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A layman's guide to mobile phone jargon

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mobile phone jargon

With fresh innovations seemingly arriving every week, it can be hard to keep up with smartphone technology and new words that are coined to label them.

To make things a bit easier, we've compiled a list of common and not-so-common jargon along with simple explanations in layman's terms. So if you're muddled about megapixels or baffled by Bluetooth, we'll get you up to speed.

First-generation mobiles or mobile systems – these were the first-ever mobiles and provide the basis for all of today's smartphones.

Second-generation mobiles or mobile systems – 2G mobiles supported data, fax and SMS mobile services. 2G handsets also offer limited data communications.

2.5G or "second-and-a-half generation" – this was the next step from 2G and provided enhanced data communications services, including Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) as well as Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) access for emails and web browsing.

Introduced in the UK in 1998, 3G is network technology that allowed users could access the internet at higher speeds than before and download music and video smoothly and quickly.

This is the current standard in mobile phone technology and is capable of super-fast mobile internet speeds of up to 300Mbps.


Still in development and unavailable at the time of writing, 5G is the next standard of mobile internet.

It offers speeds hundreds of times faster than 4G. But its greatest impact will perhaps be in the area of the so-called 'internet of things' that will see household goods such as fridges connected to the web.

Experts also forecast it could be vital in paving the way for driverless cars becoming mainstream.


A-GPS is technology used by mapping software that speeds up the process of determining your location, so you can get directions faster.

Air time
Air time refers to the monthly allowance of talk minutes you're entitled to with your mobile phone contract.


android army

This is software developed by Google that powers smartphones manufactured by the likes of Samsung, HTC and Sony. Rather than 'software' Android is more usually referred to as an 'operating system', which is a term you'll find explained below.

Audio jack

This is the aperture in your smartphone where you plug in your headphones or a portable speaker.


Auto-focus is a feature of cameraphones that intelligently and automatically focuses on the subject of your photo without any input required from the photographer.

Bluetooth is technology that creates a 'local' wireless connection. It allows smartphone-owners to exchange data over short distances.

Caller display
The screen of your mobile that shows the name and number, and sometimes a picture of the caller on a call.

Camera phone
This is a mobile phone with a built-in camera so you can take pictures and record videos.

Cloud storage

Cloud storage is a way of storing your music, photos and other files in a secure location online. It means you're not limited by your phone's built-in storage and can access your files from other devices if you need to.

This is the area in which you get mobile phone signal from your network. If you have coverage then you can make and receive calls on your mobile phone, send and receive messages and access the Internet.

Desktop charger
An accessory - also referred to as a charging dock or cradle - that holds the handset upright on a surface on your desk while it is charging so you can easily view the caller display.

Dual band
This term refers to mobiles that can switch between two frequencies. All new UK mobiles are dual band.

General Packet Radio Service – This was a way to enhance 2G phones' capabilities so they can send and receive data at a much faster rate. A GPRS connection means the phone is "always on" and can transfer data immediately.

This is a safety feature that allows you to talk without holding the handset to your head and often involves using an extra hands-free accessory such as a Bluetooth earpiece. This is particularly popular with drivers because holding a handset while driving is illegal in the UK.

Instant messaging
This term refers to services that let you chat to your friends with text messages in real time. Examples of instant messaging apps or services are WhatsApp and BlackBerry Messenger.


Mbps stands for megabytes per second and is a measure of the speed of your internet connection.


Megapixels are a way of measuring the quality of a camera. In general, the more megapixels the better the camera. But it's not the only thing that determines how good the camera is. The amount of light a lens lets in is also important, for instance. So megapixels aren't the be-all and end-all.

MP3 Player
This can be a hardware or software built into a mobile phone that allows you to listen to music and podcasts.

Multimedia messaging
This term refers to sending messages between mobile phones that include images and video clips.

microSD card

A microSD card is a tiny storage accessory that you insert in your phone to massively boost capacity.

This refers to the period of time after business hours have ended and during which mobile networks tend to offer reduced rates for calls.

Operating system

An operating system is the software that powers smartphones, as well as other devices such as tablets and PCs. As well as managing your phone's resources so you can do lots of things at once, an operating system is the platform on which your phone runs apps.

Examples of operating systems are iOS (iPhone), Android and Windows.

Optical image stabilisation technology

Optical image stabilisation technology keeps your smartphone camera steady, so it's to take good photos in low-light conditions.

Pay As You Go (PAYG)

Pay as you go means you're not tied to a contract and only pay for minutes and data when you top up.

The time of day when the phone network is busiest. This usually occurs during normal business hours.

This is sometimes referred to as International Roaming and means using your phone in another country and on an another nework.

Your network and talk plan will determine how many countries you can roam in and what charges you may incur from using this service.

Secondary camera

This is the front-facing camera that's most often used for 'selfies'.

SIM cards
This stands for Subscriber Identity Module. It is the chip that identifies the mobile number and mobile account to the network. It stores essential data and is required to make or receive calls on your network.

There are three types of SIM cards: standard SIMs, microSIMs and nano SIMs. The sole difference between them is size.

SIM only

A SIM-only deal or SIM only contract is that solely includes a SIM card and an amount of monthly usage. Unlike conventional contracts, SIM-only deals don't include a phone.

They're especially popular with cost-conscious consumers and customers who have come to the end of their standard contract and feel they don't want or need to upgrade to a newer phone.


woman using smartphone

'Smartphones' refers to high-end handsets that carry out a whole range of functions. More than just phones, smartphones can surf the web, send and receive emails, record video, take pictures and be used for video games and viewing movies and much, much more.

This is an acornym for Short Message Service. It's the technology that allows traditional text messages to be sent and received on all mobile phone networks.

Standby time
This refers to the number of hours that a mobile phone battery will last without receiving or making any calls. If you use the phone to make calls or send messages then the standby time will be diminished.

Streaming video and music

Streaming is a way to enjoy music and video on your phone without having to download the content first. Instead you watch or listen in 'real time'. Music services Spotify and Deezer use streaming, as so video on-demand services such as NowTV.


A stylus is a type of 'pen' that's used for writing or drawing on your smartphone's or tablet's screen. Examples are Samsung's S-Pen and the Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro.

Talk time
This is the same as air time and refers to the actual amount of time spent talking on the phone, or in some cases the allowance of time available on your talk plan.

Tri band or Triple band phones can operate across three GSM bands, which means they can be used in more than 100 countries.

USB cable

USB cables are used to connect smartphones to PCs and laptops and for charging your phone from the mains with a plug attachment or directly from your computer.

You'll use a USB when you're transfering music, video and photos.

USB-C cable

USB-C is a newer type of USB cable that enables users to transfer data faster and charge their smartphones more efficiently.

Voice commands
This is a way of using your mobile with your voice. You speak a command and, assuming it understands, your smartphone will carry out the instruction. Voice commands are especially handy when you're driving or in situations where your hands are in use elsewhere.

Voicemail is a service provided by your network. Voicemail records audio messages from callers when you are unable to answer the phone.

This stands for Wireless Application Protocol and was the means through which older-generation phones could access the internet.

Windows Phone

Windows Phone is the term for Microsoft's Lumia range of handsets, which are powered by the Windows operating system.

Category: Guides
Tagged: smartphones

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