How Bluetooth technology was born

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Dr Jacobus ‘Jaap’ Haartsen, the ‘Father of Bluetooth’ is now Senior Expert, Wireless Systems at audio communications company, Plantronics

Jaap Haartsen created a worldwide phenomenon for wireless connectivity which continues to gather momentum

When he received his Electrical Engineering (Hons) degree from the Delft University of Technology in 1986, Jacobus “Jaap” Haartsen could have had no idea that he would go on to create a short-range mobile communications technology, used the world over.

The young Dutch graduate worked at Siemens and Philips, before returning to his alma mater to gain a PhD in 1990. In 1991, he was working at Ericsson in the U.S., working on advanced mobile telephone systems, and then in Sweden, working on indoor wireless communication systems. It was at Ericsson Mobile Terminal Division, in Lund, Sweden that he was asked to develop investigate indoor, short-range radio connections, at distances of around three to 4m, as a means to boost mobile phone sales.

Haartsen soon developed a concept of wireless communication between a master and slave devices, using virtual frequency hopping. Asymmetric communication technologies such as wireless local area networks (WLAN) and the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) require a basestation or access point to connect slave devices. Haartsen concluded that this would draw too much power for his system. He also understood that worldwide operation would mean a technology able to operate in different frequency bands.

Sven Mattisson, a Swedish wireless engineer colleague at Ericsson, joined Haartsen in 1995 to perfect the frequency hopping technology that enables devices to “find” each other and then to exchange data, within a low power budget. Soon a team of 30 hardware and software engineers were working on the project.

Haartsen filed U.S. Patent number 6590928: “Frequency hopping piconets in an uncoordinated wireless multi-user system” in 1997. The document outlines the Bluetooth® wireless technology specification, which today is used in billions of devices across the planet.

The name given to the wireless technology reflects its Scandinavian roots and its universality. The 10th-Century King Harald Blatant, nicknamed Bluetooth, unified Denmark and Norway. His initials, in runes, make up the internationally recognised Bluetooth logo. (See ULP WQ Winter 2013 pg22.)


Peer recognition.

The year the patent was filed, Ericsson awarded Haartsen “Inventor of the Year”. Three years’ later, he won both the Vosko Foundation’s “Technology Breakthrough” Award and the Veder Foundation’s “Design of New Radio Technology” Award. He also won the 2003 “InfoWorld Innovator” Award, from InfoWorld Magazine and, in the same year, the Westrup Award from the Royal Physiographic Society, Lund. (The academy only bestows this honor once every five years.) Rather surprisingly, Haartsen was inducted into the Bluetooth Hall of Fame as late as 2006.

This year, Haartsen was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of May, in Washington D.C. The institution celebrates the life-changing achievements of U.S. patent holders.

It was at this ceremony that Haartsen reflected on the momentum of the technology, saying: “Bluetooth was intended to add value to existing and emerging mobile phones. Never, in my wildest imagination, would I have thought it would fundamentally change the way we interact with technology in such a short time”.

The Bluetooth v1.0 specification was released in 1999 and quickly secured a place in the market, with Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, PC cards, computer mice, keyboards, and USB dongles available from 2000, followed by printers, laptops, and hands-free car kits. The IEEE approved Bluetooth technology as IEEE 802.15.1 in 2002, paving the way for adoption and development according to internationally recognized standards. New versions of the technology, which included lower power and higher bandwidth were introduced in later years.

In parallel, the Wibree Alliance, headed by Nokia, with Nordic Semiconductor, Broadcom, CSR, Epson, Suunto, and Taiyo Yuden, defined an ultra low power RF communication technology, based in part on Nordic’s proprietary 2.4 GHz transceiver technology. The fledgling specification was later taken over by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) for incorporation into the Bluetooth specification.

The development culminated in Bluetooth v4.0 in 2010, which introduced an ultra low power version of the technology suitable for peripheral devices powered by coin-cell type batteries. The latest version, 4.2, includes technology that makes it easier to connect Bluetooth devices to the Internet of Things (IoT).



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