Deciphering Cell Phone Jargon: Definition of Telecom Operator Buzzwords

Have you ever found yourself reading a potential mobile phone plan and wondering, “What’s a (blank)?” »

Carefree! We’re here to translate all the techno chatter. Here’s a handy glossary of industry terms and buzzwords you need to know when comparing cell phones, carriers and plans.

Let’s start with a general list of terms you need to know when comparing cell phones in stores or online.

First of all, what is the difference between a mobile phone, a cell phone and a smartphone? These days the words are generally used somewhat interchangeably by suppliers and customers, but there are some differences in meaning.

A mobile/cellular phone is a device you can use to call and text other phones. This is the most basic and generic version of such a device. A smartphone, on the other hand, usually has additional and more advanced features, like Wi-Fi/internet connection, touchscreen, mobile apps and better camera.

Read some of the most common features included in a mobile or smartphone below.

SIM card: A “subscriber identity module”, or SIM card, is a small computer chip that can be inserted into any modern mobile phone. SIM cards contain information about the user’s identity, location, phone number, network, personal security keys, contact lists, and stored text messages. SIM cards allow mobile users to access this data and the features that come with it.

e-SIM: Short for electronic SIM card, and eSIM is the digital version of the insertable chip and generally contains all the same information. Most new smartphones these days support eSIMs, so users who change their cell phone plans only need to do so electronically, rather than inserting a chip into their phone.

Bluetooth: Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology that uses radio waves to allow devices to talk to each other, i.e. connect wireless headphones to a phone to listen to music. (Fun fact, the software is named after a Viking!)

Operating System (OS): A phone’s operating system is the software that supports all of its basic computing functions. This includes everything from aesthetics to UI to application management. The two main operating systems for smartphones today are iOs (from Apple) and Android (Samsung and Google Pixel, etc.).

App (app): A mobile application is software designed to run on a mobile phone, tablet or watch. They can include anything from productivity support (email and calendars) to games or social media.

SMS: Short for short message service, SMS is the basic protocol used to send quick text messages between mobile phones. This is different from more internet-based messaging services, like Facebook’s Messenger or Apple’s iMessage.

Here is another list of words that you are likely to find on a possible mobile phone plan.

3G/4G/5G network: These are the generations (‘g’) of the mobile coverage network infrastructure used to enable phones to call, text, access data, etc. 3G and 4G network access is most common for phones these days, but 5G is in its rollout phase and offers improved and faster connectivity for compatible phones. For more information, see our comprehensive guide to 5G in Australia.

Data: Mobile data is Internet content delivered to mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, over a wireless cellular connection. Data lets you access the internet when you’re not on Wi-Fi, so you can dream, download and share. Data on mobile plans is often listed as a certain GB allowance at certain speeds. (You can compare mobile data plans using our comparison tool).

Mbps: Short for “Megabits per second”, this metric describes the speed of your mobile device’s internet connection (either via data, Ethernet or broadband like NBN). Generally speaking, providers should offer at least 12 Mbps for reasonable internet speeds, while 25 Mbps or more is considered best for heavy internet users who need fast download/upload speeds.

Latency: Network latency measures the time it takes for your mobile device to send a signal and get a response (for example, from a cell tower). Longer latency means a longer delay between when your phone makes a request and when the request is received. Lower latency allows for quick reactions and is one of the useful features offered by 5G networks, and could be particularly useful for gamers or live streamers.

To download: To receive data from a remote system, such as a server, application or website, on your mobile device. (Example: downloading a mobile app from a website to your home screen).

To download: To send data to a remote system, such as a server or website, from your mobile device. (Example: Uploading images from your phone’s camera roll to social media, like Instagram or Facebook).

Postpaid package: A postpaid mobile plan simply means that you pay for your plan’s features on a monthly basis after you use them.

Prepaid package: A prepaid mobile plan allows you to prepay for a number of features, such as calls, messages, and data.

SIM plan only: A SIM-only plan pays for the features included on your plan’s SIM card without buying a new phone. For example, if you already own an iPhone, subscribing to a SIM-only plan would give you access to mobile calls, texts and data for your existing iPhone.

Data only plan: A data-only plan means you only pay for your mobile device’s cellular data (like a tablet), instead of paying for calls/text messages.

Telecom: Short for “telecommunications”, it’s just another term/shorthand for mobile phone provider.

Carrying: “Porting” is the act of transferring your existing mobile phone number from one provider to another. Read our guide to porting your number for more details.

Unlock your SIM: When your SIM card is unlocked, it means that your phone can support SIM cards (hardware or electronic) from different providers. If your SIM card is locked, it means that you can only use the SIM services of your specific mobile operator.

International roaming (data): If you are traveling abroad and using data, you are said to be ‘roaming’. Mobile phone plans usually have specific conditions/allowances for using the service abroad. See our international calling guide for more information.

No blocking contract: A telephone contract is an agreement between the customer and the provider that contains information about billing and so on over an agreed period of time. These days, most cell phone providers offer “no lock-in contracts”, which means you can change/cancel your cell phone plan whenever it suits you without “breaking” your contract.

MVNO: Short for ‘mobile virtual network operator’, these are the smaller operators that rely on the three main cellular networks in Australia (Telstra, Optus and Vodafone). They tend to offer (mostly!) the same service at much cheaper prices than the big three. Read our MVNO guide for more information.

One of the incredible advantages of most mobile phones these days is the powerful camera quality. Here is a brief list of phone camera terms you should know.

(We’ve also written a quick guide on how to find the best camera phone using some of the definitions below).

Lens: A phone camera lens is a small device that controls the amount of light that enters the camera sensor. Many smartphones these days offer “double” or “triple” lenses, because having multiple lenses diversifies and enhances the types of photos you can take with your phone.

Megapixel: A megapixel is the unit of visual data contained in images. Higher quality or higher resolution images will tend to contain more information, and therefore more megapixels. Generally, 2-3 megapixels are fine, 4-5 megapixels will give you standard printable photos, and anything above 8-12 megapixels is high quality.

HDR: HDR stands for “high dynamic range” and is a feature included in most smartphone cameras that controls the difference between dark and bright parts of a photo. Increasing the dynamic range of a photograph will avoid burning out parts of the image as white or black and will improve the overall quality of the image.

Autofocus: Autofocus is an AI feature of most camera phones that allows the camera to automatically improve focus on certain parts of the image with or without user intervention.

720p, 1080p: These numbers are often used to describe image quality, and they are shorthand for video/picture pixel dimensions. A video with 720p (standard definition or SD) is of decent quality, while 1080p (high definition or HD) will give you good quality.

Use our comparison tool to browse mobile phone plans.

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