It’s hard to overstate the power and reach represented by that little Bluetooth symbol that appears on most of our devices. As a sub-genre of the wireless world, Bluetooth is how we can connect headphones to our iPhones, keyboards to our laptops, our speakers to our Samsungs and all those other smart devices coming on the market.
Bluetooth is so ubiquitous that it even has its own annual conference, Bluetooth World, which takes place this year Sept-18-19 in Santa Clara, CA. Chances are your interest in Bluetooth doesn’t extend to attending the conference to learn all the wonky details about Bluetooth, but since we all use Bluetooth in one way or another, it’s worth learning a little more about it.
- Bluetooth came from the Netherlands
It was a Dutch engineer at Ericsson named Jaap Haartsen who invented Bluetooth in 1994. The idea was simple enough: Replace some or all of the short cables connecting our electronic devices with wireless tech. Now governed by an organization known as Bluetooth SIG, Bluetooth is an established wireless “standard,” meaning it’s universally accepted by most device makers.
Bluetooth has been updated and improved numerous times, with the latest version, Bluetooth 5, aimed at improving connectivity in the burgeoning internet of things (IoT) realm.
- How Wi-Fi and Bluetooth differ
While both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are wireless standards that use radio signals to transmit data, there are a few key differences. The main one is that Wi-Fi is designed to carry high-speed internet signals, whereas Bluetooth is meant to connect devices without cables over short distances. A simplified way to think about it is that Bluetooth replaces USB cables while Wi-Fi replaces Ethernet cables. Wi-Fi also typically has a greater range — up to 300 feet — whereas Bluetooth is limited to 30 feet, typically. Bluetooth 5 has a range of up to 800 feet, but it’ll be a weaker signal at those greater distances.
- Bluetooth can drive you crazy
When it works, Bluetooth is awesome. When it doesn’t pair properly with your device(s), it can be maddening. Making sure the two devices are close enough is the first thing to check, while turning things off and then back on can often fix temporary glitches. Beyond that, there can be a wide range of issues affecting the Bluetooth connection, ranging from compatibility and other wireless interference to simply not having Bluetooth turned on. This Techlicious article runs through some common problems and troubleshooting tips.
- There are a lot of Bluetooth devices out there
According to Bluetooth SIG, nearly 4 billion devices will ship this year that use Bluetooth to connect.
- Bluetooth is named after a Viking king
It’s true. According to the Bluetooth SIG website, it was in 1996 that Intel’s Jim Kardash suggested “Bluetooth” as a company code name. The Viking king in question was Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, so named because he had a dead tooth that was kind of grayish blue. Harald was famous for uniting Denmark and Norway back in 958, and Kardash (who’d reportedly been reading a book on Viking history) saw a parallel between “uniting Scandinavia and uniting the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.”
The name Bluetooth won out over “RadioWire” and “PAN” (for Personal Area Networking).
The Bluetooth logo is actually based on the ancient runes of the king’s initials (Hagall) (ᚼ) and (Bjarkan) (ᛒ).