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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 our personal devices these days are equipped with Bluetooth technology, few people actually know how it got there.
The Somewhat Dark Backstory
Strangely enough, Hollywood and World War II played a pivotal role in the creation of not only Bluetooth, but a multitude of wireless technologies. It all began in 1937 when 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 1949 hit Samson and Delilah.
Somehow she also found time to do some inventing on the side. Using her drafting table, she 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 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.
Bluetooth's 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, Jaap 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 the peoples of 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 together 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, Bluetooth 4.2 (released in 2014) uses less power and features improved speeds and security compared to previous versions. It also allows for internet protocol connectivity so that smart devices can be linked.
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.