Bluetooth Technology: What Does It Have To Do With a Dead Viking King?
by Marjorie Dorfman

If you are wondering how this wireless application got its name, don’t give it another thought. Read on and learn all about this wireless protocol that may or may not help you decide whether you need to go to the dentist or keep putting it off.

Bluetooth is a wireless protocol that has nothing to do with anything blue or even teeth. Its meaning is strictly symbolic, referring to a very dead 10th-century Danish ruler, Harold Blåtand (King Harold I) who united portions of Denmark and Norway. The implied unification is the key to the moniker, as the Bluetooth technology does the same with other modes of communication, forging them all into one universal standard.

King Harold was a dark skinned fellow with very dark hair, which for a Viking was very unusual. (Who knows what his real parents were up to?), Blåtand translates into dark complexion, but another theory states that the name comes from the good old king’s predilection for eating blueberries that stained his teeth.

Bluetooth’s original purpose was to serve as a wireless alternative to RS-232 cables. Designed for low power consumption with a short range, it promises to significantly alter the manner in which machines are used. Its application is limited to the fact that a device must be compatible with Bluetooth profiles. By utilizing short length radio waves from both fixed and mobile device networks it creates wireless personal area networks (WPANs).

Developed in Sweden more than a decade ago by two workers for Ericson; Jaap Haartsen and Sven Mattisson, Bluetooth is a replacement for cabling, which is based on a radio technology known as frequency-hopping spread spectrum.

The key word to understanding Bluetooth protocols is simplification as it relates to the setup of services between devices. There are other advantages as well. Services connected with Bluetooth devices are easier to provide because security, network address and permission configuration can be more easily automated than other network types.

Bluetooth guarantees a secure connection and safe exchange of information between a myriad of devices including: mobile phones, laptops, personal computers, printers, Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, digital cameras, and video game consoles. In order to be marketed as Bluetooth, a device must meet specific requirements established and licensed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) (not to be confused with the Blue Plate Special) which consists of many companies involved in telecommunication, computing, networking, and consumer electronics.

Bluetooth, via a single adapter, allows multiple devices to communicate with a computer. One of the earliest popular applications was the wireless control of and communication between a mobile phone and a hands-free handset. The technology is best utilized when transferring information between two or more devices that are near each other in low-bandwidth situations. Bluetooth is a feature of many communication products including: telephones, modems and headsets.

A personal computer must have a Bluetooth adapter in order to communicate with other Bluetooth devices (such as mobile phones, mice and keyboards). While some desktop computers and newer laptops come with a built-in Bluetooth adapter, others will require an external one in the form of a dongle.

In order to create a situation of top security for Bluetooth devices, the connections must be heavily controlled. At the same time, it is useful for these devices to automatically establish a connection without user intervention as soon as they are in range. This conflict is resolved by a process Bluetooth calls "pairing." This happens automatically the very first time a device receives a connection request from another device it is not yet paired with. The connection afterwards is then remembered and will occur without user intervention. Pairing can also be removed later, if the user desires.

The paired devices share a link key, which bonds them to each other. The link key guarantees that the encryption of data exchanged over the airwaves is protected against eavesdropping. The beauty of the link keys is that they can be deleted at any time by either device. Complications can ensue as it is possible for one of the devices to have a link key stored but its user not be aware that it is no longer bonded to the other device associated with that particular link key.

Bluetooth operates as a changeable slave-master arrangement. A master Bluetooth device can connect within a Wireless User Group to up to seven devices. Collectively, this group of eight is known as a piconet, and devices can switch roles easily by agreement. Each device has its own 48-bit address, which is never displayed. Bluetooth names are visible instead and it is this name that appears when another user scans for other paired devices.

Bluetooth is often referred to as cable replacement technology. If you look around your virtual world, surely they are everywhere, connecting your computer, mouse, monitor (and perhaps even your former in-laws). Which cable goes where has been the eternal question to many a computer user and the answer is not always forthcoming without much trial and error and loss of time.

Bluetooth’s focus is the simplification of data synchronization. A Bluetooth chip replaces cables by transmitting information that would normally be carried via cable at a special frequency to a receiver Bluetooth chip, which will then render the information to whatever device is being utilized. This was the original idea expanded from transmitting information between a computer and a printer to include the transfer of data from a mobile phone to a printer and a printer to another printer.

The projected low cost of a Bluetooth chip is $5 and its low power consumption means you can put one anywhere. Bluetooth is a dynamic technology with ever-expanding frontiers. Some ideas are practical and some won’t work at all, but new ones are constantly emerging. Two current ideas concern installing Bluetooth chips on freight containers to identify cargo as it arrives to a storage depot and having a refrigerator communicate with a Bluetooth-enabled computer telling it that food supply is low (not so workable).

Bluetooth is ready to face any challenge. So many companies have invested in the technology that it is sure to have an enormous impact on our everyday lives.

Thanks for Bluetooth, King Harold, wherever you are. May you rest in peace free of dental pain and have many, many blueberries to eat.

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Copyright 2010