MuniWireless Glossary

The MuniWireless Glossary of Industry Terms

2.4 gigahertz

The portion of the radio spectrum in the United States typically used by service providers for highspeed wireless communications such as wireless networks, cordless phones, surveillance equipment and others.


Short-hand name for the third generation of mobile communications. 3G networks are designed to transmit video and data at high speeds across cellular networks.

4.9 gigahertz

The portion of the radio spectrum in the United States allocated specifically for use by public safety organizations, such as police, fire and emergency services. Users of the 4.9 gigahertz range must pay license fees.


The family of IEEE wireless local-area networking standards, also known as WiFi. There are several
different versions:

  • 802.11b was the first popular implementation in the late 1990s, offering bandwidth at up to 11 megabits per second.
  • 802.11a operates in the 5 gigahertz band, at up to 54 megabits per second.
  • 802.11g operates in the 3.4 gigahertz band, at up to 54 megabits per second.
  • 802.11n is under development as a future standard, intended to provide transmission rates up to 270 megabits per second.
  • 802.16 A standard for WiFi mesh networks, currently under development, that will provide topology discovery and path selection, functions that are currently beyond the scope of 802.11 access points.

Access Point (AP)

A device that connects wireless devices together (notebooks, PDAs, mobile computers, WiFi
phones) to create a wireless network. An access point is typically connected to the Internet, but it can also be linked to other access points to allow signal roaming.


A company that resells bandwidth to other wireless service prioviders.


Strengthens radio signals by concentrating waves to increase the range of a wireless connection.
AMR (Automated Meter Reading) Wireless technology that allows gas, water and electric meters to be read from a distance, rather than requiring utility personnel to visually inspect meters on a customer’s premise.


A connection that takes Internet Protocol (IP) or voice traffic from a locale and transmits it to the wider Internet. For example, when a WiFi network is connected by fiber cable to a national Internet Service Provider’s network, that link is called a backhaul connection.


A specific set of radio frequencies. WiFi, for instance, operates in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band, while the
public safety equipment operates in the licensed 4.9 GHz band. (See also Spectrum.)


The potential amount of data that can be transmitted across a particular band at any one time.
“High-bandwidth applications” are uses of the Internet, such as video conferencing, that send large amounts of data at one time.


A wireless standard for connecting devices that are within a few meters. Bluetooth is designed as a cable replacement for low-power, short-range connections, including mobile phones, telephone peripherals such as headsets, and wireless mice.


Broadband over Power Line, a means of using electrical power lines to provide broadband Internet service to homes and businesses. In a typical BPL network, a device plugged into a wall socket connects a computer to the Internet.


A device that connects two different networks, typically so that devices on either network are unaware that the networks are separate.


A rather imprecise term meant to describe data transmission over a wide range of frequencies, allowing for higher-speed networking than traditional dial-up lines. Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), cable modem and satellite data connections are generally categorized as broadband technologies.


Often short for “common carriers,” telephone companies (“telcos”) or cable operators (“MSOs, or
Multiple Service Operators”) that provide communications services to residential and commercial customers. Also referred to as incumbents or service providers.


A geographic area covered by a cellular phone transmitter.


A specific, non-overlapping area of radio spectrum. See band.

(Competitive Local Exchange Carrier)

A business providing local telecommunications services, competing
with other local service providers.


A device or a user on a network. For instance, notebook computers or PDAs on a network are clients of network servers and other shared devices.


A “wireless cloud” is a geographic area served by interconnected wireless devices, providing local users
wireless with Internet access.

(Customer Premises Equipment)

Communications equipment such as telephones and cable modems used to connect to a service provider’s network.

Digital Inclusion/Digital Divide

Digital Inclusion is commonly used to describe the need to connect the
unconnected. Digital Divide refers to the lack of accessible technology for underserved communities and groups. “Bridging the Digital Divide” is a popular driving force for municipal wireless projects around the world.

(Digital Subscriber Line)

Technology allowing for the transmission of voice and data simultaneously over
the same telephone line. DSL data transmission rates are significantly faster than traditional dial-up service,
but significantly slower than other “broadband” technologies such as cable modems and WiFi.


The ability of a wireless network to offer communications across two frequencies. Dual-band
municipal networks typically operate on both the 2.4 GHZ unlicensed band and the 4.9 GHz licensed band for
public safety.

(Enhanced 911)

An emergency service that sends the caller’s location information to an operator
automatically on receiving a trouble call.


Optical technology that guides light along its length to send digital signals. Fiber is a high-speed cable
technology that often is used in concert with wireless networks for backhaul.

Fixed wireless

Wireless devices that operate in a fixed location, usually because they require access to a fixed
power source.

FTTC (Fiber to the Curb)
Uses fiber optic cables to deliver a high-bandwidth signal close to a customer’s home
or business. The link to the home or business is then made from the fiber cable to Ethernet cable or a wireless

FTTH (Fiber to the Home)
Uses fiber optic cables to deliver a high-bandwidth signal directly to a customer’s
home or business.

First mile
Similar to the concept of “last mile” concerning how information is sent to the final destination,
except that it is seen from the viewpoint of the residential or business consumer, especially in rural areas.


Free software that allows for “uncensored” peer-to-peer communications. Bandwidth is pooled from
multiple members’ computers to allow users to access the Internet.

GPS (Global Positioning System)
A technology that uses satellites to determine the location of a device.

GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications)
An open standard for mobile phone operators that allows
for international roaming between operators.


The act of switching wireless signals from one tower, antenna or base station to another.


One radio wave cycle per second.

High-gain antenna

An antenna typically used for long-range communications that is capable of greatly
increasing signal strength.

Hot spot
Typically a wireless network accessible within a limited geography (such as a Starbucks store
or an airport). Hot spot access can be free or paid; if paid, access is often sold by an ISP on a per-usage or
subscription basis.

ILEC (or Incumbent)
Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier, an established local telephone company that was doing
business in an area before telecommunications were deregulated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Also
can refer to a wireline or wireless telecommunications carrier, such as AT&T, Sprint and others, typically already
providing communications services to individuals, businesses or government organizations.

The technology underpinnings of any computer system or network, usually including computer
hardware (servers, client devices and storage), network hardware (access points, switches, cabling) and software
(operating system, databases, security and applications packages).

IP (Internet Protocol)

A standard for transmitting information through the Internet.

ISP (Internet Service Provider)
Business that provides access to the Internet and other services. Incumbent carriers
such as AT&T and Verizon act as ISPs, as do cable operators such as Comcast and Cablevision, as well as dedicated
Internet services such as EarthLink and America Online. ISPs allow consumers and businesses to access the
Internet using a variety of methods, such as dial-up services, DSL, cable, WiFi, WiMAX, T-1 lines, and satellite.

Kilobits per second.

Last mile
The final connection between communications providers and customers.
Latency The length of time between when a data packet is sent and received. Because Internet communications
require the receiver to acknowledge that a packet is received, long latency periods can mean that a connection
will perform poorly or is dropped completely.

Line of sight
A clear line from one antenna to another in a wireless network.

The transmission of data over long distances.

Metropolitan Area Network.

Megabits per second.

A measure of radio frequency used by wireless devices, indicating one million hertz.

Mesh networks
The most prevalent technology foundation of today’s outdoor WiFi and related networks. Mesh
networks route voice, data and other forms of information between access points by allowing for continuous
connections via “hopping” from one access point on the mesh to another, until a backhaul connection to the
Internet is found.

A wireless communications cell covering a small area.

Mobile IP
A protocol enabling mobile users to keep a permanent IP address as they move from network to

MSO (Multiple System Operator)
Typically a cable communications company serving multiple communities.

A distinct governmental unit serving the needs of a particular group. The most typical U.S.
municipality types are states, counties, cities, towns and villages, but they also can include school districts,
Indian reservations, utility districts and others.

Any device on a network.

Open network
A network that broadcasts its presence to wireless devices within range and, typically, provides
access without requiring users to log in.

A discreet chunk of data transmitted over a network.

Panel antenna
A type of antenna, typically used in point-to-point communications, that directs
communications in a specific direction.

A network connection (often wireless) between two devices.

Point-to-multipoint A wireless network in which one access point or node can communicate with nodes in
different directions around it.

POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service
Typically refers to dial-up.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)

A technology used to identify unique objects, such as retail products and
shipping containers.
Provisioning Delivering communications services to business or residential customers, from initiating the service
to delivering and installing all necessary hardware and software for the communications network on both ends.

QOS (Quality of Service)
The probability that a voice or data “packet” actually arrives at its intended destination
within a reasonable or guaranteed period of time, or in comparison to other traffic on the same network. QOS is
important with so-called “isochronous,” or real-time, connections such as voice over IP.

RF (Radio Frequency)
The portion of the electromagnetic spectrum where radio signals can be sent to a receiver.
Senders of RF communications range from TV towers to WiFi access points; receivers of RF communications
range from pocket radios and televisions to personal computers and PDAs.

RFI (Request for Information)
A document that asks respondents to provide general information about an
initiative under consideration. RFIs usually ask open-ended questions in an effort to determine the range of
possible approaches to solving stated problems. The RFI is often a pre-cursor to an RFP.

RFP (Request for Proposal)
A formal document that details specific information required by a potential customer
to purchase specific products or services. RFPs typically are a mandatory step in the process of evaluating and
purchasing municipal wireless networks. These RFPs lay out such requirements as technical specifications, vendor
history and capabilities, prior experience with similar projects, reference accounts and pricing models.

The ability to seamlessly move from one area to another without breaking an Internet or cell phone

A networking device that transmits information between networks. Routers are the backbone of the
Internet, and wireless routers are at the heart of public wireless networks.

SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition)
Distributed systems that are used to monitor and control
a range of chemical or transport processes, such as municipal water systems, power generation, and oil and
gas pipelines.

Sector antenna

An antenna that radiates in one direction.

Signal strength
The strength at which radio waves are communicated on a wireless network.

SMS (Simple Messaging System or Short Message Service)
A way of sending short text messages to cellular or
Internet phones.

The range of electromagnetic radio frequencies used for the transmission of data, sound and video.
Spectrum availability and usage is managed by the Federal Communications Commission and the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Abbreviation for telecommunications company or service provider, such as AT&T.
Throughput The amount of data that can be transmitted across a band, or frequency, at any one time.
Throughput is typically expressed as bits per second.

The layout of a network.

The physical contours and makeup of a particular geographic area. Topography is an extremely
important issue in the planning and deployment of wireless networks since signals can be impeded by such
things as forests, mountainous terrain or tightly packed buildings.

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)
An important application for municipal wireless, Voice over IP allows
voice signals to be transmitted over the Internet or any IP-based network. Municipalities have begun
adopting VoIP in order to cut cell-phone subscription costs for employees.

VPN (Virtual Private Network)
A secure link between two or more Internet-connected computers. A
VPN creates a kind of “tunnel” between communicating computers, encrypting data so it cannot be
deciphered in transit.

Walled garden
A browsing environment that controls the information and Web sites the user is able to access. It also refers to content that wireless devices such as mobile phones have access to if the content
provided by the wireless carrier is limited.

WAN (Wide Area Network)

WiFi Popularized label for the IEEE 802.11 wireless networking standard. WiFi is popularly thought to mean
“Wireless Fidelity,” but continued disagreement indicates there may be no real meaning.

An acronym for “Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access.” Defined by the WiMAX Forum
in 2001, WiMAX allows for very high-speed networking across much wider geographic distance than is
currently provided by 802.11 (WiFi), though the upcoming 802.11n protocol has some similar characteristics. WiMAX is also known as the IEEE 802.16 standard.

WISP (Wireless ISP)
A communications service provider that enables Internet access over wireless networks
and devices.

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