A beginner's guide to telecom jargon, part 8

This week, CNET looks at what it means to create a virtual fence, the difference between a feature phone and smartphone, and why you should always send in your rebates.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
Expertise Mobile, 5G, Big Tech, Social Media Credentials
  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
3 min read
Nokia is "aligning" its workforce. Translation: It's cutting several thousand jobs. Nokia

The mobile world moves at a breakneck pace, and it's difficult to keep up--even without the technical jargon most industry insiders throw around. And they do love to toss those terms about.

This week, I explain what a geo-fence is, why a feature phone is really just a dumb phone with a niftier marketing title, and why companies love rebates.

So for some light reading, here are a few terms (and definitions) commonly used by telecommunications experts who assume everyone understands them.

Alignment: Look, it's another code word for layoffs. While not exactly the best example of telecom jargon, it's a relevant term given Nokia's decision to "align" its workforce, which means shedding 3,500 jobs on top of a prior plan to cut thousands of other jobs. It's in the same vein as synergy and redundancy, fancy words that mask the ugly truth that a lot of people are getting canned.

Feature phone: This is the industry's term for any phone that isn't a smartphone, which runs on a more complex operating system that can run applications. You have to admire the marketing spin on what is essentially a dumb phone.

The Motorola Razr, perhaps the most famous feature phone CNET

I, for one, hate using the term, and have largely stuck to calling them basic phones.

Feature phones are in a phase of gradual decline as people jump to smartphones, which are getting more affordable. Leap Wireless CEO Doug Hutcheson said he expects smartphones to cost $100 or less without a contract by the holidays, just slightly more expensive than a feature phone.

HTC's global marketing chief, Jason MacKenzie, boldly said he sees his Rhyme smartphone as a better upgrade for feature phone users than the iPhone.

Geo-fence: It's a virtual perimeter you can set up anywhere to ensure your child or pet stays in a certain zone. If they leave the designated area, an alert is sent to your phone.

SecuraFone, for example, is one of many apps that allow you to draw a perimeter on a map in your phone to create a geo-fence on the fly. The app, designed to keep track of family members, allows a person to draw a circle around a school or library, making it a lot harder than it used to be to ditch class.

HTML5: It's the latest version of the well-known Hypertext Markup Language, which is the basis for the Internet. HTML5's promise, however, is its ability to display multimedia including videos, games, and other features now taken care of by Adobe's Flash.

Google and Apple, among other major technology companies, have expressed a commitment to HTML5. Apple, in particular, is looking at HTML5 to completely replace Flash in its devices. Steve Jobs has said some not-so-kind things about Flash's tendency to hog power and crash the system.

Others have run with HTML5 further than even Jobs probably intended, using the more advanced code to create more sophisticated mobile Web sites and bypassing the need for a native application.

In fact, Rob Chandhok, president of Qualcomm's Internet services division, said he believes HTML5 will become a standard for developers in the next 18 to 24 months. Pandora and LinkedIn are among the companies already using the code for their mobile presence.

Rebate: A rebate is why a $199 smartphone isn't really $199. Customers have to clip out their proof of purchase ID, fill out some paperwork, and send it in to get the actual advertised price of the product. By the time it comes back, which usually comes in the form of a check, or more recently, a debit card, you've probably forgotten about it.

Which is why companies, particularly ones in the consumer tech world, love rebates. As many as half the customers who buy a product forget to send their rebates back to the company for redemption. They're likely too in love with their new smartphone or Blu-ray player.

Best Buy and Staples, for example, are offering the BlackBerry PlayBook at around $300 through a combination of mail-in rebates and other discounts.

So this is less a definition and more a reminder to send in those rebates. Or scan for instant rebates. Otherwise, that's just found money for those companies and less money in your pocket.