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Last updated: 05 June 2023

When buying a phone these days a lot of phrases and terms get thrown around that we just take for granted. Among these are 3G and 4G, which refer to different types of mobile data, but what is the difference?

We have put together a few pointers to keep you in the loop.


4G is the fourth generation of mobile communications. It is the way by which most mobile broadband services are now delivered.


Don’t worry too much about what ADSL stands for (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, if you were wondering). All you need to know is that ADSL is the most common technology used to provide broadband services within the UK. It harnesses existing phone networks, and transfers data using copper wires.


Very similar to ADSL from a hardware perspective, but uses different software to provide a much faster service.

Bits and Bytes

Both bits and bytes are a measurements of data size. There are 8 bits in a byte. However, people often get confused between megabits and megabytes because the term ‘megs’ is often used to refer to both.


The number of bits processed per second. This term is often used in the context of broadband speed, to describe how quickly data is being transferred. So 25Mbps would be the ‘bitrate’ for your broadband speed.


Broadband technology allows multiple channels of data to travel along a single line. It is much quicker than the previous generation of dial-up connections, and allows you to use your regular phone line simultaneously with the internet. This is achieved by microfilters that are placed on your phone sockets to separate the phone data from the internet data.

Cable Broadband

Cable broadband uses fibre-optic wires to transfer data rather than the traditional copper wires used by ADSL systems. It is much faster than ADSL, however it isn’t readily available across the UK as the infrastructure is still being updated.


Dial-up connections used to be much more common during the 90s and early 2000s. These connections were painfully slow by today’s standards, and are pretty much useless if you want to do anything other than light email and viewing text-only websites.

Download Limits

A lot of broadband deals have some kind of monthly data limit (unless you are on an unlimited package). Your service provider will allow you to transfer a set amount of data each month as part of your package. But if you exceed it, you’ll have your service restriced or be charged extra fees for any extra data used.


All FTT services use fibre optic cables to transfer data instead of the copper ones used by ADSL networks. The difference is how much of the connection is fibre optic. FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) connections have a fibre optic cable from the exchange to the green cabinet on your street, but a standard copper one from the cabinet to your house. FTTP/FTTH (fibre to the premises/home) services have a fibre optic connection all the way from the exhange to your house, providing a faster and more reliable broadband connection.


Internet Service Provider - this is the company that provides your internet service.

IP Address / Static IP Address

Internet Protocol address. This is a number assigned to each device when it connects to the internet so that a network knows where to send data to and and where it is being received from. It’s much like a phone number or postal address. Most broadband services work off of ‘dynamic’ IP addresses that change each time you log on to the internet, but a ‘static IP’ address which never changes can be set up for extra features and reliability.


Internet Protocol Television (IPTV). This technology uses the internet (usually your broadband connection) to provide television services. You’ll need a special set-top box (provided by the supplier) and you’ll be able to watch TV shows on demand, as well as live pausing and rewinding.

Mb and Mbps

An ‘Mb’ is a megabit (a unit of storage) and shouldn’t be confused with an ‘MB’ which is a megabyte. A megabyte is also a unit of storage, but eight times larger than a megabit. Megabits per second - Mbps - is the unit by which most broadband speeds are measured. The higher the Mbps, the faster the data transfer.

Mobile Broadband

Mobile broadband uses mobile phone networks to provide broadband internet. All you need is a special USB device with a SIM for your laptop or tablet and you could get a broadband connection for your laptop whilst you’re out and about.


The router is the box that makes the broadband connection available to your home. The router gets hooked up to the broadband supply being delivered to your house, and then sends the data around your house via Wi-Fi


Streaming is a method of data transfer which allows the file to be processed and accessed as a steady stream whilst it’s being transferred. This allows you to watch a TV show or listen to music without having to have the whole file fully downloaded on your computer or device beforehand. This is how services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video work.


Tethering is when a 4G-connected smartphone is used to provide Wi-Fi to your laptop or other device. It turns your phone into a Wi-Fi router of sorts, which other devices can connect to.


Video on Demand. These services allow you to stream or download video content (e.g. TV shows) ‘on demand’ through your TV or computer. Live TV can also be accessed this way.


Voice over Internet Protocol. VoIP can be used to make phone calls over your internet connection. This is how services such as Skype and Facetime work, and they use up your internet data allowance instead of your standard phone line.


Wi-Fi is a kind of technology which takes an internet connection and turns the data that is sent and received into a radio signal. Your devices can then use radio signals to communicate with the wireless router (to download or upload information), and thus a physical cable connecting your device to the broadband outlet is not required.

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Harry Pererra

Author: Harry Pererra

Harry turns on his experience in web design and programming to write about the latest news in the world of tech and broadband. When he isn’t writing for usave he is working towards his Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and prefers dogs to cats.

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