There are acronyms that we see every day but do not actually understand. This also applies in the mobile phone world. There are phone acronyms that we use every day but do not know what they stand for.
This post gives a list of some of these acronyms, as well as what each of them stands for. Come along for the ride.
Common Mobile Phone Technology Acronyms And Their Meanings
1. GSM – Global System for Mobile communications
A lot of people go about saying “GSM” but do not actually know what the acronym stands for. Global System for Mobile communications is the communication standard used by most mobile networks around the world.
GSM gained mass adoption in 1987 after it was mandated by law in Europe.
In the United States, AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM while Verizon uses CDMA networks instead.
2. CDMA – Code Division Multiple Access
This channel access method is used by various radio communication technologies. “Multiple Access” involves several transmitters sending information simultaneously over a single communication channel.
As far as CDMA is concerned in mobile networks, there are two alternative standards to GSM 2G and 3G networks. These are known as cdmaOne and CDMA2000 respectively. They are both often just referred to as CDMA.
It is of note that CDMA technology is also used for GSM 3G. This is with a system known as WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access).
3. 1G – 1st Generation
This acronym is not so commonly used anymore because it is generally outdated. If you have ever wondered what came before 2G networks, here’s your answer – 1G.
The 1st Generation networks were analogue, and not many people had mobile phones during its era, hence, its unpopularity. These networks were replaced by 2G networks which were digital. Obviously, “2G” then stands for “2nd Generation”.
However, before these networks, some other mobile telephones existed. These were used mainly in vehicles. They have been retroactively named “0G” or pre-cellular.
4. 2G – 2nd Generation
2G networks were the first digital mobile networks, replacing the analogue 1G mobile networks. Primarily, they were designed to handle basic voice and SMS. However, they could also work for mobile data with GPRS and later EDGE.
On a smartphone, GPRS is only usually used when only a 2G network is available. This is why people are usually referring to GPRS when talking about 2G data connection on a smartphone. By default, smartphones would prefer connections to 3G or 4G networks when available for faster data speeds.
5. 3G – 3rd Generation
The third generation of mobile networks was originally marketed as a way to enable video calls on mobile phones. The infrastructure of these networks allows for much more efficient use of data over GSM.
At the initial stage, 3G networks were similar to EDGE in speed with a standard minimum downlink speed of 200kbps. The speed was eventually improved upon, offering anywhere up to 7.2Mbps. 3G networks can offer even greater seeds when upgraded to support HSPA or HSPA+.
6. GPRS – General Packet Radio Service
GPRS is a packet-oriented mobile data system used for 2G and 3G GSM networks. It is generally the slowest kind of mobile data available, limited to just 56-114kbps. It is only used on 2G networks where no faster data connection system is available, or by very old mobile phones.
7. EDGE – Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution
After GPRS, EDGE is the next level of GSM data service. Even though it is based on GPRS, it can operate at faster speeds, up to 473.6kbps.
EDGE is supported by almost all GSM phones. Technically an improvement to 2G network infrastructure, it overlaps the minimum speed requirements for early 3G networks. This is why it is typically referred to as 2.9G or 2.5G.
8. HSPA – High Speed Packet Access
HSPA is an upgrade to existing 3G infrastructure, coming with increased speed. Sitting near the upper limit of 3G networks, it is often called 3G+, 3.75G, or Turbo 3G. These terms are used to differentiate it from the slower 3G networks.
HSPA combines two technologies known as HSUPA and HSDPA for uplink and downlink respectively.
Theoretically, HSPA could support download speeds up to a maximum of 99.3Mbps. Due to the technical setbacks of the existing 3G infrastructure though, current HSPA networks are designed to offer speeds of up to just 14.4Mbps.
9. HSPA+ – Evolved High Speed Packet Access
This is an improvement upon the HSPA standard, offering even greater speeds. Sitting between 3G and 4G technologies, HSPA+ was designed to let users enjoy a 4G class experience without having to use new radios and masts. In fact, some networks in the US initially branded it as a 4G technology before they had LTE infrastructure.
Theoretically, the latest version of HSPA+ supports a maximum download speed of 168.75Mbps (or 337.5 with MIMO). However, because the existing 3G infrastructure was never designed for such high bandwidth, the maximum speed attained in reality is 21.1Mbps.
In the case of areas supporting DC-HSPA (Dual Cell HSDPA), this speed is doubled to 42.2Mbps by employing two carrier frequencies for the downlink to double the bandwidth from 5MHz to 10MHz. This speed can be doubled again up to 84.4Mbps by combining DC-HSPA with MIMO, but this is not commonly used.
10. LTE – Long Term Evolution
Often referred to as 4G or 4G LTE, LTE is the fourth generation of mobile networks. It aims to offer much faster speeds than the older generations. Theoretically, LTE should offer speeds of up to 150Mbps.
LTE supports much faster uplink and lower latency than 3G networks. This makes it far better for syncing files and streaming music and video content.
Not all phones support LTE but most of the recent high end smartphones – from Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, Sony, Motorola, and others – support it. Even now, some mid-range and budget devices have this support.
11. LTE-A – Long Term Evolution Advanced
As the name implies, LTE Advanced was designed as an improvement on the standard LTE. It is said to be able to offer download speeds of over 100Mbps while moving. This mobile communication standard is not entirely new, using same frequencies as standard LTE. However, it doubles the maximum speed of regular LTE up to about 300Mbps.
Realistically speaking, you may be unlikely to get the maximum speeds. But the good news is that LTE-A should actually triple your standard LTE speeds from about 14Mbps to as high as 42Mbps. This boost is achieved using MIMO technology with several connections between the phone and mast.
12. MIMO – Multiple Input Multiple Output
This technology allows multiple antennas to combine on both the transmitter and the receiver. With several connections between the transmitter (such as 4G masts) and the receiver (such as a smartphone), the available bandwidth for communication is multiplied.
MIMO is the technology employed in LTE-A to boost the speed of standard LTE. It is also used by Wi-Fi routers in the home with multiple antennas.
13. SMS – Short Message Service
SMS is often simply referred to as “Text Message” or even simply “Text”. It is a convenient way to send messages to people over mobile networks without internet.
Even though SMS is still quite popular, it is already being taken over by internet-based messaging services like WhatsApp and Telegram.
14. MMS – Multimedia Messaging Service
MMS came up as a way to send small image files and other multimedia files between mobile phones using the same infrastructure as SMS.
Considering the fact that it is usually faster and easier to send images via instant messaging services or email these days, MMS is not even known by many people anymore. Another disadvantage of this service is that it is limited to very low quality compressed images at a resolution far below what is average today.
The good side of MMS is that it does not require an internet connection. In addition, even basic feature phones can use the service. However, even these good sides have not succeeded in making the service any more popular.
15. SIM – Subscriber Identification Module
A lot of people go about talking about SIM cards but do not know what “SIM” stands for. In fact, many people believe that it is a word on its own. Well, it’s not; it’s an acronym.
GSM devices identify you by the SIM card you use. Generally, this SIM card can be removed and put in another device for use, making it easy to switch plans between devices.
16. IMEI – International Mobile Equipment Identity
This is the number your network/carrier uses to recognize your phone. It is different on each individual mobile phone across the planet.
The IMEI is usually used when the need to remove a SIM-lock from a device arises. In addition, it can be used to track your missing device.
17. IP – Internet Protocol
Your IP address is your unique address on a network, whether Internet or Intranet. It is issued by your ISP, and can either be static or dynamic. A static IP address is fixed while a dynamic IP address keeps changing with time. However, it generally makes little difference for most people.
18. ISP – Internet Service Provider
As the name implies, your Internet Service Provider is the company which serves you connection to the internet. In the case of a mobile device, your Internet Service Provider would be your network/carrier. Without this provider, you may have no access to the internet unless you use Wi-Fi.
19. RAM – Random Access Memory
Working the same way as the RAM on a computer, RAM on a mobile phone is a volatile memory used by the phone. It is temporarily used by the phone’s processor to store data for active processes. Once you switch off the phone, the stored memory is lost.
20. ROM – Read-Only Memory
This memory contains the firmware of a smartphone. It can be flashed once, and then only read from but not written to.
However, with smartphone technologies advancing by the day, ROM can apparently be written to today. This is made possible by the use of custom ROMs like CyanogenMod which can allow you to flash a new firmware to overwrite the one stored in the ROM of your device. This is because a lot of modern devices actually use rewritable flash memory, not true ROM.
So, in essence, the term ROM in this case is from the days when that particular memory area was indeed read-only.
21. SoC – System on Chip
You may have been hearing about Qualcomm, Mediatek, and Kirin. These are examples of SoC. A System on Chip is an integrated circuit that brings all the components of a computer system together on a single chip. It generally includes things like the CPU and GPU. It also includes interfaces for memory and networking. SoCs are generally used in mobile phones because they need to be small and compact. Imagine having a computer system inside your phone. That is basically what it is.
22. CPU – Central Processing Unit
The CPU of any computer system is the main processor which allows activities to be carried out. In fact, without it on your computer or mobile phone, you would not be able to be reading this right now. It is responsible for most of the computational work carried out by your mobile phone.
The CPU is one part of your smartphone’s SoC.
23. GPU – Graphical Processing Unit
This is another part of your smartphone’s SoC. It is the processor responsible for graphics operations. The GPU is involved in tasks such as decoding video much quicker than the CPU. In addition, it lets the CPU concentrate on other computational tasks by freeing up the load on it.
24. USB – Universal Serial Bus
The term USB is one that flies about every day. When connecting your mobile phone to your computer, you tend to do it physically via USB. A lot of mobile phones feature USB 2.0 Micro USB connectors.
USB 3.0 Micro USB ports are getting more popular these days. In fact, USB 3.2 has been released with type-C connectors, with increased speeds. The main difference between them is the speed class. USB 3.2 offers faster data transfer rates, and generally supports higher current levels for faster device charge times.
25. ADB – Android Debug Bridge
This is a command-line toolkit used for debugging Android applications and interfaces. It typically comes bundles with the Android SDK (although it can be obtained separately).
ADB is usually talked about when discussing about rooting Android devices. This is because it is very useful when it comes to rooting. In addition, some graphical applications are built on it to make some features more accessible to people with little command-line experience.
26. MAC – Media Access Control
Every networking device has a MAC address unique to it. It is your intranet identity for your network chip. For example, the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios in your phone both have their own unique MAC address.
A MAC address is used when navigating local connections. Bluetooth devices identify each other by their unique MAC addresses. A Wi-Fi router assigns a local IP address to each MAC address on the network.
27. AOSP – Android Open Source Project
This is the project by which the source code of the Android operating system is made available to everyone for free. This code is the core of the Android OS – the basis of the firmware on every Android device.
Android device manufacturers can make changes to this source code. Samsung, for example, adds a load on top of AOSP, and changes it quite significantly.
In addition, the code from AOSP is what is used for third-party ROMs like CyanogenMod. Without the AOSP, you probably would not enjoy the freedom to use custom ROMs as they probably would not exist.
We use many of the acronyms in this post regularly, even without knowing what they mean. Getting to know them now is probably a lot to take in. But it will make it easier for you to understand happenings in the smartphone industry when you read about them.
If there is any smartphone acronym you wish to add, feel free to do so in the Comments section below.
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