What is Bluetooth? Why is it called that?

It’s probably in your car. It could be right next to your ear. You could be using it right now. Don’t worry, this isn’t the beginning of a horror movie trailer. It’s just a description of Bluetooth technology.

Bluetooth technology lets things communicate wirelessly when they’re very close. How close? 3-5 meters is a safe bet. Sometimes you get more than that but not much. But, that’s on purpose.

In the 2000s, people started to want wireless gadgets like wireless keyboards and mice. At the same time, states started requiring headsets for drivers who talk on the phone. The problem was, the typical headset was huge and wrapped all around you. It was impossible to put on while driving and if you put it on when you got in the car you just looked like a dork. I got a wireless headset for my Nokia phone but it only worked with that phone and as soon as I upgraded it was useless.

Bluetooth arrives

Bluetooth first hit the market in 2002, but it was relatively unknown and very few devices supported it. At that time, wireless mice and keyboards used their own proprietary technology which was ok unless it interfered with someone else’s wireless technology.

One of the first phones to support Bluetooth was this Siemens S55. It was about $250 on contract and it didn’t have anywhere near the features of the free phones you get today. I paired it with a Plantronics headset that was so heavy it made my ear droop. But hey, it was wireless.

Of course, now Bluetooth headsets are cheap, and more importantly Bluetooth technology is built into cars. But that doesn’t really explain what Bluetooth is.

The idea of Bluetooth comes down to three things.

  1. First, it’s designed to let two devices communicate without making it too hard for you to link them up.
  2. It’s designed to work with a lot of devices, but not interfere with devices it’s not actually using
  3. It’s not supposed to go very far, because that increases the security risk.

When you get a Bluetooth device, usually it just takes a simple code to pair it with another device. When the two devices are paired, the connection is (relatively) secure and even if someone else within range is using the exact same thing, there isn’t a problem. That doesn’t happen a lot, because Bluetooth signals peter out after a few meters, but if you’re in a traffic jam, there’s a possibility that there are a lot of Bluetooth devices around.

Yeah… but why do they call it that?

Because tech people are geeks and they’re afraid of getting sued. When Bluetooth was being developed, the idea was that there was one technology that would be used for personal communication and that would be used for all devices. Of course, the geeks had a good idea what to call it…

But then again, the Lord of the Rings movies were in production at that time and they were afraid of copyright infringement. So they went searching for something else. The original work on Bluetooth was done by Ericsson, a Scandinavian company, and they remembered the story of Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, who united the Danes and brought common culture to Denmark. The logo is a combination of the runes for H and B.

So, the next time you talk hands-free in the car or use a wireless keyboard, remember Harald Bluetooth, and remember that if it weren’t for copyright laws, you might be telling people to wait while you hook up your Aragorn.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.