Why is Bluetooth called Bluetooth, and all the other questions you always had
A quick riddle – What’s all around you, but always invisible?
If this were the 90s, you’d probably say “air”. About 10 years ago, you’d answer “wifi”. Today, one of the top most answers could be “Bluetooth”.
The technology has been around for decades and we’ve been using it for connecting wireless devices like the ubiquitous Airpods, wireless keyboards and speakers. In Singapore, Bluetooth has taken on an even greater role recently as it is a key component in TraceTogether, seamlessly collecting data from countless individuals that is essential to contact tracing.
But why is this tech called Bluetooth in the first place? And what’s up with the logo? In this article, we answer these questions, and more, about Bluetooth that you’ve always had.
Short on time? Catch this video to see how bluetooth got to be called bluetooth!
What’s so blue about Bluetooth?
In the early 1990s, a wireless means of transmitting information through short-range UHF radio waves Bluetooth was conceived to replace RS-232 telecommunication cables that were over three decades old at that time.
By 1996, it had gained some traction, and three industry leaders – Ericsson, Intel, and Nokia – started working together to standardise this tech to maximise connectivity across products and industries. The interim codename “Bluetooth” was chosen for the project. Why so?
The team took inspiration from a 10th-century king by the name of Harald I, who was famous for bringing Denmark and Norway under his rule in the year 958. The team member who conceived of the name later said that the king “was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link”.
Harald I was also famous for having a dead tooth, which was said to have a dark blue or grey hue, hence earning him the nickname “Bluetooth” – a moniker that would lend itself to tech more than a thousand years later.
Now, Bluetooth was meant to be just a placeholder until a better name could be thought of. Two other names, Personal Area Network (PAN) and RadioWire, were proposed, but each came with its own set of problems. PAN already had tens of thousands of hits on the internet, suggesting it was already associated with other uses, while there was difficulty registering the trademark for RadioWire in time.
So Bluetooth it was. And the rest, as they say, is history.
And if you ever also wondered about how the logo came about, it’s simply a combination of the initials of Harald I Bluetooth in the Nordic Alphabet.
Bluetooth over the years
By 1999, the Bluetooth technology had already existed for years, but it was only that year that the first consumer Bluetooth product was launched – a Bluetooth headset.
Two years later, the Sony Ericsson T39 hit the shelves, the first Bluetooth mobile phone to be sold. As mobile phones exploded in popularity, so too did Bluetooth’s usage. Laptops, printers, TVs, and other consumer products also began incorporating Bluetooth around the same time, and about two billion Bluetooth-enabled devices shipped in the first 10 years of it hitting the mass market.
Of course, tech doesn’t stand still and Bluetooth has gone through several rounds of upgrades over its lifetime. For instance, the first iteration of Bluetooth could not even handle transmitting CD-quality music, but in recent years, its ability to transmit high quality audio has been continually enhanced, making high-fidelity wireless headphones possible.
Despite the various changes, two things remain true. Bluetooth is still about short-range transmissions and uses a low amount of power. These are just the characteristics needed by a tool like TraceTogether – a contact tracing app that runs unobtrusively in the background for extended periods of time, logging data on individuals that come into close proximity to aid the long battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.https://www.tech.gov.sg/media/technews/history-of-bluetooth