The development of the “short-link” radio technology, later named Bluetooth, was initiated in 1989 by Nils Rydbeck, CTO at Ericsson Mobile in Lund, Sweden. The purpose was to develop wireless headsets.  Principal design and development began in 1994, and by 1997 the team had a workable solution. From 1997, Örjan Johansson became the project leader and propelled the technology and standardization.  

The first consumer Bluetooth device was launched in 1999. It was a hands-free mobile headset that earned the “Best of show Technology Award” at COMDEX (COMputer Dealers’ EXhibition). The first Bluetooth mobile phone was the Ericsson T36 but it was the revised T39 model that actually made it to store shelves in 2001.  

According to Bluetooth’s official website, 

“Bluetooth was only intended as a placeholder until marketing could come up with something really cool. 

Later, when it came time to select a serious name, Bluetooth was to be replaced with either RadioWire or PAN (Personal Area Networking). PAN was the front runner, but an exhaustive search discovered it already had tens of thousands of hits throughout the internet. 

A full trademark search on RadioWire couldn’t be completed in time for launch, making Bluetooth the only choice. The name caught on fast and before it could be changed, it spread throughout the industry, becoming synonymous with short-range wireless technology. “

How It Works 

Bluetooth is a similar radio-wave technology, but it’s mainly designed for communicating over short distances less than about 10m or 30ft. Typically, you might use it to download photos from a digital camera to a PC, to hook up a wireless mouse to a laptop, to link a hands-free headset to your cellphone, and so on. Electronic gadgets that work this way have built-in radio antennas (transmitters and receivers) so they can simultaneously send and receive wireless signals to other Bluetooth gadgets. Older gadgets can be converted to work with Bluetooth using separate plug-in adapters (that plug into USB ports, PCMCIA bays/slots, and so on). The power of the transmitter governs the range over which a Bluetooth device can operate and, generally, devices are said to fall into one of three classes: class 1 are the most powerful and can operate up to 100m (330ft), class 2 (the most common kind) operate up to 10m (33ft), and class 3 are the least powerful and don’t go much beyond 1m (3.3ft).  

Bluetooth sends and receives radio waves in a band of 79 different frequencies (channels) centered on 2.45 GHz, set apart from radio, television, and cellphones, and reserved for use by industrial, scientific, and medical gadgets. Don’t worry: you’re not going to interfere with someone’s life-support machine by using Bluetooth in your home, because the low power of your transmitters won’t carry your signals that far. Bluetooth’s short-range transmitters are one of its biggest plus points. They use virtually no power and, because they don’t travel far, are theoretically more secure than wireless networks that operate over longer ranges, such as Wi-Fi.  

Bluetooth devices automatically detect and connect to one another and up to eight of them can communicate at any one time. They don’t interfere with one another because each pair of devices uses a different one of the 79 available channels. If two devices want to talk, they pick a channel randomly and, if that’s already taken, randomly switch to one of the others (a technique known as “spread-spectrum frequency hopping”). To minimize the risks of interference from other electrical appliances (and also to improve security), pairs of devices constantly shift the frequency they’re using—thousands of times a second.  

When a group of two or more Bluetooth devices are sharing information together, they form a kind of impromptu mini computer network called a “piconet.” Other devices can join or leave an existing piconet at any time. One device (known as the master) acts as the overall controller of the network, while the others (known as slaves) obey its instructions. Two or more separate piconets can also join up and share information forming what’s called a “scatternet.”  

People often get confused by Bluetooth and Wi-Fi because, at first sight, they seem to do similar things, but they’re actually quite different. Bluetooth is mainly used for linking computers and electronic devices in an impromptu way over very short distances, often for only brief or occasional communication using relatively small amounts of data. It’s relatively secure, uses little power, and connects automatically.  

Wi-Fi is designed to shuttle much larger amounts of data between computers and the Internet, often over much greater distances. It can involve more elaborate security, and it generally uses much higher power. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are complementary technologies, not rivals, and you can easily use both together. 

The Evolution 

Bluetooth has often been quite tricky to use: like any wireless technology, it’s another battery drainer for mobile devices; you can often step out of range, making communication erratic or impossible; and even getting two Bluetooth devices to talk to one another in the first place isn’t always as simple as it should be. The world of mobile devices is changing as we move toward the so-called Internet of Things (where all kinds of everyday objects become net-connected)—and Bluetooth has to keep evolving to keep up. Recognizing the need to connect an increasing range of devices, more quickly, and more securely, Bluetooth’s developers are regularly coming up with improved versions. First, there was Bluetooth BR/EDR (Basic Rate/Enhanced Data Rate, technically Bluetooth Version 2.1), offering simpler connectivity between devices and better security. Next came Bluetooth Highspeed (Bluetooth Version 3.0), which offered faster communication and lower power consumption. More recently, we’ve had Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth Low Energy (technically referred to as Bluetooth Version 4.0+). As these names suggest, this version is better at connecting a wider range of simpler devices, uses much less power, and is much easier to integrate into mobile (iOS and Android) applications. The latest version, Bluetooth 5, offers another boost in speed, range, and bandwidth. 

If you are having trouble with a Bluetooth device of your own, or would just like to learn more, we at Digital Services would be happy to help you. You can reach us at 541-734-3990 or email us at digitalservices@jcls.org. We can schedule a time to meet with you at select branches or by video call, and we are available to answer questions over the phone, by email, or in person at the Medford PC Lab.