV pictures. For a European PAL picture this is 704×576 pixels  (or 720 x 576) and for a US NTSC picture this is 704×480 (or 720 x 480) pixels. So in terms of adding up all the pixels it puts the picture quality for the D1 format in the range 0.3 – 0.4 MP

DMB – A Digital Multimedia Broadcasting standard used largely in S Korea for terrestrial mobile TV (DMB-T) and satellite mobile TV (DMB-S)

Dual Cell HSPA+   (DC-HSPA+) – An up-graded HSPA (high speed packet access) network that uses two HSPA carriers and combines the data from both to produce a considerable increase in the user data speed. The gross down path data rate (using 64~QAM modulation in two 5 MHz wide radio channels) is around 42 Mb/s. The technology is sometimes referred to as HSPA evolved.

EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution) is a data speed up-grade of the GSM network standard. There is a complex mix of how the mobile and the network implement the EDGE technology that determines just how fast the data speed is for a particular user. The typical speed is 236.8 kb/s and where the public information has not specified the version of EDGE technology a good guest would be it is 236 kb/s. EDGE is much faster than the 48 kb/s that the GPRS up-grade of GSM will deliver and faster than the 9.6 kb/s of the original (basic) GSM standard.

EV-DO – A more advanced 2nd generation mobile network technology that took the basic CDMA mobile network technology standard and pushed up the data speeds it could deliver from 144 kb/s to 384 kb/s (the basic EV-DO standard) to 3.1 Mb/s for Revision A of the standard (EV-DO Rev A)

ExaByte (EB) – 10 to the power 18 bytes

First generation mobile standards. There were 3 principal ones AMPS (used in the US), TACS (used in the UK and some other European countries) and NMT (used in the Nordic countries and many other smaller European countries).France and Germany used their own unique standards (C-system and Radiocom 2000).

With the exception of AMPS in the US (where some rural networks still run on this network access standard) all of the analogue networks have long since been closed down and the mobiles are not usable. However many remain of interest to the growing number of vintage mobile collectors and a few command very high prices.

FLMPTS – Future Land Mobile public Telephone Service was a vision produced by the International Telecommunications Union that informed the development of the 3G technical standard.

FM Radio – A standard FM (analogue) VHF sound broadcasting receiver.

Fourth Generation (4G) network access technology – see Long Term Evolution

Frequency Bands – These define where in the radio spectrum particular national mobile networks have been licences to operate. Before GSM the radio spectrum allocations were different across Europe and indeed across the world. GSM brought order into this chaos.  In Europe GSM operated at 900 MHz and 1800 MHz and in the USA it operated at 1900 MHz. 3G was brought in . The 3G networks at 2100 MHz and this allowed Japan to become a part of the global roaming footprint. . However the regulatory spectrum managers then went to sleep assuming that mobile designers would find solutions to spectrum band fragmentation. This led to 4G being specified in 44 different frequency bands compared to 3 for GSM and 1 main band for 3G. Mobile designers have yet to find solutions to adequately deal with this chaos, particularly for international roaming.

fps (frames per second) – This is the number of new pictures a mobile camera will take per second when in is taking a movie. The higher the fps the better quality of the picture in terms of smooth movement when capturing fast moving action.

GigaBytes (GB) – 10 to the power 9 bytes

GSM  (Global System for Mobile) – The dominant global second generation digital mobile network technology standard. From the over 1000 models of GSM mobiles only a few produced before 1993 do not automatically provide SMS text messaging ( a factor making SMS the largest text messaging community in the world).

The GSM provides for the very best mobile coverage within countries and across the world (a fact that led to the commercial failure of the mobile satellite alternatives). Historically it has provided better indoors than say 3G mobile networks. The main reason why GSM offers superior mobile coverage is partly due to services starting on the more favourable lower frequency band of 900 MHz whereas 3G networks only had access in many countries to much high frequency bands such as 2100 MHz. Using these high frequency bands needs more infrastructure to achieve the same coverage reach and mobile network operators have preferred to invest in better urban capacity than rural coverage.

The GSM technology standard has gone through a number of evolutionary up-grades to push up the data speeds that can be delivered. The original GSM mobiles delivered a data speed of 9.6 kb/s. The up-grade (called GPRS) pushed up the data speeds to around 48 kb/s. A further evolution  (called EDGE) pushed up the data speeds further to around 286 kb/s.

Heterogeneous Networks – This is a network technology that ties together all the separate radio bearers a mobile network operator is deploying to switch users onto the optimum radio bearer. This can gives roaming users a more seamless experience as well as squeezing out more efficiency (trunking gain)

HD  (High Definition) – a term that tends to be loosely used to describe higher quality video images.

HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) – An important data speed up-grade of 3G technology.

There is a road map of HSPA up-grades to make the delivered speeds faster and faster. The first version of HSPA only was capable of a peak speed of 1.8 Mb/s. This quickly rose to 3.6 Mb/s, then 7.2 Mb/s and so on until 42 Mb/s. It is important to know which speed version of HSPA a mobile has built in if data down-loading from the Internet is important to a user. The terms HSDPA and HSUPA are often found in mobile specifications to describe the down-link (network to mobile) and up-link (mobile to network) directions of data signals. The term HSPA covers both.

iDEN – A mobile network access technology standard only to be found in the US. Its main historic virtue has been for those liking the “push-to-talk” way of making a mobile call.

iOS – The Operating System used by Apple in all its mobile products. It is the second most popular smartphone operating system after Android.

IoT – Internet of Things is the connection of devices (for measurement and/or control) to the Internet. The Internet of Things is a vision in which everything around us has devices built in and connected to the Internet that allows their state to be monitored automatically or to change their state by remote control.

kb/s – a measure of the speed data is delivered and is how many thousands of bits of information pass across the network in one second.

Linux– A software Operating System that has wide industry support in some parts of the computer industry due to its less restrictive ownership.

LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the next generation of mobile network access standards and has become more generally known as 4G.  It allows data to be delivered at much higher data speeds largely as a result of being able to operate in a channel width of up to 20 MHz.  4G also gives the mobile operator more flexible control over cell capacity and facilitates the exploitation of MiMo antennas.

LTE Advanced (LTE-A) – An evolution of LTE where up to 5 otherwise separate LTE carriers each in a 20 MHz wide channel are bonded together to deliver an effective channel width of up to 100 MHz. This allows a huge increase in peak data rates to be achieved as well as some trunking gain improvements.

LTE Broadcast – An adaption of LTE whereby multiple users all wanting to receive the same content are sent the same data streams (multicasting) rather than every user getting the content by separate individual data streams. It saves an enormous amount of network capacity for mass broadcast events. The technology also allows the interference at the cell edge from adjacent cells to be added together rather than be destructive interference for users located near the cell edges.

Machine-2-Machine (M2M) – A connection over a network between two computers.

Massive MiMo – Antenna systems at both ends of a wireless communications path with a huge number of elements. These are usually to be found for systems using millimeter wave spectrum bands as the short-wave lengths make such antenna systems more practical.

MB (Mega Bytes) – A measure of the capacity of data storage in a mobile phone. The term Byte came out of the early days of the computer where data was stored in sets of 8 binary digits. So a Mega Byte (MB) is 8,000,000 bits of information.  This factor of 8 is essential if users want to link how many minutes or hours of music or video can be stored for a given data speed of play-out.

Mb/s a measure of the speed data is delivered and is how many millions of bits of information pass across the network in one second.

Meego – A Linux-based open source software platform for mobile computing devices including smartphones. It came out of a merger of the Moblin and Maemo software platforms and is designed to minimize boot times and power consumption.

Memory – This is the facility to store digital data on the mobile. There are broadly three sorts of memory to be found on  mobile. The first is the memory the computer in the mobile needs to use to process actions needed in real time. This is its Random Access Memory (RAM). Data that is to be stored for occasional use is placed in a Read Only Memory (ROM). This is where users will place their music, photos and other user data. The third form are plug in cards or even miniature hard drives. The most popular plug in memory is the micro-SD card.

MicroSD (Micro Secure Digital) memory card– An industry standard memory card that allows a mobile user to plug-in extra storage. The shape of the card stops it being inserted the wrong way. It allows very high data peed transfers between the card memory and the mobile of 80 Mb/s or more. It comes in a range of memory sizes.

Many high end mobiles have a MicroSD slot but only a few have a card already inserted at the time of purchase. The technical data we present on each mobile only mentions the MicroSD card when it has a card inserted as a standard feature.

Multiple Input Multiple Output (MiMo) – an antenna arrangement that comprises more than one radiating element at each end. The slightly different paths taken due to the separation between the two or more elements at each end allows fast processing to deal with impairments (eg signal fades) occurring on one of the paths.

MP (Mega Pixel) – A million pixels. The number of Mega Pixels is a measure of how good the quality of detail that is captured by a mobile phone camera. In general 2 MP is the minimum that looks any good when blown up on a normal PC screen. A value of 5 MP begins to looks very good. Higher looks even better but the associated file sizes start to become large.

MP3 – An internationally standardised good quality music format that is the most widely used. The term is used here to describe the presence within a mobile of the MP3 software music player to allow MP3 music files to be played.

MP4 – An internationally standardised video compression format that is the most widely used. The term is used here to describe the presence within a mobile of the MP4 software video player to allow MP4 video files to be played.

Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) – Sending picture messages over a mobile network. This has never been as successful as the Short Messaging Service has been with GSM largely due to a lack of the same degree of cooperation between mobile network operators.

NDTV Active – an Indian mobile channel of video, photos and information data

National Network Access Standard – This is fundamental to selecting a mobile.

Near Field Coms (NF Coms) – A means of very short range communications that allows a small amount of data at speeds in the order of 100’s of kb/s to be transferred from a mobile to a special NF receiver that is typically no further away than 4cm. This very shortness of range is a key virtue in providing a high secure transfer of data from a mobile for such services as contactless payment.

NMT (Nordic Mobile Telephone) – The first analogue mobile network technical standard used for cellular radio networks used in the Nordic countries and a number of other smaller countries in Europe. There were two versions. The first at 450 MHz and supported some of the early pioneering cellular radio networks. The second was a higher capacity version at 900 MHz and was a rival technology to AMPS and TACS.

NSA (Non-StandAlone) architecture - Use of the 4G control plane to control the new 5G 
capacity. This facilitated the fast deployment of 5G New Radio.

Peak Data Rate – When manufacturers or network operators say what speed their HSPA or LTE technology runs at it is important to note that these speeds are only the speed ceilings  that the mobile or network maxes out at in the most ideal conditions. The speed actually delivered will usually be much lower. As a rule of thumb the speed performance depends how far a user is from the mobile tower and how many customers in a radio cell are active at the same time. Occasionally the mobile data speeds can be limited by the under provision of capacity in the back-haul. Poor design of a smartphone antenna or poor receiver sensitivity can also impact the data speed.

PetaByte – 10 to the power 15 bytes.

Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA)a means of different users sharing the same radio bearer by the bearer being broken into a large number of sub-carriers and each user being assigned a different sub-set. It is use for the down-link for 4G mobile technology and for different reasons (to achieve single frequency networks) it is also the technology used for digital terrestrial TV systems.

QCIF (Quarter Common Intermediate Format) – Describes a particular digital picture quality in terms of the number of digital active dots (pixels) that make up the picture. The more pixels the better the detail is displayed. A QCIF format resolves a picture into 176 horizontal by 144 vertical pixels which totals 25,344 pixels overall.  It is a relatively poor quality of still image but fairly minimal for video.

QVGA (Quarter Video Graphics Array) is a measure of the picture quality and  as it applies to mobile phones defines a resolution of 320 horizontal number of pixels by 240 vertical number of pixels ie totalling 76,800 pixels. It is the standard used on some camera phones when taking videos. The poor quality of the individual picture frames get glossed over by the eye do to the moving images.

Querty keyboard – A short-hand for the inclusion of a full type-writer style key-board in a mobile.

RAM (Random Access Memory) – The type of very fast memory used by the computer in a mobile phone for carrying out processes. Unless a battery in included to keep this sort of memory active any data in a RAM gets lost when the power to the mobile is switched off. This part of the memory is seldom accessible by the user but is a good indication of how well the mobile will perform in processing images and multi-tasking..

ROM (Read Only Memory) – This is the memory that retains the data even if the power to the mobile is switched off. It runs more slowly than RAM but usually can contain hugely more data. It is the memory that will be used to store the user’s data. Things like address books only need a relatively small amount of memory. However for music files and even more for video files – huge amounts of memory become necessary.

RSPG (Radio Spectrum Policy Group) – A group of national spectrum regulators that advises the European Commission on spectrum policy issues.

SAR Rating (Specific Absorption Rate) – This is a measure of how much radio energy a human body absorbs when a mobile phone is in intimate proximity and radiating its maximum power (on any of the frequency bands it operates at). The US and European authorities did a huge dis-service to consumers by not agreeing a common standard for measuring SAR ratings. The US version of the standard measures the absorption in 1g of body mass whereas the EU version measures it in 10g. It makes it impossible for consumers to compare two second hand mobiles from the different regions. The simplest way for consumers to further improve the factor of safety (by a large margin) is to hold the mobile away from the head (or body) when in use for example by using the speakerphone or a Bluetooth headset. Alternatively, text messaging requires only very short transmissions. Another measure is to use a femto cell in the home or office. The network will instruct the mobile phone to use its lowest possible transmitter output power for such a short distance of transmission. With all these choices a consumer is likely to be able to change a mobile phone risk from “possibly carcinogenic” (as the WHO classifies it) to probably quite safe.

Second generation network access standards (2G) use digital technology. The dominant standard is GSM. In the US (and elsewhere) other network standards are still in use. The most notable is one we refer to as CDMA which is our shorthand to describe a proprietary technology developed by Qualcom to compete with GSM. Japan had there own domestic network access standard (called PDC) that never extended outside of Japan.

Sense – HTC’s user interface that sits between the user and the operating system and provides the user experience.

SIMlocked – A mobile which a mobile network operator has supplied to a consumer which can only take a SIM card supplied by that mobile network operator. It allows a mobile network operator to enforce a contract for a mobile which they have subsidised the cost of. The SIMlock can be removed (unlocked) by entering a c0de and a number of companies offer a service for unlocking mobiles.

Speaker – A loudspeaker function that allows telephone calls to be made holding the mobile in front of the user rather than holding it to the ear.

Symbian – The software Operating System used for the majority of non-Smart phones. It was created by Nokia but used by a number of other leading global mobile suppliers.

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) – A means for carrying telephone traffic over an LTE IP data stream in a way that can control the quality of service needed for a telecoms grade telephone call. Otherwise the normal “best endeavour” situation over an IP Internet connection might degrade voice quality of a telephone call a user is paying for.

TACS (Total Access Communications) – The analogue first generation cellular radio technology standard adopted by the UK and used by some other European countries but now obsolete.  Mobiles on these TACS standards are obsolete but remain of interest to the growing number of vintage mobile collectors.

TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) – has a wider technical meaning but used here in the mobile technical information as a shorthand for the 2nd generation digital technical standard adopted by ATT in the US and sometimes known as IS-54 and then IS-136.

TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access) – A 3rdgeneration mobile network technology standard developed in China.

Third generation (3G) network access standard was a developed to deliver much faster data speeds to support multimedia services. The first version of the 3G technology (Release 99) under-performed on expectations. Mobile network operators were expecting to be able to deliver up to 2 Mb/s but the first 3G networks only delivered 384 kb/s at best.  An important up-grade of 3G technology arrived a few years later called HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) that then fulfilled the promise of the 3G technology..

UMTS (Universal Mobile Telephone Service) – the name used during the development phase of the 3G technology and by some companies during the early stages of 3G network roll-out.

VGA (Video Graphics Array) is a measure of the picture quality and  as it applies to mobile phones defines a resolution of 640 horizontal number of pixels by 480 vertical number of pixels ie totalling 307,200 pixels or 0.3 MP. It was the standard for most of the very early camera phones. It produces an acceptable image on the small screen of the mobile phone but does not look very good if the picture is displayed on a PC monitor screen.

Vintage is a term generally used for to describe mobiles over 10 years old.

Visitor Location Register (VLR) – Sub system of the Intelligent Network layer of a mobile infrastructure that supports roaming visitors.

WCDMA (Wide band Code Division Multiple Access) – The basic mobile radio access technology used for 3G and its HSPA evolutionary extensions

WiFi  – A global standard for linking the fixed broadband Internet to mobile devices up to 100m away. There are lots of WiFi versions and the standards body has done a good job to secure backwards compatibility. Many smartphones now come with WiFi and this allows lower cost and higher speed mobile links to the Internet but restricts mobility.

Windows Mobile – A mobile software Operating System produce by Microsoft. Its strength is the ease of integrating with enterprise office IT and therefore finds use in mobile phones addressing the business market.

WVGA (Wide VGA) is a measure of the picture quality and  as it applies to mobile phones defines a resolution of 800 horizontal number of pixels by 480 vertical number of pixels ie totalling 384,000 pixels. It is a wide screen version of VGA.