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Digital infrastructure, like any specialized industry, has its own unique set of terminology, definitions, and abbreviations for cell towers, data centers, and fiber optic networks.

This digital infrastructure glossary compiles more than 150 of the most common terms you are likely to encounter and will need to know for your understanding of cell towers, data centers, and fiber optic networks.

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4G (Fourth Generation)

Wireless telecommunications standard that offers increased voice, video, and data capabilities, higher network capacity, improved spectral efficiency, and high-speed data rates, as compared to 3G standards.

5G (Fifth Generation)

The next generation of wireless telecommunications standards which will result in significantly reduced latency, increased speed, the ability to connect to more devices simultaneously, added capacity (network throughput), and improvements in signaling efficiency.


ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line)

Broadband technology that transforms, through a modem, copper fixed line into a high-speed digital connection for the transfer of data.

Aerial Fiber

Fiber optic cable is strung above ground, usually up on utility or telephone poles.

AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Autonomous and adaptive intelligence of machines, where machines are capable of performing tasks in complex environments without constant guidance by a user and have the ability to improve performance by learning from experience.

Antenna Array

A platform, which is typically three-sided, where wireless carriers place their panel antennas and remote radio units (RRUs) to provide signal transmission and reception to a specific area.

AR (Augmented Reality)

Technology that overlays superimposed computer-generated images on a real-world view, creating a composite view, and thus altering and enhancing the current perception of reality.



Main portion of a telecommunications network that supports long-distance transmission and aggregates large amounts of traffic. A network’s backbone interconnects smaller networks, including regional and metropolitan networks.


Transport of voice, video, and data traffic, originating from a wireless carrier’s mobile base station, or cell tower, to its mobile switching center, or other central exchange point where the traffic is then switched onto a wireline telecommunications network. READ MORE


Has two different meanings: i) a band or block of radio frequencies measured in cycles per second, or Hertz and ii) unit of capacity in a telecommunications transmission network used to carry signals.

Base Station

Also known as a BTS (Base Transceiver Station); comprises radio transmitter and receiver units, which are used to transmit and receive radio telephony signals, such as voice and data, to-and-from other telecommunications systems.

Baseband Unit (BBU)

Component of the base station which handles baseband radio signal processing.

BCM (Branch Circuit Monitoring)

Consumption-based power pricing model for data centers, enabled by the measurement and remote monitoring of the current and voltage on each individual electrical circuit provisioned to customers. BCM supports the pass-through or “net” billing for power.


Antenna technology to provide fine-grained focusing of radio signals, through directional signal transmission and reception, which will improve cell site capacity.

Big Data

Describes the set of technologies and methods for massive data analysis. The term indicates the ability to extrapolate, analyze, and relate a huge amount of heterogeneous, structured, and unstructured data, to discover the links between different data sets.

Blade Server

Server architecture used widely in data centers that houses multiple server modules (blades) in a single chassis to save space and improve system management.


Power pricing model for data centers whereby the right to draw electricity is charged at a fixed rate for each power circuit provisioned to a customer, irrespective of the customer’s actual consumption of power.


Communications service that allows for the high-speed transmission of voice, video, and data simultaneously at rates of 1.544 Mbps and above.


Cell tower that is planned and constructed based on specific criteria from a particular wireless carrier, where the wireless carrier has contractually committed to co-locate on the tower subject to its requirements being met.



Has two different meanings: i) number of wireless users that can practically be served by a base station and ii) information?carrying ability of a lit fiber product.

Carrier Aggregation

Technology used to aggregate multiple spectrum frequencies, enabling faster data transmission speeds to be delivered over a wireless network.

Carrier Hotel

Data center facility containing many carriers and other telecommunications service providers that are widely interconnected.


Telecommunications services operator providing the transport of communication services, such as voice, data, and Internet services, via its physical telecommunications network.


Also known as network-neutral; a facility where a data center operator offers network connectivity options to end users from several different telecommunications carriers, and does not have a bias to any one carrier within its facilities.

CDN (Content Delivery Network)

Distributed network of servers containing copies of content, placed at various points in a network so as to efficiently distribute the content to end users across the network.

Cell Site

Area within a wireless carrier’s network that is served by an antenna array, which is commonly referred to as a ring.

Cellular Tower

Also known as a cell tower; an outdoor vertical structure primarily used to attach and house antenna used by wireless carriers to aggregate and transmit mobile voice and data.

Central Office

Buildings that house telecommunications equipment and are used as aggregation points to make connections between local distribution networks and regional or long-distance telecommunications facilities.


Equipment that removes heat from a liquid through a vapor-compression or absorption refrigeration cycle in order to cool a data center.

CLEC (Competitive Local Exchange Carrier)

Local telecommunications provider licensed to compete with some or all of the offerings of an ILEC (Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier) in a local service area.

Cloud Computing

The use of shared compute, storage, and networking resources owned and managed by a remote third-party provider that can be securely accessed to run applications and services on many connected computers simultaneously.


Housing of telecommunications equipment, servers, and storage components within the same location for multiple end users.

Commissioned Power

Current electricity supply delivered to a data center which can support a customer’s leased or pre-leased critical IT load.


A pipe or tube, typically made of metal, ceramic, or plastic that protects underground (buried) fiber optic cables.

Core Network

Combination of exchanges and transmission equipment where service providers are connected to one another, providing the foundation for network services.


General term that describes the ability of a base station to transmit and receive radio signals of sufficient strength to provide reliable cellular service.

Cross Connect

Physical, point-to-point cable that provides a direct link between two different customer-defined end points within a colocation data center. Cross connects enable businesses to establish dedicated, private connectivity to one another for the purposes of exchanging data traffic.


Dark Fiber

Fiber that has not yet been connected to telecommunications transmission equipment or optronics and, therefore, has not yet been activated or “lit” for the transmission of voice, video, and data traffic.

DAS (Distributed Antenna System)

Network of distributed antennas connected to a radio frequency signal source in order to provide wireless services in a geographical area or indoors.

Data Center Provider

Company supplying power, space, cooling, and managed services to data center users.

Data Center

Facility used to house computer systems, servers, routers, data storage devices, and other communications equipment. These buildings are equipped with redundant & backup power supplies, multiple communications network connections, specialized environmental controls (e.g., cooling, humidification, and fire suppression), and high security.

Data Gravity

Concept that data has mass, and the larger that mass grows, the greater its gravitational pull, but the harder it is to move. Therefore, large data volumes should be used but not moved.

Dedicated Internet Access (DIA)

Symmetrical Internet access delivered over Ethernet with multi-gigabit per second (Gbps) speeds.

Digital Divide

Gap between people with good access to digital and information technology and those with very limited or no access at all.

Disaster Recovery

Process, policies, procedures, and preparation related to the recovery or continuation of technology infrastructure critical to an organization after a natural or human-induced disaster.

DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification)

Industry standard for hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) networks that allows for equipment interoperability from a cable headend (distribution facility) to the customer premises equipment (CPE).

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)

Family of broadband technologies that transmit voice, video, and data traffic over an existing twisted-pair copper telephone line.

DWDM (Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing)

Digital transmission technology based on multiplexing wavelength channels over fiber optics, enabling high-speed data transfer across long distance networks.


Edge Computing

Process of obtaining, processing, and analyzing data close to the source of its creation, which reduces latency and bandwidth usage.

Edge Data Center

Decentralized facilities, equipped with power and cooling infrastructure, that provide compute and storage in a location closer to where data is being generated and/or used. Edge data centers store, process, and analyze data around the end user’s location.


Standard local area network (LAN) protocol, as well as a common transmission protocol in metropolitan, regional, and long-haul networks.


Facilities-based Provider

A network service provider that predominantly utilizes its own infrastructure and transmission & termination equipment (whether owned or leased) to provide telecommunications services, rather than the infrastructure of other network service providers.


A type of small cell which is compact and installed indoors for home and small office use, providing a coverage range of less than 100 feet. In total, a single femtocell can support 1 to 32 users.

Fiber Optics

Transmission method for voice, video, and data traffic in which light beams travel over thin filaments of glass called fiber optic cables.

Fiber Route Miles

Length, measured by the number of non?overlapping miles that a fiber network traverses.

Fiber Strand Miles

Number of fiber route miles of network multiplied by the number of fiber strands within each cable on that network. For example, if a 10-mile network segment has a 432-count fiber installed, it would represent 4,320 fiber strand miles.

Fixed Wireless

Also known as fixed wireless access (FWA); a type of wireless broadband service which enables the high-speed transmission of voice, video, and data traffic, for homes and businesses, through mobile networks.


Transmission of traffic, via dark fiber, from the centralized baseband unit (BBU) at a cell tower, out to a small cell, also known as a remote radio unit (RRU).

FTTC (Fiber to the Curb or Cabinet)

Fiber optics deliver high-speed connectivity from a telecommunications provider’s central office to a local street cabinet nearby a customer’s premises, and a copper line delivers the final connection to houses or businesses.

FTTH (Fiber To The Home)

Fiber optics deliver high-speed connectivity directly to the boundary of a customer’s home, such as a box installed on the outside wall of a house.

FTTN (Fiber to the Node or Neighborhood)

Fiber optics deliver high-speed connectivity from a telecommunications provider’s central office to a “node” in the field, such as a street cabinet, nearby a customer’s premises, and a copper line delivers the final connection to houses or businesses.

FTTP (Fiber to the Premises)

Fiber optics deliver high-speed connectivity directly to the boundary of a customer’s premises, such as a box installed on the outside wall of a business.

FTTT (Fiber to the Tower)

Laterals or spurs connect cell towers to the wider terrestrial network via fiber optic connections.

FTTx (Fiber to the x)

Collective term for any broadband network architecture using fiber optics to replace all or part of existing copper cables.


Fixed broadband technology (DSL standard) that is able to deliver speeds of up to 1 Gbps over very short distances (i.e., up to 165 feet).

Gbps (Gigabits per second)

Measure of telecommunications speed, whereby 1 gigabit equals 1 billion bits of information.

GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network)

Fiber access technology capable of delivering data download speeds of nearly 2.5 Gbps and upload speeds of up to 1.2 Gbps, over a single optical fiber to multiple end points.

Guyed Tower

Towers that gain their support capacity from a series of cables attaching separate levels of the structure to anchor foundations in the ground. Normally, guyed towers serve television and radio broadcasters, providing digital television and radio (FM and AM) transmission services.


Homes Passed

Total number of homes that have the potential for being connected to a cable or fiber optic system in a defined geographic area.

Hybrid Cloud

Application deployments that utilize a combination of different environments including on-premise, private cloud, and public cloud. This architecture enables developers and different business lines to utilize the optimal technology for the specific requirements of their workloads.

Hybrid Fiber-Coaxial (HFC)

Technology that utilizes fiber optic and coaxial cable in different portions of a network to carry voice, video, and data traffic from a distribution facility to a customer’s premise.


Very large data center deployments by cloud service providers (CSPs) and large internet companies who will build or lease facilities capable of delivering 5 to 100 megawatts of power capacity.


IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service)

Cloud platform model; a cloud service provider delivers, in a flexible and dynamic way, compute, storage, and networking resources, through which a customer can develop and run software, including operating systems and applications.

ILEC (Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier)

The dominant telecommunications company providing local telephone service in a given geographic area when competition originally began.

Industry 4.0

Also known as the fourth industrial revolution; the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern technology, such as machine-to-machine communication and the internet of things (IoT).


A connection between two customers who are located within a single data center or colocation space using a cross connect, which is a physical fiber, coaxial, copper, or plain old telephone service (POTS) cable.

IoT (Internet of Things)

Interconnection, via the internet, of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.

IP (Internet Protocol)

Packet-based network protocol that facilitates the transfer of data over the Internet.

IRU (Indefeasible Right of Use)

Exclusive and unrestricted right to use a specified amount of fiber optic capacity (e.g., one fiber, a pair, or multiple strands of fiber) on a fiber optic cable. An IRU often takes the form of a long-term (initial terms of 15 to 20 years) prepaid lease.

ISP (Internet Service Provider)

Provider of retail access to the Internet for consumers and businesses by connecting end users to one or more network service providers.

IXP (Internet Exchange Point)

Locations where large network service providers meet, such as a colocation data center, for the direct exchange of traffic.



Indicates the variation of one or more characteristics of a signal such as, amplitude, frequency, phase, transmission delay.


LAN (Local Area Network)

Network created via linked computers that covers a local geographic area.

Last Mile

Last stretch of fiber that connects an end user to the backbone of the Internet.


Measure of time delay experienced in a system, from a source to a destination.


Also known as spur; an extension from the main or core portion of a network to a customer’s premises or other connection point.

Lattice Tower

Predominant type of cell tower serving wireless carriers for the purposes of telephony. These structures taper from the bottom up and have three or four legs/sides of open-framed steel supports.

Lit Fiber

Fiber that has been activated or “lit” by provider-supplied telecommunications transmission equipment or optronics.

LTE (Long Term Evolution)

Wireless telecommunications standard which is a 4G (fourth generation) cellular wireless technology that delivers higher speeds (up to 300 Mbps), improves spectral efficiency, and lowers costs for wireless carriers.

LTE-A (LTE Advanced)

Wireless telecommunications standard that represents a major enhancement of the LTE standard, delivering peak data rates of 1 Gbps and faster switching between power states.


M2M (Machine to Machine)

Exchanges of information between electronic devices that are established between a central control system (server) and any type of equipment, through communications networks.

Machine Learning

Ability of computers to autonomously learn and adapt without following explicit instructions, by using algorithms and statistical models to analyze and draw inferences from patterns in data.


Also known as a cell tower; an outdoor vertical structure primarily used to attach and house antenna used by wireless carriers to aggregate and transmit mobile voice and data. These tall, high-powered structures keep the signals of wireless networks strong across large distances and wide areas.

Managed Hosting

Service designed to provide servers, data storage equipment, and network connectivity required by the owners of applications, content, or websites, that need to be housed in a data center and connected to a network.

Mbps (Megabits per second)

Measure of telecommunications speed, whereby 1 megabit equals 1 million bits of information.


A type of small cell which is installed outdoors on city infrastructure like streetlights, utility poles, light poles, and slim line poles. Usually, microcells are deployed in dense urban environments to cover a high-demand city block where macrocell (cell tower) coverage may not be sufficient.

Microwave Dish

Specific type of antenna, which is used in point-to-point radio, television, and data communications. Also, a microwave dish is commonly used by wireless carriers for backhaul.

Millimeter Wave (mmWave)

Spectrum typically ranging from 24 GHz to 47 GHz frequencies, within the context of 5G.

MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output)

Wireless technology that uses multiple antennas to transmit and receive a radio signal, with the purpose of expanding the capacity of a cell site.

MMR (Meet-Me Room)

Physical location in a carrier hotel or colocation data center, where telecommunications carriers, internet service providers (ISPs), cloud platforms, and IT service providers can interconnect so that data can be transferred between and among their respective networks.

Monopole Tower

Free-standing tubular structures that are used primarily to address space constraints in urban and suburban areas. Typically, monopole cell towers serve wireless carriers for the purposes of telephony.

MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching)

Routing technique which improves network speed and efficiency, allowing network routers to transfer information along pre-defined paths depending on the level of quality required.

MSC (Mobile Switching Center)

Buildings where wireless carriers house their Internet routers and voice switching equipment, for the purposes of aggregating traffic from multiple cell sites.

Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC)

Network architecture and open application concept that enables cloud computing and IT services to be deployed at the edge of the network.


Application deployments with several public cloud service providers, instead of only using a single public cloud service provider. This architecture allows individuals and businesses to match their applications with the most suitable technology stacks and pricing models to run them.


NaaS (Network as a Service)

Provision of virtual network services by a network provider to a customer that is not equipped with its own networking infrastructure. An example service is VPN (Virtual Private Network).

NAP (Network Access Point)

Location where network carriers meet to exchange traffic with each other and to provide connectivity services to their customers.

Network Density

Measurement of the number of network service providers offering connectivity services within a data center facility.

Network Edge

Segment of the network lying between access and core, where service functions are located. The network edge can be quite distributed (to the level of mobile base station), or less distributed (at the edge of the backbone).

Network Hop

Point where data that in transit undergoes switching or routing, which, in turn, adds incremental latency to the packet’s transport.

Network Service Provider (NSP)

Business that sells bandwidth or network access by providing direct access to the Internet.

NFV (Network Function Virtualization)

Principle of separating network functions (software) from the hardware they run on by using virtual hardware abstraction.

NOC (Network Operations Center)

Location that is used to monitor networks, troubleshoot network degradations & outages, and ensure customer network outages are restored.


Point on a network that can receive, create, or transmit communication services.


OLT (Optical Line Terminal)

Typically located in communications exchanges and other network central offices within multiple service access nodes (MSANs). This device serves as the telecommunications provider endpoint of a passive optical network (PON).


Customer locations where network infrastructure is in place to provide connectivity to the premises without further builds or third-party leases.

On-Premise Data Center

Facility that is owned and operated by an individual business to meet its own data center requirements. Companies may maintain on-premise data centers for cost, regulatory, privacy, performance, and security reasons.

ONT (Optical Network Terminal)

Also known as an Optical Network Unit (ONU); transceiver located at the customer premises which terminates a fiber optic line and converts the light/optical signals to electrical signals, enabling an in-home network to deliver voice, video, and data services.


Various types of equipment that are commonly used to light fiber, including systems that are capable of providing Ethernet, IP, SONET, and Wavelength service over fiber optic cable.

O-RAN (Open RAN)

Disaggregates hardware and software solutions and allows third-party software to run on commercial-off-the-shelf servers.

OTT (Over-the-Top)

Content, services, and applications in an on-demand video format, for which delivery occurs through a medium other than the established video delivery infrastructure (i.e., the Internet).


PaaS (Platform as a Service)

Cloud platform model; a cloud service provider simplifies the process of building an application by hiding the complexity of the infrastructure that runs it (e.g., servers, operating systems, memory, network). Instead, customers are given an interface through which they define the behavior and configure the environment that hosts their application.

Panel Antenna

System of electrical conductors that transmits and receives radio waves from a cell tower to a mobile device, or vice versa.


Voluntary interconnection of separate networks for the purpose of exchanging traffic between the customers of each network.


A type of small cell which provides a coverage range of 300 feet to 1,000 feet and is installed indoors, at large venues including airports, hotels, hospitals, offices, and universities.

PON (Passive Optical Network)

Fiber-based transmission technology used for delivering broadband network access. PON uses unpowered fiber optic splitters to enable a single optical fiber to serve multiple endpoints (i.e., premises) without having to provide individual fibers between the distribution hub and customer.

PoP (Point of Presence)

Interface point between communicating networks at which certain telecommunications services, including colocation, transmission, and fiber termination occur. Through a PoP, a service provider allows connectivity to their network by users or partners.

PPA (Power Purchase Agreement)

Reciprocal financial relationship between an electricity generator (seller), who develops and owns a project, and a dedicated purchaser of the electricity (buyer). This electricity can be generated by renewable energy sources, mainly solar and wind.

Private Cloud

Cloud computing model that involves a distinct and secure infrastructure environment dedicated to a single organization.

Private Line

Dedicated private bandwidth circuit that typically employs Ethernet, SONET, and Wavelength technology, used to connect various locations.

PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness)

Standard industry ratio that compares the amount of non-computing overhead energy (used for things like cooling and power distribution) to the amount of energy used to power IT equipment. A PUE of 1.0 means that all energy is used to power IT equipment.


Raised Flooring

Specialty flooring which provides the capability to diffuse air to specific locations in a data center.

RAN (Radio Access Network)

Part of the mobile network that consists of radio base stations and transmission equipment. The RAN implements the radio technologies, comprising data transport functions over air interface and control functions.

Redundant Power

Duplication of critical components in an electrical system to increase the reliability of a data center in case of a power failure.

Renewable Energy Certificate (REC)

Market-based instrument that certifies the holder owns one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated from a renewable energy resource. Once the power provider has distributed the energy into the grid, the REC can then be sold on the open market as an energy commodity.

Retail Colocation

Provision of turn-key data center services to multiple customers with smaller individual power capacity requirements and within the same data halls. The data center operator is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the data center, which includes delivering adequate power capacity, cooling, security and access to telecommunications carriers.


Device that interconnects two or more computer networks and exchanges packets of data between them.


SaaS (Software as a Service)

Cloud platform model; software that is deployed over a network, where a provider licenses an application to customers either as a service on-demand, through a subscription, in a pay-as-you-go model, or at no charge.

SDN (Software-Defined Networking)

Approach to computer networking that separates the network control (regulatory) and forwarding (sending information packets) functions, which allows greater automation and programmability in the network.

SD-WAN (Software Defined-Wide Area Network)

Simplifies the management and operation of a wide area network (WAN) by separating the networking hardware from its control mechanism.


Computing device with data processing and storage components designed to house and operate applications, websites, and content, which ultimately connect to a network.

Small Cell

Low-powered cellular radio access points or “nodes” used for voice, video, and data transmission, which are designed to enhance network coverage and capacity in dense urban areas. These nodes are placed outdoors, as well as indoors.

SONET (Synchronous Optical Network)

Network protocol that enables the high-speed movement of voice, video, and data, which has traditionally been used to support private line offerings.


Range of electromagnetic radio frequencies used in the transmission of voice, video, and data. These radio frequency airwaves are licensed to carriers who utilize the spectrum to transmit wireless signals.


Electronic device that selects the path that voice, data, and Internet traffic take or use on a network.



Also known as IP transit; wholesale internet connectivity service that routes traffic to different places on the Internet and is sold to corporate customers.


Telecommunications service to move voice, video, data, Internet, and wireless traffic from one location to another.


High-capacity links or circuits, between major voice and data switching centers. Fiber optic cables are the most common type of trunk circuit, while microwave radios are used for portions of circuits when the intervening terrain is difficult to traverse or as redundant backup links for the fiber optic network.


UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply)

Electrical equipment in a data center that provides short-term, continuous, emergency power when there is a power failure, until an auxiliary power source (e.g., generators) can be brought on-line.

Utility Power

Power currently available at a data center, including additional power that could be provided by the utility company to a facility. Typically, available utility power is measured in megawatts.


VDSL (Very high bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line)

Variant of DSL technology providing downstream speeds of up to 50 Mbps by reducing the length signals are sent over a pair of copper wires by connecting to fiber at the street cabinet.

VPN (Virtual Private Network)

Private network that operates securely over a shared (i.e., not dedicated) public network, such as the Internet, by encrypting transmissions.

VR (Virtual Reality)

Hardware and software technologies providing an immersive, three-dimensional simulation of images or an environment. Virtual reality environments are delivered through a computer screen augmented with wearable devices, that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way.

vRAN (Virtual Radio Access Network)

Architecture that splits the base station between a centralized unit (away from antennas) and a remote or distributed unit.


WAN (Wide Area Network)

A private network that covers an extensive geographic area, interconnecting multiple local area networks (LANs), using public telecommunications services.


A channel of light that carries telecommunications traffic through the process of wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM), which combines multiple channels onto a single fiber.

WDM (Wavelength-Division Multiplexing)

Technology that combines (multiplexes) multiple optical signals onto a single optical fiber by using different wavelengths (colors) of laser light to carry the different signals.

Wholesale Data Centers

A data center that is leased to a single customer, comprising either a full building or data hall, with access to basic cooling and power infrastructure. The customer is responsible for building-out the white space into a fully functioning data center and managing its day-to-day operations.

Wi-Fi (Wireless-Fidelity)

Networking technology standard that extends the Ethernet protocol to cover radio services, enabling wireless connectivity for computers and devices using radio waves in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies.

WUE (Water Usage Effectiveness)

Metric utilized by data centers to measure how much water a facility consumes for cooling and other building needs. To calculate WUE, divide annual site water usage in liters by the IT equipment energy usage in kilowatt-hours (kWh).


XaaS (Anything as a Service)

Specialized and general-purpose cloud services that allow businesses to outsource virtually all information and communications technology (ICT) functions to the cloud, turning them from capital expenditure investments to service purchases.


High-speed transport or interconnection of two or more pieces of network or data center infrastructure, with examples being fronthaul, midhaul, and backhaul.