Tim Smith | October 12th, 2022

Mobile phone jargon buster

Mobile phones are everywhere, they are essential to many, many people. But much of the language used to describe what mobile networks are and how they work, and what phones come equipped with, is obscured by jargon. In this guide, we provide you with a handy reference list that explains all that jargon in everyday language.

Person using a mobile phone

Types of mobile phone network

  • 2G – This stands for ‘Second Generation’ and refers to the generational change in cellular (mobile) technology. 2G enabled the use of voice and text in mobile phones. It is so dated now that you would be unlucky to find it
  • 3G – This stands for ‘Third Generation’ and refers to the generational change in cellular (mobile) technology. 3G enabled the internet connectivity on top of voice and text in mobile phones. While it is still available to access, it is incredibly dated now
  • 4G – This stands for ‘Fourth Generation’ and refers to the generational change in cellular (mobile) technology. 4G is an upgrade to 3G in that it offers greater data (and therefore internet) speed than 3G
  • 5G – This is the latest generational (hence the ‘G’) number for mobile networks. 5G offers greater possible internet upload and download speeds than 4G
  • CDMA – Stands for ‘Code Division Multiple Access’. This is a standard for mobile phones that is most commonly used in the United States. Most UK phones used GSM and might not be compatible with CDMA networks such as Sprint and Verizon in the USA
  • Edge – Stands for ‘Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution’. Edge is an old mobile phone technology that becomes useful in the UK if you are in an area that doesn’t even have 3G
  • GSM – Stands for ‘Global Standard for Mobile communications’. Without being too techy about it, it’s the standard for mobile phone communications that is used most widely in Europe
  • LTE – Stands for ‘Long-Term Evolution’. This is an improved version of GSM in that it has updated speed and data capacity. It preceded 4G so is quite dated now

Common mobile terms

  • AMOLED – Stands for ‘Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode’. This is a display technology that enables mobile phones made by manufacturers such as Samsung, OPPO, Xiaomi. It enables mobile phones to display very high resolution still and moving images without eating up vast amounts of battery power
  • Android – This is the operating system used by companies including Samsung, OPPO, Google and Sony as opposed to Apple, which uses its own iOS operating system
  • Bandwidth – This is usually measured in gigabytes (Gb) and is indicative of the space available to transport your data to and from the internet. As a rule of thumb, the more Gb of bandwidth you have, the faster your data will travel
  • Data cap – This refers to the amount of data that you’ve agreed with your network provider that you can use per month. Going over your data cap means you’ll pay additional costs
  • Data rollover – This refers to a mobile phone plan where unused monthly data is added to your next month’s data allowance. For example, if your contract is for 10GB of data and you only use 9GB, then next month you have 11GB of data to use
  • IMSI – Stands for ‘International Mobile Subscriber Identity’ – This is the serial number that identifies your SIM to your mobile network. Not to be confused with the IMEI (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity)
  • IMEI – Stands for ‘International Mobile Station Equipment Identity’. This is the serial number that identifies your phone on the network. Not to be confused with the IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity)
  • iOS – Stands for ‘iPhone Operating System’. This is Apple’s software operating system for iPhones and iPads
  • IP rating – Stands for ‘Ingress Protection Rating’. This is an internationally agreed rating for liquid and dust resistance. Not to be confused with IP (Internet Protocol) address, which is related to the Internet. When it comes to mobile phones the IP-rating is usually expressed in the form of, IP followed by two numbers. The first one refers to solids such as dust. The second one refers to liquid
  • IR – Stands for ‘Infra Red’. Basically this is what we used to use to communicate data and commands between compatible devices before Bluetooth came along and replaced it
  • Jailbreak – This one is for Apple iPhone users. It is the name given to accessing the core of the operating system – the bits usually kept away from everyday iPhone owners
  • Kbps – Stands for Kilobytes per second. Once upon a time in the olden days you might see the speed of your phone’s internet connection might have been measured in Kbps. Today you’ll see Mbps (1Mbps is the same as 1000Kbps)
  • mAh – Stands for ‘milliAmpere hour’ – this is a measurement of battery capacity. All you really need to know is, the bigger the number, the better your battery
  • Megapixel – Shortened to ‘MP’. Megapixels are the measurement of the resolution of your phone’s cameras. The more megapixels your phone’s video and still image cameras have, the better in terms of picture clarity
  • Mbps – Stands for Megabits per second. Not to get too technical, Mbps is the rating of the amount of data that your phone is capable of sending or receiving in one second. It is often used as a measurement of your phone’s upload and download speed. The bigger the Mbps number, the faster your mobile connection will be
  • MHz – Short for ‘Megahertz’. This refers to the speed at which your phone’s processor (or processors) works. Technicalities aside, the bigger the MHz number, the more quickly your phone can deal with the demands you put on it
  • MMS – Stands for ‘Multimedia Messaging System’. The next stage up from SMS in the evolution of messaging between phones (and in some cases computers). MMS enables you to send media such as pictures and video rather than just text messages
  • Multi-band – A multi-band phone (dual-band, tri-band, quad-band are all examples) is capable of being used for roaming and so can be used outside the UK
  • NFC – Stands for ‘Near Field Communication’. If you’ve used Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Android Beam, then you’ve made use of NFC. Essentially, it enables data exchange between compatible devices over very short distance; 4cm in fact, which for security reasons is much shorter than Bluetooth’s 10 meters (30 feet)
  • PAYG – Stands for ‘Pay As You Go’. A way to pay for your mobile phone use without taking out a contract. The upside of PAYG is that there is usually no credit check. The downside is that it’s the most expensive way to pay for the calls, texts and data you use on your mobile phone use
  • PIN – Short for ‘Personal Identification Number’. Your first line of security. It generally refers to the four-or six-digit code you use to unlock your phone
  • Roaming – This refers to using your mobile in area not covered by your network provider; usually overseas. You will be charged over and above your usual UK contract cost when roaming, both in Europe and beyond
  • SIM-free phone – This is any phone that isn’t tied to a network. If you buy your phone directly from a retailer rather than on a contract with a network, it will be SIM-free
  • SIM-only – This refers to a mobile data deal or contract that doesn’t include the cost of a mobile phone as well
  • SMS – Stands for ‘Short Message Service’. It means that you can send pictures, video and audio as part of a text message
  • Splash resistant – Not to be confused with ‘Water resistant’. A rule of thumb with splash resistant is that a few drops of rain are okay, but don’t take your phone out in a thunderstorm – and definitely do not take it swimming
  • Stand-by time – This refers to the amount of time your phone’s battery will take to go from a full to an empty battery while turned on but with no apps running, no voice calls or texts being sent or received, and with no internet use
  • Talk time – This refers to the amount of time your phone can process voice data from a full to an empty battery if it is doing nothing else
  • Top-up – This refers to adding texts, calls and/or data to PAYG phone plans. Depending on your network provider, you can top up your own phone’s SIM and even someone else’s

Mobile technology

  • AMOLED – Stands for ‘Active-Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode’. This is a display technology used in mobile phones to provide high resolution still and moving images capable of displaying up to 8K. It is a type of OLED display tech, and is a step up in definition and power usage from older LCD technology
  • Biometrics – This is the blanket term that covers security measures such as face recognition and fingerprint recognition
  • Bluetooth – Bluetooth a very short range (10 metres/30 feet), wireless communications protocol that uses ultra high frequency radio waves. This is great for connecting your phone to other compatible electronic devices such as headphones and fitness watches. This connection is known as ‘pairing’
  • Core – The chip that is the heart of your phone is its Central Processing Unit (CPU). That CPU has several ‘cores’, each of which can carry out a separate job. They can also combine if necessary. More cores are good
  • CPU – This is an abbreviation of Central Processing Unit (CPU). It used to be the case that a CPU had one main (core) processor. Nowadays CPUs have several cores
  • Dual SIM – This means a mobile phone that is able to use two SIMs from different networks at the same time. One SIM is physical and the second one is virtual. This can be useful if you work for two different companies, or you want to keep work calls separate from personal ones. Dual SIMs are, for that reason, only available on phones that are no locked to a single network
  • FaceTime – Apple’s video calling app for iPhones and iPads
  • Google Assistant – This is the voice assistant that can be used by Android-based phones
  • Gb (also GBit) – Short for ‘GigaBit’. This is a measurement of the speed of your connection. Not to be confused with a gigabyte (GB), which is a measurement of memory space
  • GB – Short for ‘GigaByte’. A gigabyte is a measurement of both removable data storage and of memory. You can expand your data storage on phones that are compatible with removable SSD cards. Not to be confused with a gigabit (Gb), which is a measurement of speed
  • LCD – Stands for ‘Liquid Crystal Display’. This is a display technology that, as the name suggests, uses liquid crystals. It’s provides less definition and uses more electricity than OLED and AMOLED but is still quite common and useable
  • Lithium-ion – (also known as Li-io). This is a type of battery used in mobile phones. Lithium-ion batteries now compete with more expensive Lithium-polymer (Li-po) batteries. Lithium-ion batteries tend to be bigger, but longer-lasting and also capable of holding more charge than Li-po batteries
  • Lithium-polymer – (also known as Li-po). This is a type of battery used in mobile phones. Lithium-polymer batteries are newer to the mobile phone market than Lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-polymer batteries tend to be more expensive, hold less charge and have shorter lifespans than Lithium-ion batteries. However, they tend to be smaller and also faster-charging
  • OIS – Stands for ‘Optical Image Stabilisation’. If your phone’s camera has OIS then it using a technology that helps reduce blurring in your photos
  • OLED – Stands for ‘Organic Light-Emitting Diode’. This is a display technology used in mobile phones to provide high resolution still and moving images. It is step up in definition and power usage than older LCD technology
  • PUK – Stands for ‘Personal Unlocking Key’. This is actually a code that your service provider or SIM issuer can provide to unlock a locked SIM card
  • RAM – Short for ‘Random Access Memory’. Without going into the technical aspects of RAM, the more your phone has (measured in gigabytes – GB), the more photos you’ll be able to store, and the more applications you’ll be able to run at the same time. More RAM is good but will also be more expensive
  • Retina display – This is a brand name and marketing term used by Apple for high-definition display technology used in its iPhones and other device
  • SD – Stands for ‘Secure Digital’. You’ll usually see this in terms of ’SD card’. Basically this is a memory card. Many non-Apple phones have an SD slot that enables you to expand your phone’s storage with an SD card
  • SIM – Stands for ‘Subscriber Identity Module’ or ‘Subscriber Identification Module’. A SIM is a removable card that holds all the information you need to connect to your service provider’s network
  • S Pen – This is Samsung’s smart pen that you can use to take notes and create drawings among other things with compatible Samsung phones and tablets
  • SSD – Short for ‘Sold State Drive’. With mobile phones, SSDs came as cards. An SSD card can be used to expand the data storage capacity of compatible phones. Apple iPhones are unable to use SSD cards
  • Siri – This is the voice assistant used by Apple iPhones
  • USB – Stands for ‘Universal Series Bus’. This is a system for data communications using a cable. The most common uses with mobile phones are for charging and connecting your phone to your computer. The latest commonly available USB connection is USB-C
  • Voice Assistant – This is a system that uses your phone’s microphone and speakers to take your input (questions mostly), and then search the Internet to provide answers. Apple’s voice assistant is called Siri. Android phones use Google Assistant
  • Wireless charging – This is a type of battery charging that uses electro-magnets rather than a wired connection to a power source. It’s also known as ‘inductive charging’


  • Ofcom – The UK’s communications regulator. Protects the rights of consumers in the broadband market and ensures providers stick to its code of conduct, slapping them with big fines when they don’t. Has simplified the switching process and proposed automatic compensation for broadband customers when things go wrong
  • Mobile UK – This is a trade body that represents and advocates for O2, Vodafone, Three and EE in the UK
  • TPS – Stands for ‘Telephone Preference Service’. This is the UK’s official ‘Do Not Call’ register for mobile phones. It enables people and businesses to opt out of unsolicited sales and marketing calls