Delving into the world of IT can feel like swimming in alphabet soup. LAN, ISP, VoIP. It’s hard to wade through a conversation with your IT support if you have to Google every other word. But if a couple of acronyms are holding you back from understanding how your computers work, you’re missing out. Here are some basic IT terms that will get you up to speed.
Bandwidth is basically a synonym for data transfer rate. It refers to how much data can be transferred from one place to another over a certain period of time—usually 1 second. At Pilot, our basic plans offer 100 Mbps (Megabits per second), 500Mbps or 1Gbps. All of which are more than enough bandwidth for you to stream live conference calls with prospective customers without a glitch, no matter where they’re based.
An Internet Service Provider (ISP), like Pilot, enables individuals and companies to access the internet. The world’s largest ISPs include Verizon, AT&T, and Level 3 Communications. These internet providers connect to each other at highly specialized facilities called data centers. Such arrangements between ISPs enable you to connect to your friends, even if they use a different provider than you.
Fiber optic refers to the technology associated with the transmission of data as pulses of light through a thin glass wire. Fiber optic wires are capable of carrying a lot more data than conventional copper wire and is less subject to interference. Researchers have already developed fiber capable of transmitting more than 7,000x faster regular copper wire, quick enough to to download the entire Google index in under 15 seconds. Pretty fast, huh?
Your Internet Protocol (IP) address is a 32-bit number that identifies both your device and the network you are using to connect to the internet. It functions exactly like a postal address. Every packet of information you send from your computer includes the IP address of its intended destination, as well as your own IP address, so that information you request can make it back to you.
If an IT Support person ever asks you what your IP address is, you can find it easily by typing into Google: “What is my IP address?” Google will provide. There are a few different kinds of IP addresses you can have, depending on your the goal of your business:
Dynamic IP address – Also called a “shared” IP address, a dynamic IP address changes each time you log onto the Internet. Most residential users are assigned dynamic IP addresses, and they are generally thought to be good for security.
Static IP address – The alternative to a dynamic IP address is called a “static,” or non-changing address. Static IP addresses are preferable in situations where the location of the user needs to be easy to identify, such as with VOIP or most businesses. All Pilot customers have static IP addresses. You might hear that static IP addresses are more difficult to secure, but this is not true if you have a properly configured firewall.
Internal IP address – When you connect to a local network, your local router will assign an internal IP address to your computer, which cannot be recognized from the outside. The usage of internal IP addresses allows an office with hundreds of employees to connect to the internet using as little as one external IP address. Internal IPs are translated to External IPs via a protocol called NAT (Network Address Translation).
External IP address – When you connect to the internet, your ISP assigns an external IP address to you. With every webpage request you make, you pass along your IP address—and that’s how the website knows where on the internet to send the webpage data. Similarly, every website has an identifying IP address. When you type in a domain name, it gets translated into that website’s IP address for retrieval.
A packet is a small chunk of the data you’re sending. When you send a file of data (like shooting your buddy an email, or sending your friend a gif), the file gets divided into packets that are small enough for routing. Individual packets may travel different routes through the internet, but once they arrive at the right IP address, they get reassembled into the original file.
Sometimes not all the packets arrive at their destination. This can happen when the signal strength on the receiving end of a transmission isn’t strong enough, due to a hardware issue or connectivity issue. Imagine trying to carry water in a leaky bucket— you’re not going to retain all the water. Packet loss can lead to data corruption, broken images, and gaps in video and audio communication. This is why we don’t send people through the internet (yet).
When you’re experiencing a bad internet connection, it’s important to be able to identify what the issue is. Jitter is one issue to be aware of. Just like you get jitters on the first day of a new job, your internet connection can experience “jitter” when the signal pulses get disrupted. Jitter can affect your computer’s ability to perform as intended. For example, it can cause your monitor display to flicker when streaming video. Common causes of jitter include network congestion (when packets take a long time to disassemble and reassemble at their destinations), electromagnetic interference, and crosstalk from other signals.
Have you ever been on a video call and noticed that the person on the other end took a few extra moments to hear what you said? This is an example of latency, a delay in transmission that illustrates the amount of time it takes for information to travel through our devices and across physical space.
Obviously, the ideal latency time is as close to zero as possible. If you’re experiencing a big lag, you should consider upgrading your hardware or purchasing more bandwidth from your internet provider. There’s nothing worse than hitting “finalize” on a big project, only to realize not everything saved properly because the internet connection was too slow.
TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) is the layer of programming between systems that ensures different systems can communicate. It’s a set of rules that defines how to establish and maintain connectivity between networks. Because TCP is all about the interface between systems, it’s partially responsible for things like packet recovery and jitter buffer. It’s the outward-facing layer of your IP address.
Your MAC (Media Access Control) address is your networking device’s unique hardware number, which was assigned in the factory. When you use your device to connect to the internet, your MAC address combines with network information to determine your IP address. The MAC address helps the network to identify your specific computer when you’re receiving information.
LAN (local area network)
A local-area network (LAN) is a group of connected computers or devices that share a common server. You’ll find LANs in an office building or a home, and it enables computers on the network to share common resources like printers and data storage. When video gamers get together to play multi-player games on one network, it’s called a “LAN party.” Gamers, start your pulses!
The 404 error page is what appears on your browser if it’s not able to locate the URL you requested. It might mean that the site has moved or you’re using an outdated URL. The Rolling Stone’s 404 page shows a video of the band playing, “You can’t always get what you want.”
VoIP (voice over internet protocol)
VoIP is a fancy term that means using the internet like a telephone. Skype and Google Voice are common examples, and one major advantage is that it circumvents the tolls charged by standard telephone providers. This technology for VoIP is currently improving by leaps and bounds, thanks to innovations in TCP coding, which enable systems to route packets through the fastest and most efficient channels.
A virtual LAN (VLAN), or virtual local-area network, allows geographically dispersed devices to connect to each other via direct access. It abstracts the idea of the LAN. VLANs allow their administrators to build and partition their networks to reflect unique organizational and security needs. They are one kind of technology currently being used to allow networks to form across large distances.
Now, go forth! Find your IT guy and blow his socks off with your newfound knowledge.