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10 Essential Networking Terms You Need to Know

Find Your Internet - Compare offers from the top Internet and TV providers in your area all in one place.

Cat DiStasio on July 1, 2020

Find Your Internet - 10 Essential Networking Terms You Need to Know

Struggling to understand your souped-up home network? We’ve got you covered.

You don’t have to be an IT expert to understand how 5G can impact your WLAN, or how your ISP delivers fiber-optic internet. Here are 10 networking terms to help you make sense of the acronyms—and impress your tech-savvy friends.


You may have heard of 5G in relation to cell service, but this technology is poised to impact much more than your smartphone. It could even transform your home automation technology.

Still limited to a few major metropolitan areas across the U.S., 5G is the fifth generation of wireless technology. It offers some of the fastest download speeds and much less lag time than other technologies. More widely accessible 5G home internet means faster and more seamless video streaming, gaming, and more. This could be a huge boost for device-heavy households that need top speeds.


Bandwidth is the maximum amount of data an internet connection can handle at any given time. While they might seem like the same thing, bandwidth and speed are different: bandwidth is the amount of data your internet connection could handle, while speed is the amount of data your internet connection is currently handling. Bandwidth is measured in Megabits per second (Mbps), and service providers often use bandwidth to create tiered pricing plans for different speed options.

Broadband bandwidth tends to be higher than mobile. According to Speedtest, the global average for mobile bandwidth is around 32 Mbps, while the average for fixed broadband is nearly 74 Mbps. With 5G on the rise, however, mobile bandwidth and speed will only increase.

Streaming high-definition video and downloading large files requires more bandwidth than other activities. If you want to use multiple devices at the same time—like streaming a movie while the kids play online games—you’ll need a home network bandwidth boost.

Fiber-Optic Internet

Fiber-optic internet uses light wave technology to transfer data up to 1 Gbps (or 1,000 Mbps). It works by changing electronic signals into light and sending it through a bundle of fibers inside a wire casing.

Simply put: fiber-optic internet is super fast.

The speeds possible on fiber connections drastically improve the user experience, delivering less latency and higher-quality display. Since fiber-optic internet is just getting started in the U.S., it’s not available everywhere, and it sometimes comes with a higher price tag than other options like DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) and cable internet. But if your local internet service provider offers fiber-optic internet, you won’t regret opting for top speeds.

When you understand the difference between bandwidth and speed, you’ll be better equipped to get just the right service for your home.


Firewall sounds like a superheroic term, but it actually refers to a software or hardware that blocks unwanted connections. Firewalls protect your data and devices from unauthorized traffic—like a hacker attack. They can be set up through a specific port to block incoming traffic, or configured to only allow traffic coming from a specific IP address while blocking all other traffic.

Feels a little superheroic after all, huh?

IP Address

An internet protocol address, or IP address, is a unique numerical address that corresponds to a device connected to your network. When one computer needs to connect to another computer, it connects to that device’s IP address.

In the same way your home has a street address, which helps other people find your location, your computer has an IP address that tells other computers where your internet connection “lives.”

Internet Service Provider

An internet service provider, or ISP, is a company that provides internet service to homes and businesses. Depending on your area, your ISP may offer one or more types of high-speed internet, including DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), cable, fiber-optic internet, and 5G home internet.

MAC Address

Each network interface—such as a modem or a router—has a media access control (MAC) address, also known as a physical address. This unique address is designed to identify different computers or routers on a network. Manufacturers usually assign MAC addresses when they build a network device, so each of your connected computers should have its own MAC address.


Your modem connects the devices in your home to your internet service provider, usually through a coax cable connection. Desktop computers and some laptops may be connected directly to a modem with an Ethernet cable, but most modems are connected to a wireless router to create a wireless (WiFi) network in your home.


A router is a device that acts as a relay point, passing traffic back and forth. A home wireless router passes outgoing traffic from your devices to the internet and passes incoming traffic from the internet to your devices.

In other words, when you connect devices to your WiFi network, your router is making the connection.


A wireless local area network, or WLAN, is a wireless network that is confined to a small area, such as a home or part of a home. The distance covered by the WLAN is determined by the strength of the signal broadcast by the router. Every time you log in to your home WiFi, you’re connecting a device to your WLAN.

Deciphering the tech jargon of home networking might seem tough, but it’s worth it. When you understand the difference between bandwidth and speed, for example, you’ll be better equipped to get just the right service for your home.

Keep this glossary handy to help you set up your new home network—or improve the one you’ve got! Need to negotiate a better price with your ISP? Get the confidence boost you need by talking in their language.

Cat DiStasio

Find Your Internet - Compare offers from the top Internet and TV providers in your area all in one place.

Cat DiStasio is a technology and business writer with a background in human resources and recruiting. She specializes in human resources, technology, sustainability, parenting, and freelance life. She often works with small business clients, and her work has appeared on Medium, Inhabitat, Engadget, and other sites. Cat holds a bachelor’s degree in ethnic, gender, and labor studies, and is an expert vegan cook.

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