Who Invented Bluetooth?

Young businessman using wireless headset while talking through smart phone at office

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If you own a smartphone, tablet, laptop, speakers, or any of the array of electronic devices on the market today, there's a good chance that, at some point, you've "paired" at least a couple of them together. And while virtually all of your personal devices these days are equipped with Bluetooth technology, few people actually know how it got there.

Dark Backstory

Hollywood and World War II played a pivotal role in the creation of not only Bluetooth but a multitude of wireless technologies. In 1937, Hedy Lamarr, an Austrian-born actress, left her marriage to an arms dealer with ties to Nazis and fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and fled to Hollywood in hopes of becoming a star. With the support of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio head Louis B. Mayer, who promoted her to audiences as "the world's most beautiful woman," Lamarr notched roles in films such as "Boom Town" starring Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, "Ziegfeld Girl" starring Judy Garland, and the 1949 hit "Samson and Delilah." 

She also found time to do some inventing on the side. Using her drafting table, Lamarr experimented with concepts that included a reworked stoplight design and a fizzy instant drink that came in tablet form. Although none of them panned out, it was her collaboration with composer George Antheil on an innovative guidance system for torpedoes that set her on a course to change the world.

Drawing on what she learned about weapons systems while she was married, the two used paper player piano rolls to generate radio frequencies that hopped around as a way to prevent the enemy from jamming the signal. Initially, the U.S. Navy was reluctant to implement Lamarr and Antheil’s spread-spectrum radio technology, but it would later deploy the system to relay information about the position of enemy submarines to military aircraft flying overhead. 

Today, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are two variations of spread-spectrum radio.

Swedish Origins

So who invented Bluetooth? The short answer is Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson. The team effort began in 1989 when the chief technology officer of Ericsson Mobile, Nils Rydbeck, together with a physician named Johan Ullman, commissioned engineers Jaap Haartsen and Sven Mattisson to come up with an optimal "short-link" radio technology standard for transmitting signals between personal computers to wireless headsets that they were planning to bring to the market. In 1990, Haartsen was nominated by the European Patent Office for the European Inventor Award. 

The name "Bluetooth" is an anglicized translation of Danish King Harald Blåtand's surname. During the 10th century, the second King of Denmark was famous in Scandinavian lore for uniting Denmark and Norway. In creating the Bluetooth standard, the inventors felt that they were, in effect, doing something similar in uniting the PC and cellular industries. Thus the name stuck. The logo is a Viking inscription, known as a bind rune, that merges the king's two initials.   

Lack of Competition

Given its ubiquity, some may also wonder why there aren't any alternatives. The answer to this is a little more complicated. The beauty of Bluetooth technology is that it allows up to eight devices to be paired via short-range radio signals that form a network, with each device functioning as a component of a larger system. To achieve this, Bluetooth-enabled devices must communicate using network protocols under a uniform specification.

As a technology standard, similar to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth's isn't tied to any product but is implemented by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, a committee charged with revising the standards as well as licensing the technology and trademarks to manufacturers. For instance, at the January 2020 CES, an annual trade show organized by the Consumer Technology Association and held each year in Las Vegas, "Bluetooth introduced the latest version of Bluetooth technology—version 5.2," according to internet technology company Telink. The new technology features an "upgraded version of the original Attribute Protocol" and "LE Power control (that) makes it possible to manage the transmission of power between two connected devices both running Bluetooth version 5.2," Telink notes.

That isn’t to say, however, that Bluetooth doesn’t have any competitors. ZigBee, a wireless standard overseen by the ZigBee Alliance was rolled out in 2005 and allows for transmissions over longer distances, up to 100 meters, while using less power. A year later, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group introduced Bluetooth low energy, aimed at reducing power consumption by putting the connection into sleep mode whenever it detected inactivity.

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Your Citation
Nguyen, Tuan C. "Who Invented Bluetooth?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 13, 2021, thoughtco.com/who-invented-bluetooth-4038864. Nguyen, Tuan C. (2021, February 13). Who Invented Bluetooth? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/who-invented-bluetooth-4038864 Nguyen, Tuan C. "Who Invented Bluetooth?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/who-invented-bluetooth-4038864 (accessed June 3, 2023).