Time to connect: From Viking King to indispensable technology

Bluetooth speaker

Time to connect: From Viking King to indispensable technology

Bluetooth technology has inarguably made certain things easier, and indeed, a world without wireless technology would look a lot different from the world we know today. From sharing songs to rescuing lives, the evolution of Bluetooth has proven to be more vital than first expected. True to its function, the technology is named after a Nordic king from the Viking Age – but what is really the reason? And how far have we come since its naming?

Traced by:
Emil Hummeluhr Dammeyer

Before the time of casually shipping things along by the internet, do you remember sharing the latest songs with your best friends in school, transferring them – through the air – from one phone to another? “Do you have your Bluetooth on?” you might have asked. Now, you probably use it when connecting your device to a set of headphones or speakers. 

To many and in daily life, the above might stand as the peak or primary purpose of Bluetooth. But today, we live in a world where the sorcery of Bluetooth technology has become so extensive that living without it seems unimaginable once aware. 

To start at the beginning, the development of the "short-link" radio technology, later named Bluetooth, was initiated in 1989 by Nils Rydbeck, Chief Technology Officer at Ericsson Mobile in Lund, Sweden. But it was not until 1996 that the major technology companies Intel, Ericsson, Nokia, and Toshiba, IBM – forming the so-called Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) – agreed to create a universal standard for wireless transmission between computers and mobile phones. 


The name, the myth, the legend

‘Bluetooth’ was meant to be a temporary name – one to be used until the marketing department landed on the one and true name. Needless to say, ‘Bluetooth’ kept its spot in the sun, and so this short-range wireless technology was named after the Danish Viking King Harald Blåtand (in English: Bluetooth). But why?

Harald Blåtand / Harald Bluetooth
Harald Blåtand

According to tradition, the birthplace of Bluetooth technology, Lund in Sweden, was founded by King Harald Bluetooth's son, Sweyn Forkbeard (Svend Tveskæg). Still, the name proposed by American Jim Kardach at Intel was inspired by the actions of Harald Bluetooth, not the technology’s place of origin. 

On the recommendation of Sven Mattisson, a Swedish engineer at Ericsson, Kardach had read Frans G. Bengtsson's historical novel ‘The Long Ships’ about the Vikings and was particularly fascinated by the Danish King Harald Bluetooth and the way he "united Scandinavia". In this story, Kardach saw a clear parallel and was later quoted for saying: “King Harald Bluetooth… was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.”

“King Harald Bluetooth… was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.”

Jim Kardach

Did you know that the famous Bluetooth symbol (that looks a lot like a capitalized ‘B’) is, in fact, a combination of the Nordic runes for ‘H’ and ‘B’, which refer to King Harald Bluetooth? 


More than a music listening tool

So, Bluetooth is a wireless technology that enables your computer, tablet, or smartphone to communicate directly with other devices over a short distance, depending on the version. But what’s more? 

In recent years, Bluetooth innovations have seen wider deployment across commercial spaces, including hospitality, tourism, retail, and for medical purposes. Thanks to the technology’s global proliferation, low power consumption, signal transmission method, and capability to create large-scale device networks, Bluetooth can, according to the official website of Bluetooth, further enhance the healthcare experience for patients and staff within the healthcare industry. For instance, it is used in medical temperature, blood glucose, and blood pressure measurements.


An infection tracker, too

In recent years, the world has been navigating through profound changes in how we connect to people and experiences, with COVID-19 minimizing our opportunities. As with most major life-controlling events, new innovations have surfaced, and Bluetooth has indeed played its part. The two tech giants Apple and Google teamed up on ‘Contact Tracing’, a technology to help people determine if they've been exposed to COVID-19 via apps and Bluetooth technology.

Picture of Health App - Contact tracing

For the tech-interested readers, Bluetooth tracking lets your phone exchange anonymous random keys with other nearby phones that, like you, have enabled Bluetooth monitoring. The given app doesn’t have to be open for it to work; if you or another app user in your community tests positive for COVID-19, a Bluetooth alert can be sent to quickly notify other app users who have been within short range of the infected. All this without compromising anyone’s privacy – one of the many robust features of Bluetooth technology. 

A lot has happened in just over twenty years, so who knows what the future has in store on the ‘wireless tech’ side? Regardless: Let’s keep security a #1 priority as we embark on new innovation journeys.