The Ultimate Guide To Broadband Switching Terminology In Ireland

Broadband technology is evolving all the time and so is the terminology used to explain it. Before you switch or sign up for a broadband deal, make sure you understand exactly what it is you're buying with our handy guide to all the main terms.

You can read straight through or jump alphabetically into any category that you need to get up to speed on fast.

A, B,C, D, F, G, L, M, R, S, W

2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G

The 'G' in each of these refers to the 'generation' of mobile communication standards. The most important aspect for you is the speed with each generation being exponentially faster than the last with respect to downloading and streaming content.

2G was the first generation to support data communications as well as voice. 3G improved the speed with real-world speeds averaging up to about 3Mbps. Real-world 4G reaches download speeds of over 40Mbps and 5G up to 200Mbps with theoretical speeds of over 10Gbps.

Ireland is currently transitioning from 3G and 4G to 5G. Your broadband connection will typically move between these using 5G whenever possible but falling back on 4G and 3G networks when needed.


This stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line and was the superfast option of the late early 2000s. It was a massive improvement in speed that used existing copper wire telephone lines to deliver the first real broadband first to businesses and then to people's homes.

Straight ADSL offers speeds of around 8Mbps and ADSL2+ will reach up to about 11Mbps. It's usually a cheaper option and works well in areas where there are already existing phone lines but no options for fibre optic cable or line-of-sight broadband.

Asymmetrical broadband

You may have noticed that upload speeds and download speeds differ with priority given to download speeds. For example, you may have download speeds of 200Mbps with 5G but upload speeds of only 15Mbps. This is the 'asymmetry' built into asymmetrical broadband which is designed for mostly domestic use.


Any connection to the internet has physical limits. The connection is the band and the amount of data it can carry depends on the ‘width' of the band. The bandwidth refers to how much data the channel can carry and how fast the transfer will be.


Any high-speed connection to the internet is broadband. Today this means almost every connection as old dial-up modem and phone-line-based 'narrowband' connections become obsolete.

Broadband only

This is a marketing term that refers to any service that includes only an internet connection with nothing else included. These are perfect if you have the other services already and want to save money.

Broadband speed

This is the data transfer rate and is an important metric for the quality of your streaming, upload, and download speeds. It's usually measured in megabits per second (Mbps or Mb) but with advances in technology gigabits per second (Gbps or Gb) will become the norm.

Cable broadband

Broadband delivered via coaxial cable. This is gradually being replaced with much faster fibre optic broadband. Sometimes the two are combined with coax cable providing the final connection on the last leg of the journey between the fibre optic network and the customer's home or business.


Your sign-up contract may include limits on your upload and download data amounts. If you exceed the 'cap' on your data you may be subject to additional charges at out-of-contract rates.

Coaxial cable

Sometimes shorted to coax, this is a type of wiring that provides substantial speed increases over conventional copper wiring. It is gradually being replaced by fibre optic networks but the two are sometimes combined for efficiency.

Contention ratio

This refers to the maximum number of users who can use an internet connection simultaneously. ADSL for example has a contention ratio of 50:1 which means that up to 50 people might be on the same channel at any one time.

The more people using the connection, the slower it is. The lower your contract's contention ratio, the faster and more consistent your connection will be.

Data transfer rate

How fast your connection is. This is measured in:

  • Kbps (kilobits per second) - almost obsolete
  • Mbps (megabits per second) - currently the most common
  • Gbps (gigabits per second) - standard for the near future

Dial-up internet

Mostly a thing of the past. A copper wire phone line provides the connection to the internet. Almost unusable today as websites tend to be graphics and data-heavy.


A small plug-in device that connects your laptop or computer. They usually have a 30-day access limit to the internet via the mobile phone network.

Download speed

Most broadband connections are asymmetric. This generally means that the speed you can download data from the internet is faster than the upload speed. It's usually in the tens of megabits but with rapidly improving technology this will eventually increase to gigabits per second.

Fair use policy (FUP)

Many bundles include unlimited data but contain a 'fair use' clause. This is mostly to prevent industrial-level commercial use of contracts intended for domestic use. Generally, these will be more than enough for streaming and gaming, but always make sure to check the fine print.

Fibre optic broadband

This is the current state of the art for broadband connections and is being rolled out across Ireland. Full fibre optic (FTTP/FTTH) promises to deliver speeds of up to 1Gbps in contrast to part or hybrid broadband with speeds of up to 80Mbps or ADSL with speeds in the region of 10Mbps.

The data is transferred as pulses of light via glass or plastic cables versus pulses of electricity through telephone lines or coaxial cable.

Fixed line broadband

Any connection that uses a cable in contrast to wireless versions such as satellite or the mobile phone network.

Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)

The fibre optic cable carrying your data goes as far as a street cabinet and then through a telephone for the last step to your home. This is faster than ADSL but slower than full FTTH/FTTP.


The fibre optic cable goes all the way to your home (Fibre to the Home) or premises (Fibre to the Premises). The speed is faster and more consistent than ADSL or part fibre (FTTC).


These stand for gigabits per second and are currently the fastest broadband speeds available.


The physical telephone to your home. This is required for some kinds of broadband such as ADSL or Fibre to the Home.


This is the technical term for ‘lag'. It can affect streaming and gaming quality. You want the lowest latency possible on your connection.


These stand for megabits per second and are currently the most typical speeds for broadband in Ireland until the national fibre optic network is complete.

Mobile broadband

Broadband using the mobile phone network. Typically accessed on your phone or a computer via a dongle.

Mobile Wi-Fi dongle

This is a dongle that allows you to attach multiple devices simultaneously to a mobile broadband network.


This is the device that interfaces between your broadband connection and the devices in your home or place of work. It can be fully wired or wireless and is also sometimes called a hub.

Satellite broadband

This is broadband delivered to your devices via a satellite dish installed on your property.

SDSL (Symmetrical Digital Subscriber Line)

This type of connection provides the same download and upload speeds. Also known as symmetrical broadband.

SIM only broadband

Broadband delivered exclusively through a mobile phone SIM card.


A method used by internet service providers to manage traffic at peak times. If you notice a slowdown in your broadband speed at specific times this may be the cause.

Unlimited usage

This can mean unlimited with a fair use policy or 'truly' unlimited. Fair use policies are more than enough for the vast majority of domestic users. If you have usually high data needs then you can consider a truly unlimited broadband connection that has no cap and uses no traffic management techniques.

Upload speed

Most broadband connections are asymmetric meaning that your download speed will be much faster than your upload speed. These are usually in the single megabits per second and if you need faster you should inquire about a symmetrical broadband connection.

Wireless broadband

This refers to any broadband connection that uses no wires to connect you to the internet. Satellite and line-of-sight broadband are good examples of this.

Ready to sign up?

Now that you know all the basic broadband terminology it's time to compare and choose your broadband bundle. If you've got any further questions you can check out our handy FAQ or get in touch with us via our Contact Page.