Who Invented Bluetooth? How Does it Work?

Who Invented Bluetooth? How Does it Work?

Bluetooth is everywhere. It is on our phones. It is on our TVs. It is in our cars. Even things you might not expect have Bluetooth connectivity these days. The ubiquitous nature of Bluetooth may make you think you must include it in your products. What problems does it solve? Should you include it? Or should you leave it out? And who invented this nightmare?

As with all things in technology, Bluetooth exists to solve a specific problem. While people found additional uses for it over the years, this original purpose remains relevant, driving the technology forward. Therefore, by reading further, you will learn:

  • Who invented Bluetooth technology and why
  • How the technology works and its useful applications
  • The technology’s limitations and challenges going forward

what is bluetooth

A Simple Solution to a Unique Problem

All technology exists to solve problems, but only a few solve the big ones. For instance, as the world becomes increasingly mobile, we need newer, more secure ways to communicate with our devices. It is under this scenario Bluetooth was born.

What is Bluetooth?

Developed in the late 90s, Bluetooth is a way to connect electronic devices without wires. In simple terms, it is short-range, secure, radio-based, wireless communication technology but that hides its complexity and power. The truth is that Bluetooth comprises:

  • A distinct set of hardware
  • The signal the hardware transmits
  • The encryption and protocol that sends data on that signal

It is these three components that separate Bluetooth from other wireless technologies such as the infrared transmitter your television remote uses.

Bluetooth’s key feature is its constantly changing signal frequency. This feature limits the maximum range to around 30 feet, but also it provides Bluetooth’s legendary security and reliability. Obstacles may reduce the range even further, but the signal will remain clear and free of interruptions.

power spectrum of bluetooth signal

Who Invented Bluetooth?

Jaap Haartsen is usually credited with inventing Bluetooth, but he did not work alone. In reality, it was created from a collaborative effort from a team of engineers at the Swedish telecommunication company Ericsson.

In 1989,  Ericsson decided to make wireless headsets and therefore needed a cheap way to link these headsets to personal computers. So, the company’s Chief Technology Officer Nils Rydbeck ordered Haartsen and his colleague Sven Mattisson to find a solution. Their “short link” radio concept became what is known today as Bluetooth.

Ericsson used the anglicized translation of “Blåtand”, the surname of the Danish king, to name the new technology. They did it to invoke the 10th-century unification of Scandinavia in their marketing. The logo is a Viking inscription, called a bind rune, which combines the king’s initials.

bluetooth logo

How Does Bluetooth Work?

As mentioned earlier, Bluetooth runs on a highly variable frequency-modulated radio signal. It functions like the FM radio but in the much smaller 2.4GHz frequency range used by other wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi. The difference is frequency hopping.

Whereas conventional radio maintains a single core frequency, called a carrier, Bluetooth hops seamlessly between a few of them. The protocol can use up to about 79 carriers during a single transmission.

Sending data is simple as splitting the data into packets and sending them down the different carriers. This division of labor speeds up the transmission by ensuring no channel gets clogged up. The process works so well that it can allow up to 8 different devices on a single connection, creating a “personal area network” (PAN) between them.

A Brief History of Bluetooth

While Ericsson created Bluetooth to sell a product, it is the result of a long line of inventions that began during World War II. It originated with Hedy Lamarr, a prominent Austrian-born Hollywood actress from the late 1930s, who defected to America to escape the Nazis and her arms-dealing family business

While working with such actors as Judy Garland, Spencer Tracy, and Clark Gable, Lamarr spent her days off inventing new concepts and devices. One day, Lamarr created a missile guidance system for the US Navy that could not be jammed out of piano rolls. It is this spread-spectrum radio technology that would evolve into Bluetooth.

The transformation began when Ericsson established the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) with IBM, Intel, Nokia, and Toshiba in 1988. This group would take 10 years to develop and release the Bluetooth 1.0 standard. Today, the group has 30,000 members and continues to develop and improve its technology.

The Beginning: Bluetooth 1.0

Launched in 1999, Bluetooth 1.0 was strictly for hands-free mobile headsets. However, it gained numerous awards as companies started incorporating the chipset in their products. It would not take long before mice, dongles, storage devices, and other Bluetooth peripherals hit the market as well. With speed up to 721 kps, it quickly replaced the slower, older, and power-hungry RS-232 wired serial port standard.

Despite the benefits, Bluetooth 1.0 had a 10-meter range, performance issues, and a severe security flaw.

Modern Bluetooth

The Bluetooth standard has since been significantly streamlined and expanded. It now stands as the world’s prominent short-range communication system with numerous supported application profiles for everything from gaming consoles, to smart home equipment, industrial applications, and everything in between.

Audio is still the predominant use though. Powered by third-party audio codecs that allow for faster broadcasting speeds and compression, the current Bluetooth 5.0 can now stream Hi-Res and CD-quality audio. Thus, the stage is set for innovations in broadcast audio, hearing aids, and HD voice calling.

modern bluetooth

Bluetooth Features

When a device declares that it supports Bluetooth connectivity, it broadcasts to the world that it can support a specific set of features. There are slight variations between application profiles, but the differences continue to grow more insignificant with each passing version. 

As such, most Bluetooth 4 and 5 devices usually provide

  • Bitrate: up to 1MBps to 2MBps
  • Range: 11-16 yards (Bluetooth 4.2) to 44 yards (Bluetooth 5.2)
  • Support two to eight devices per PAN
  • Base carrier frequency: 2.4GHz
  • Low cost and energy consumption – can run off a small coin-cell battery
  • Multi Vendor interoperability

Bluetooth Security

There is no such thing as a truly secure technology. While Bluetooth provides numerous security features including strong encryption, its emphasis on ease of use makes it vulnerable to exploitation. Security experts discover new exploits every few years with the latest one found in 2017.

Fortunately, Bluetooth is not a grave security risk for most users. Bluetooth SIG releases patches often, and you can take the following extra precautions for more security:

  • Never use the default 0000 PIN
  • Turn off the connectivity when not in use
  • Use device-level security when possible
bluetooth security

Bluetooth Applications

Bluetooth devices run the gauntlet from gaming to industry. The wide range of available profiles, let you create devices and equipment for:

  • Hands-free audio and music – Wireless speakers, headphones, and other audio processing equipment
  • File transfers – Between computers and mobile devices
  • Smart home networks – Provide hands-free operation for household appliances and cars
  • Hands-free and remote factory and industrial applications – Through mesh networks
  • Gaming– Wireless and mobile gaming controllers, devices, and setups
  • Item tracking – Through the use of smart tags
  • Internet tethering – Share a single Internet connection between devices in a PAN

The Future of Bluetooth

Bluetooth SIG continues to improve the technology while looking for new applications. Some notable potential future advancements include:

  • Retail transactions and mobile e-Commerce – Bluetooth-powered vending machines, Point-of-Service devices, virtual tickets, electronic coupons, customer loyalty benefits, etc.
  • Medical – Remote, real-time patient monitoring, medicine dispensers, streamlined testing equipment, and wireless biometric data
  • Travel – Remote travel guides and electronic boarding passes linked to a personally-identifiable device and credentials, remote check-in and services at hotels
  • Expansion of current smart home networking uses
the future of bluetooth

Could Your Product Use Bluetooth Connectivity?

Ericsson created Bluetooth so it could sell wireless headsets. The technology has since grown to support entire ecosystems of devices from every industry and market. If you feel your product could use the connectivity Bluetooth offers, talk to one of our engineers to see which version would work best for your situation.

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