Since its inception in 1994, Bluetooth has become a household name. You just have to admire the power of a technology that can have such a crazy name that is simply accepted as part of our lexicon. For instance, most of our wireless technologies are based on acronyms and abbreviations, and, even if we’ve come to identify them by those strings of letters and numbers, we rest comfortably knowing that they actually stand for something.
Many probably know the origin of Bluetooth came from a 10th century Viking named Harald Bluetooth. But how did the technology’s inventors settle on that name? Actually, the original designers at Ericsson wanted to call the technology PAN, as in personal area networking. But this moniker did not pass the resulting trademark searches. “There was no such problem with Bluetooth, as you can imagine, “ jokes Suke Jawanda, chief marketing officer, Bluetooth SIG. Early in the process, they also considered calling the technology “radiowire” but that was discarded. Anders Edlund, product manager, Bluetooth SIG, recalls that it was Jim Kardach from Intel that originally surfaced the Bluetooth name, after Sven Mattisen (from Ericsson) had introduced him to Longboats, by Frans G Bengtsson, a Swedish book about Vikings.
I was always under the impression that Bluetooth was the development code name, but apparently the term that Intel/Ericsson originally used was BizRF. According to Mike Foley, the former executive director of the Bluetooth SIG, there had been some talk about the technology being used for HomeRF, but it wasn’t selected. (HomeRF was later abandoned.) After that, the Bluetooth SIG was formed to advance the technology on its own. That’s when Nokia and IBM were invited to join Ericsson and Intel. Foley recalls, “The agreements were formally signed in a meeting at the IBM facilities. It was really an exciting meeting because IBM didn’t decide to sign until the last day of the meeting. They felt it was unheard of to ‘give away IP’ and the IBM lawyers gave an absolute no to signing. Luckily, they had an insightful VP that did it anyway!”
The major design kudos for Bluetooth need to go to Jaap Hartsen, who was the key person behind the baseband design and Sven Mattisen, who was the radio architect that designed the "CMOS radio concept." Edlund also gives much credit to James Collier and CSR, who were able to build working CMOS radios and deliver them in volume early in the process. Foley adds, “I don’t believe there would be a Bluetooth industry without the advancements made by James Collier. Many people dreamed of reliable CMOS radios, but James did it!”
“In the beginning, many people, including some promoter companies, laughed at the $5 chip cost goal,” notes Andy Glass, former Bluetooth SIG CTO. (Today Bluetooth chips sell for $1 or less.) Another surprising thing about this technology is that it is RANDZ (reasonable and non-discriminatory zero royalty). Most technologies, including Wi-Fi, USB, 1394, are RAND, meaning the IP holders can charge a ‘reasonable’ fee to license use of the IP. Unfortunately, that can be a path to rabid patent lawsuits over ‘excessive’ charges for IP. “That the founders of the Bluetooth SIG had the foresight to avoid this issue could be of interest to the industry as a shining example of the ‘right’ way to do this,” observes Glass. (The RAND versus RANDZ issue was the concern of the IBM lawyers.) He continues, “In my opinion, this rather revolutionary idea is one of the reasons Bluetooth technology has been so successful.”
Successful might be an understatement, here are some of the current statistics on Bluetooth:
- 7 billion Bluetooth devices in the world (including mobile phones, Nike+ running shoes and FuelBand watch, and Beam Technologies’ connected toothbrush)
- Bluetooth SIG Membership: 16,500 and counting (approximately 150 new members/month)
- Total Bluetooth device shipments: expected to reach 2 billion in 2012 (200 million more than in 2010) with a projection of 4 billion in 2016 (according to ABI Research)
- Bluetooth is a $10B+ annual industry
If you have something to add to the story of Bluetooth, or an observation to make, please comment below!