The History of BlueTooth

Bluetooth has changed life for the better. It’s hard to imagine a world without wireless technology. Managing music, sending files, or operating appliances from one device is a daily necessity rather than an otherworldly luxury.

Bluetooth is a technology standard for short-range wireless communication between electronic devices. Bluetooth was developed in the late 1990s and soon became popular in consumer devices.

In 1998 Ericsson, the Swedish manufacturer of mobile telephones, assembled a consortium of computer and electronics companies to bring to the consumer market a technology they had been developing for several years that was aimed at freeing computers, phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other devices from the wires required to transfer data between them. Bluetooth, named for Harald I Bluetooth, the 10th-century Danish king who unified Denmark and Norway, was developed to enable a wide range of devices to work together. Because the protocol would operate on radio frequencies rather than the infrared spectrum used by traditional remote controls, such devices would not have to maintain a line of sight to communicate. Its other key features were low power usage—enabling simple battery operation—and relatively low cost.

The consortium, known as the Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group), released Bluetooth 1.0 specifications in 1999. The technology first appeared in mobile phones and desktop computers in 2000 and spread to printers and portable computers (laptops) the following year. By the middle of the decade, Bluetooth headsets for mobile phones had become near-ubiquitous. The technology was incorporated into television sets, wristwatches, sunglasses, picture frames, and other consumer products. Nearly two billion Bluetooth-enabled products were shipped within the first ten years of the protocol. The steady growth in Bluetooth use continued; in 2020, four billion Bluetooth-enabled products were shipped.

1996: Deciding on the Name

After this technology had become more polished, it was time to start thinking about marketing to consumers and tech companies for implementation in their gadgets. However, the wireless protocol needed a name. In 1996, Intel, Ericsson, and Nokia leaders met to discuss how Bluetooth can be standardized between different products and industries. To make things easier, Intel employee Jim Kardach suggested a code name they can use in reference.

At the time, Kardach had been reading about Viking kings and was particularly enthralled by Harald Gormsson. Harald was nicknamed “Bluetooth” because he was said to have a rotting front tooth that took on a bluish colour.

Harald was famous for uniting Denmark and Norway. Kardach thought this was similar to what they were trying to accomplish by connecting PC and cellular industries with short-range wireless links. He suggested the Name Bluetooth as a placeholder.

However, when it came time to come up with a serious name, patents and licensing issues made it impossible to come up with something else. Because of that, Bluetooth became the only option, and it has stuck ever since.

The iconic Bluetooth logo combines the Nordic characters for “H” and “B,” the initials of Harald Bluetooth.

1999: The First Bluetooth Device

Once the Name had been established and companies could start using the technology in their devices, consumer Bluetooth gadgets began to appear. The first ever consumer Bluetooth device was a hands-free mobile headset launched in 1999. That same year, the first Bluetooth specification, 1.0, was launched, allowing many other wireless devices to be released.

More well-known than the headset is the Ericsson t36, the first-ever mobile phone to utilize Bluetooth technology. It worked best when combined with the Ericsson hands-free headset. However, this model never actually hit store shelves.

The Ericsson t39 revised edition became an accessible way for consumers to start using wireless technology daily.

The Bluetooth Standard

Bluetooth 1.0 was a revolutionary wireless protocol, especially since there had never been anything like it. It was a flexible packet-based protocol with various uses, making it perfect for hands-free applications.

However, the first version of Bluetooth had its fair share of issues. Namely, data speeds peaked at 721 kbps, with a limited range that could not reach further than 10 meters maximum. And since obstacles like walls and furniture can all affect the Bluetooth connections, these factors were even more diminished.

Interestingly enough, the earliest version of Bluetooth was never designed with full bandwidth music in mind despite this being its primary use today. The 721 kbps speed was enough for voice calls, but it was not until subsequent versions that wireless music streaming became a reality.

Present: Bluetooth Today

In 2017, Bluetooth launched its most recent update. Now Bluetooth 5.0, the protocol has improved some of its core features to better adapt to modern technology. Namely, Bluetooth 5.0 extends the range up to 240 meters, improves compression speeds by double, and multiplies the broadcasting message capacity by eight compared to the previous version, Bluetooth 4.2.

Also, the new Bluetooth Low Energy prevents battery drain like older iterations of the wireless protocol, meaning you can use your peripherals for longer. Bluetooth 5.0 allows streaming audio to two devices simultaneously, making music or audio sharing even more straightforward.

Bluetooth is backwards compatible with previous specifications, so if your phone supports 5.0, but your headphones only run on 3.0, you can still use the accessories.

With new advancements in technology, Bluetooth can now be used to control specific intelligent devices, send files, and stream high-fidelity audio, even at higher compression rates when compared to CDs or vinyl. And since all these improvements occurred in just over twenty years, who knows what the future will have for wireless tech?

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