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Keeping abreast of wireless telecom means staying up-to-date with the ever-expanding industry terminology. Here is a list of some of the more frequently used terms and acronyms:

February 1, 2001  

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ADSL: Asymmetric Digital Subscribers Line. Service which allows transmission of high-speed data over standard phone lines, without interfering with regular phone calls.

ATM: Asynchronous Transfer Mode. Cell relay. Very high-speed digital transmission technology.

Analog: The traditional method of telecommunications. A transmission method employing a continuous (rather than pulse or digital) electrical signal that varies in amplitude or frequency in response to changes in sound impressed on a transducer in the sending device.

Bandwidth: The relative range of frequencies that can be passed through a transmission medium without distortion (normally with respect to one channel).

Base Station: Transmitter, receiver, antenna, signaling and related equipment located at each cell site.

Blocking or Blockage: A condition where congestion within a radio communications system or network is so great, due to excess demand from users, that new calls cannot be completed without delay. A “busy signal”.

Capacity: A measure of the total number of subscribers that can be supported on a wireless network.

Carrier: A company which owns or operates transmission facilities and offers telecommunication services to the general public.

CDPD: Cellular Digital Packet Data. Standard for transmitting data over analog cellular.

Cell: A physical area in which RF coverage is provided by a base station.

Cellular: The mobile radio-telephone service licensed by Industry Canada and the FCC to utilize 50 MHz of spectrum in the 800 MHz band which is interconnected to the PSTN. The first mobile radio service to broadly employ frequency reuse in its system design.

Cell Broadcast: The technical capability which allows an alpha-numeric message to be sent to all subscribing handsets within the range of a particular cell site.

Cell Site: The physical location of the transmitter, receiver, antennae, and signaling and control equipment used to provide wireless services.

Channel: A wireless pathway for the transmission of information between a sending point and a receiving point. (Often “channel” refers to a paired set of send and receive pathways.)

Churn Rate: Expressed as a rate per month for a given measurement period, the number of subscriber units disconnected divided by the average number of units on the network.

CLEC: Competitive Local Exchange Carrier. Any LEC which is not an ILEC. In other words, any local phone company which is not the traditional telco. CLECs must meet certain regulatory requirements to interconnect with the ILEC.

Coaxial: Describes a wire pair designed to carry high bandwidth RF signals.

CDMA: Code Division Multiple Access is one type of wireless protocol used so that more voice and data can be transmitted on the same frequency. CDMA is a spread spectrum technology in which calls are assigned a pseudo-random code to encode digital bit streams.

Coverage: The combined geographic footprint of all the cell sites that comprise a wireless system.

Digital: Describes a method of storing, processing and transmitting information through the use of distinct electronic or optical pulses that represent the binary digits 0 and 1.

Dispatch: Push-to-talk one-to-many communications. A service provided to customers (typically operators of fleets or groups of mobile workers) who want to transmit and receive short messages to and from groups of mobile or portable radios within range of a dispatch system.

Dual-band: A term that describes a wireless device or system that can operate in two different frequency ranges, for example 800 MHz and 1.9 GHz.

Dual-mode: A term that describes a wireless device or system that can support two different protocols, for example PCS and analog cellular.

Dual-mode, Dual-band: A term that describes a wireless device or system that can support two different protocols on two different frequency ranges.

ESMR: Enhanced Specialize Mobile Radio. A term used for SMR multi-site digital networks designed to provide integrated radio communications services, including wireless telephone, paging, data transmission and dispatch services.

ESN: Electronics Serial Number. Identification number that uniquely defines each mobile telephone set.

FHMA: Frequency Hopping Multiple Access. A digital transmission technology using frequency hopping in combination with TDMA and low rate digital speech processing to create multiple access trunking.

Frequency: A specified band or range within the overall spectrum of electromagnetic radio waves to be used as a channel for sending or receiving communications. In practice, the term is used to describe the rights granted by license from Industry Canada to operate a radio-communications system using that band in a specified geographic location.

Frequency Reuse: The use of many low-elevation antennae and/or low-power sites, so that the same frequencies can be reused in numerous sites separated by a defined distance without causing interference.

GSM: Global System for Mobile Communications. A TDMA-based digital communication standard, which has been widely deployed in Europe and around the world in the 900 MHz band. A variant called PCS 1900 has been widely developed in the 2.0 GHz frequency range for PCS in North America.

ILEC: Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier. The traditional phone company, operating as a provider of local telephone service.

ISDN: Integrated Services Digital Network. A service which allows the simultaneous transmission of voice and data conversation over a single connection.

ITU: International Telecommunications Union. Special agency of the United Nations, responsible for negotiated international telecom standards and policies.

Land Line: The traditional telephone services provided over wired facilities.

LEC: Local Exchange Carrier. A company which provides local switched telephone service.

LMS: Local Measured Service. Pay-as-you-go local telephone service.

LNP: Local Number Portability. With LNP, you’ll be able to keep your phone number if you change Local Exchange Carriers.

Macrocell: Describes a physically large communications coverage area (5-20 km in diameter).

MCS: Multipoint Communications Systems. Applications licensed at 2500 MHz in Canada. A wide variety of applications are possible, including one-way and two-way transmission and a diversity of distribution capacities.

MDS: Multipoint Distribution Service. High bandwidth wireless communication service, primarily viewed as an alternative to cable TV.

Microcell: Describes a physically midsize communications coverage area (0.5 + 5 km in diameter).

MIN: Mobile Identification Number. A mobile telephone number.

Mobile Data: A wireless service involving the transmission and/or receipt of data between computers or fax machines.

MSS: Mobile Satellite Services. An emerging class of radio communication networks typically using LEO or MEO satellites. These networks will serve virtually every populated area of Canada.

MUX: Multiplexer. A device which combines multiple transmissions over a smaller number of communications channels.

Narrowband PCS: Advanced paging that will provide two-way text transmission and one-way digital voice service.

NANP: North American Numbering Plan. The overall telephone numbering plan for Canada, the US and most of the Caribbean. The NANP defines area codes, telephone number formats, etc.

Paging: A one-way messaging service (“pagers”).

PCS: Personal Communications Services. Mobile communications system interconnected with the PSTN.

PMR: Private Mobile Radio. PMR refers to private dispatch communications systems which belong to organizations operating with their own system and Industry Canada license.

PCTN: Public Cordless Telephone Network.

Picocell: Describes a physically small communications coverage area (less than 0.5 km in diameter).

POTS: Plain Old (or Ordinary) Telephone Service. Standard phone service.

Protocol: A standard that describes the control functions, tuning and methodology used to operate a communication system. The protocol ensures the compatibility of all systems.

PSTN: Public Switched
Telephone Network. The regular telephone network.

RF: Radio Frequency

Repeater: A base station which “repeats” a transmission over a determined coverage area.

Roaming: A service offered by mobile communications network operators which allows a subscriber to use a radio or phone while in the service area of another carrier.

Site: The geographic location of a single base station or repeater in a radio communications system. Multiple sites may be used to provide extended system coverage.

SMR: Specialized Mobile Radio. SMR refers to commercial dispatch communications networks whereby a number of subscribers use mobile radios in vehicles and/or portable radios which operate on a network of repeaters over a determined coverage area.

SMS: Smart Messaging Service. A wireless messaging service that involves the transmission of a short text message and its receipt by a wireless terminal, with the wireless system registering an acknowledgment that the message has been received.

Standby Time: A measure of the maximum amount of time a wireless handset can remain on monitoring for incoming calls before the batteries need recharging.

Subscribers: The user of an individual handset. In some cases, a client or customer equates to a subscriber, in other cases one client includes multiple subscribers.

Switching: The telecommunications computer at the core of the wireless network, where calls are automatically controlled, monitored and handed off from one cell site to another, and in which calls are interconnected with the land line network or other wireless networks.

T-1: Digital carrier system that supports 24 standard voice channels. Often used as a synonym for DS-1.

T-3: Digital carrier system that supports 672 standard voice channels. Often used as a synonym for DS-3.

TDM: Time Division Multiplexing. Simultaneous transmission of multiple signals over one channel, by rapidly interleaving samples.

TDMA: Time Division Multiple Access. A digital wireless transmission methodology used in cellular telephone communications, ESMR, PCS and other wireless communications systems.

Third Generation Wireless: 3G. The next generation of wireless phones, based upon a common worldwide standard for broadband mobile communications. Analog cellular and digital PCS are considered to be the first and second generations of wireless telecommunications.

Trunk(ing): A method which allows for the utilization of frequencies by a larger number of users. A “trunked” system assigns customer calls to the first available frequency, thereby providing faster access to the system and reducing the likelihood of blockage.

Voice Quality: A measure of the capability of a system to reproduce a subscriber’s voice signal with clarity and intelligibility.

VSAT: Very Small Aperture Terminal. Satellite dish used primarily for data communications.

Wireless Broadband: Transmission facilities that have bandwidth or capacity greater than that of a voice line. Capable of carrying numerous voice, video and data channels simultaneously.

WIN: Wireless Intelligent Network. A sophisticated computer based network which, in conjunction with the switching system, allows for the rapid development of enhanced subscriber features and services.

WSP: Wireless Service Provider. Any company that provides wireless service, but which is not defined (for regulatory purposes) as a CLEC.

Information for this glossary was provided by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA). For more information, visit

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