Bluetooth is one of those things that we use almost daily without much regard over the way it was developed, precisely like Wi-Fi (which we will cover in a later entry of this series). Today, however, we will take a brief look into the history of Bluetooth as well as how it works and why it became so popular.
Like always, if you disagree with something that we have said in this post or would like to contribute to the discussion further, please feel free to leave a comment down below!
The History of Bluetooth – How things got started
Back in 1993, a wireless communications engineer over at Ericsson named Jaap Haartsen was appointed to develop a short-range connection for mobile phones in order to enable new and exciting functionalities.
You see, back then, wires and cables were an incredible hindrance on communication systems. This was especially true for instruments that merely had to communicate with each other over short distances yet required a lot of setup.
And so in 1995, Haartsen enlisted the help of fellow engineer Sven Mattison and together, they managed to develop what came to be known as multi-communicator links, or MC links for short.
But while those two are often credited with Bluetooth, it was Ericsson’s CTO which first initiated the development of this technology, four years before appointing Haartsen to the task. Of course, a number of different people worked on the project, each with their own contribution.
Over the next couple of years, Haartsen continuously worked on what is now known as Bluetooth technology. But to understand all that, we should first establish a very basic understanding of how Bluetooth operates.
Piconets, radio waves, and beyond
First and foremost, Bluetooth uses what is now known as short-link radio technology. It operates at the unlicensed (but regulated) 2.4 to 2.485 GHz band and it uses radios to communicate and establish connections between two or more devices.
Its foundation is based on a technology called frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS), first described in a 1942 patent by actress Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil who wished to create a way to prevent torpedoes guided by radio to be jammed.
While the U.S. Navy did not adopt the system, FHSS has been instrumental in many technologies, including Bluetooth. What happens, in essence, is that linking two Bluetooth devices creates a short-range wireless network called a piconet.
Piconets operate in the aforementioned ISM band and allow multiple devices to be connected at the same time. This system uses the master-slave structure, which means that the “master” device can simultaneously transmit data to one or more “slave” devices.
The interesting thing, which has surely one of the greatest contributors to the technology expanding so much, is the fact that these networks can handle pretty much anything including voice and data, two of Bluetooth’s most commonly used applications.
Establishing Bluetooth and the Special Interest Group
Already by 1994, Bluetooth was getting some serious traction, at least internally at Ericsson. Companies like Nokia and Intel had very similar ideas, including the concept of linking cellphones, computers, and developing devices like wireless, short-range headsets.
What the companies (thankfully) understood was that in order to create a protocol that would seamlessly work across a number of devices from a multitude of companies, the protocol had to be standardized so that it could be universally applied.
In December 1996, those companies met at Ericsson’s plant in Lund and decided to form the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), which was finally established in 1998. It was an important moment in the history of Bluetooth, in fact, as this was also when its name was suggested.
Bluetooth was the eponym of King Harald Gormsson, who ruled over Norway and Denmark. Harald not only introduced Christianity to Denmark, he also unified various clans under a single banner. This was Bluetooth’s goal: to unite everything under a single platform.
The name, as it often happens, stuck. The marketing teams could not come up with anything better, so the name (and logo) of a technology used a thousand years later is owed to an old King.
As for the Bluetooth SIG, it grew remarkably fast. Starting with only five companies (Ericsson, Intel, Nokia, IBM, and Toshiba), SIG added more and more members throughout the years. By the end of the first year alone, SIG had more than 400 members. Today, it has more than 30,000.
Keeping up with the times
Bluetooth took quite some time to be introduced to a mainstream, consumer audience. The technology was considered obscure even amongst tech circles as the companies involved struggle to explain and launch it in an affordable and simple manner.
Yet in 2000, a host of Bluetooth-enabled devices were unleashed. These includes a mobile phone, headset, mouse, laptop, and a PC card. By 2001, the first Bluetooth printer and hands-free car kit were also released.
After that, Bluetooth rapidly expanded. While a lot of people still thought that hands-free Bluetooth headsets looked kind of weird, it mattered little. Over the next few years, Bluetooth would find itself in every mobile phone while headsets, cameras, and MP3 players that supported Bluetooth were soon considered standard.
Something that has helped Bluetooth tremendously over the years is that it keeps up with the times, even though some updates come slower than some people would prefer. Now, for instance, Bluetooth is openly supporting IoT devices, which means that the technology is certain to play a major role in the next few years.
The history of Bluetooth may not be as fascinating as some other technologies like the mobile phone or the laptop yet it shows us that technologies which are now ubiquitous have not always had an easy path.
From its original development to the formation of the Bluetooth SIG and the technology’s widespread implementation, the only factor that stayed the same was the simplest one: if people appreciate the technology on offer, it is very likely to find its way onto the hands of consumers.