Phone Terms

3G Phone

A cell phone that uses a 3G network with greater bandwidth allowing faster data downloads and face to face video calling.

Access Fee

A fee that local telephone companies are allowed to charge all telephone customers for the right to connect with the local phone network. Cellular subscribers pay this fee along with a federal telephone excise tax.

Activation Fee

The initial charge to set up a cell phone so that it can operate within the selected carrier network.


Actual time spent talking on the cellular telephone. Most carriers bill customers based on how many minutes of airtime they use each month, and during peak periods charges can vary from about 20 cents to more than 40 cents per minute. Most carriers offer reduced rates for off-peak usage.


A message containing both letters ("alphas") and numbers ("numeric").


A transmission method that relies on a continuous (rather than pulsed as in digital) electrical signal

Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL)

Combining a location-sensing device (such as a GPS receiver) with a wireless communications link to provide a home office or dispatcher with the location of a vehicle.


Bluejaking is the generally benign transmission of message from anonymous Bluetooth users.

Bluetooth technology

A radio technology making transmission of signals over short distances between telephones computers and other devices possible without the use of wires. It is possible to link household appliances to a controlling device, like your cell phone.

Calling Plan

A rate plan selected by subscribers when they start up cellular service, usually consisting of a base rate for system access and a per-minute rate for usage.

Camera phone

A cell phone with a built-in digital camera.


A cell phone housing shape that doesn’t have hinges and resembles an oblong candy bar.


The basic geographic unit of a cellular system. A city or county is divided into small "cells," each which is equipped with a low-powered radio transmitter/receiver. The cells can vary in size depending on terrain and capacity demands. A computer at the Mobile Telephone Switching Office (MTSO) monitors and transfers the phone call to another cell and another radio frequency as needed.


A phone that opens up to reveal the keypad, microphone, and earpiece; these are typically more compact than other designs. Often called "flip phones".

Code division multiple access (CDMA)

A method for transmitting simultaneous signals over a shared portion of the spectrum. The foremost application of CDMA is the digital cellular phone technology from QUALCOMM that operates in the 800MHz band and 1.9GHz PCS band. CDMA phones are noted for their call quality.


A method of encoding information by using a binary code of 0s and 1s from electrical pulses. Most new wireless phones and networks use digital technology.

Electromagnetic Waves

Electromagnetic waves or radiation is a propagating wave in pace with electric and magnetic components.

Enhanced 911 (E911)

Short for enhanced 911, location technology advanced by the FCC that will enable cellular phones to process 911 emergency calls and enable emergency services to locate the geographic position of the caller.

ESN (Electronic Serial Number)

Each cellular phone is assigned a unique ESN, which is automatically transmitted to the cellular tower station every time a cellular call is placed. The Mobile Telephone Switching Office validates the ESN with each call.

Faceplates & Covers

Protective covering for your phone. Faceplates come in many different colors and designs.


Federal Communications Commission. The Government agency responsible for regulating telecommunications in the United States.

Global Positioning System (GPS)

A system of satellites for identifying earth locations. A GPS receiving unit, such as a GPS cell phone, can pinpoint its location anywhere on earth to within a few meters.

Global System for Mobile Telecommunications (GSM)

The International standard for mobile phones.

Hands-free kits

A hands-free kit allows you to use your cell phone in your car without taking your hands from the wheel. Consist of a speaker and microphone, and can be set to automatically pick up. Portable kinds plug into the cigarette lighter; while mounted kits connect permanently to the vehicle’s power supply.

Handheld Device Markup Language (HDML)

A specialized version of HTML designed to enable wireless pagers, cell phones and other handheld devices to obtain information from Web pages. It is a subset of WAP with some features, not included in WAP. See also WAP.

Interactive Messaging

Short Message Service or SMS that allows users to send alphanumeric messages from their cell phone to other cell phones or to email addresses. Also allows the user to receive emails and web messages from the Internet.


A simple platform-independent object-oriented programming language used for writing applets that are downloaded from the World Wide Web by a client and run on the client’s machine.


A landline is a traditional wired phone service. Also called wireline.

Local Calling Area

The geographical area that a customer may call without incurring toll charges.

Local Number Portability (LNP)

The ability of subscribers to switch local or wireless carriers and still retain the same phone number

Long Distance

Telephone calls made outside of a certain area, typically characterized by an area code outside of a local call area. Long distance calls normally carry long distance charges and vary between phone companies. Long distance calls include international calls, which are calls made between different countries.

Message Alert

(Also referred to as "call-in-absence" indicator) A light or other indicator announcing that a phone call came in; an especially important feature if the cellular subscriber has voice mail.

Mobile phone

(Also calle
d a car phone) The type of cellular phone that’s installed in a car, truck or van. A mobile unit is attached to the vehicle, draws its power from the vehicle’s battery and has an external antenna.


Periods of time during which carriers may offer reduced airtime charges, usually after normal business hours during the week, and weekends.


Highest-usage period of the business day when a cellular system carries the most calling traffic and airtime charges are usually highest.

Prepaid phones

Also known as "pay as you go" phones, the next generation of prepaid phones are ideal for those who have problem or no-credit challenges.


A rintone is the sound made by a telephone indicating an incoming call. The term is most often used to refer to custom sounds available on cell phones.


The ability to use your cellular phone outside your usual service area – when traveling, for example.

Roaming agreement

An agreement between two or more wireless telephone companies outlining the terms and conditions under which the participating companies will provide wireless service to each others’ subscribers when the subscribers are outside of their usual service areas.

Satellite Phone

A satellite phone is a cell phone that communicates with a satellite rather than a land-based network.

Service Charge

The amount customers pay each month to receive wireless service. This amount is fixed and paid monthly regardless of how much or how little customers use their wireless phones.

Short Message Service (SMS)

The transmission of short alphanumeric text messages to and from a mobile phone, fax machine and/or IP address. Messages must be no longer than 160 alphanumeric characters and contain no images or graphics.

Smart Phone

A smart phone is a cell phone with special computer-enabled features, which may include Internet access, fax, email, camera, remote control of computers or home electronic systems, and PDA (personal digital assistant) functions. As with a computer or PDA, one can install additional applications.

Telephone Network or Public Switched Telephone Network

A telephone network is the chain of the world’s public circuit switched telephone networks, similar to the way that the Internet is the chain of the world’s public IP-based packet-switched networks. Telephone networks are almost entirely digital and includes cell phones.

Text Messaging

Text messaging is a service available on most digital cell phones that allows the sending of short messages (also known as SMS, short messaging service, messages) between cell phones.

Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)

An open standard for wireless communication between cell phones and the Internet. WAP strips all but graphics for display on small screens. A mini-browser is an integral part of WAP enabled phones.


Wireless Message Format -sends data through wireless means to mobile computers.


Traditional telephone technology that relies upon wires. Also called landline.

Cell Phones
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