In 1994, as cellular technology and sales of cellular handsets were taking off, executives at Ericsson, one of the handset market leaders, began casting about for ways to differentiate its phones in a crowded market by adding real value. Ultimately, its search led to the creation of Bluetooth technology. Ironically, the new technology was so quickly adopted by all the cell phone manufacturers that its value as a differentiator for Ericsson never materialized -- but it certainly made cell phones far more valuable to users.
That year, Jaap C. Haartsen, a Dutchman working in the Ericsson Mobile Terminal Division in Stockholm, Sweden, was given a simple directive: Devise a way to send and receive data to cell phone accessories over handsets. The technology used for wireless handsets was not suitable for data, according to Haartsen, so he needed something more powerful that would not overburden the cell phone's battery life.
From the start, Bluetooth was meant to be a wireless, low-power, short-range radio technology that would connect handsets to handhelds, laptop systems, and PCs. But in the end, the Bluetooth patent had little to do with the actual transmission of data over a radio signal.
"The original patent is for the way we connect and find each other using frequency hopping," says Haartsen. "We were looking to improve connectivity to the phone accessories. That was our goal. From the start, it had to operate worldwide and support both voice and data."
Using frequency hopping, Haartsen was able to overcome the need for the device to always be on, always listening for another device that wants to connect. "Bluetooth units are just floating. They are not in standby. They are always there," Haartsen explains.
Bluetooth's frequency hopping allows the receiving unit to be asleep, waking up every 2 seconds and listening on one specific frequency. If no device is sending data, the receiver goes back to sleep and reawakens 2 seconds later, listening on the next frequency; the device will repeat this process as it hops through all 32 frequencies.
On the other end, the sender stays awake for 10 minutes, solving the "time frequency uncertainty," as Haartsen calls it, by sending the message to all 32 frequencies simultaneously.
With an eye to further advancing the technology, Haartsen said Ericsson hopes to increase the data rate from its current 700Kbps to 11Mbps. "We want to increase the data rate and functionality of Bluetooth by reducing latency. We will have a mode within Bluetooth where you can negotiate for a higher data rate."
Bluetooth technology as it exists today is being promoted by carriers and handset manufacturers as a way to solve another uncertainty: how to get data out of a device that does not have wireless capability. Because Ericsson does not charge a license fee for the specifications, but rather for using its implementation, Bluetooth can now be easily added to handhelds, printers, laptops, and cars for less than $5 per chip. In this scenario, the cell phone becomes the bridge to the outside world.
(For profiles of the other nine 2003 InfoWorld Innovators, see Honoring the Innovators.)