History

How a 10th-Century Viking King Is Responsible for Technology You Use Today

Perhaps you are wearing wireless earbuds at the moment. You might have your phone paired with your watch. You could be using a wireless mouse, keyboard, or speakers. In short, there’s a very good possibility that you are taking advantage of a means of wireless technology connectivity called Bluetooth.

If so, you should spend a moment in appreciative contemplation of the 10th-century Viking king whose name has been immortalized through the phenomenon.

The technology we know as Bluetooth is a form of short-link radio connectivity. Its origins trace to Nils Rydbeck, Chief Technology Officer at Ericsson Mobile in Lund, Sweden. In 1989, Rydbeck assigned a team of engineers the task of developing wireless headsets. Over the next few years, the team worked through several versions and presented a workable solution in 1997.

Harald Bluetooth Gormsson

One of the biggest advantages of the innovation was the way it could connect cellular technology with personal computers. Conventional wisdom to that point held that no mobile phone had the power or battery capacity to maintain wireless connections with another computing device. The newly-developed technology put an end to that way of thinking, creating a bridge between PCs and the rapidly-growing cellular computing industry.

Several names for the innovative technology were pitched. Personal Area Networking (PAN) was the favorite, but the term was already being used to refer to other methods of connectivity. A second-place favorite was RadioWire. With the deadline approaching to release the product, there wasn’t enough time to complete a trademark search in all markets. Something else would need to be used temporarily until the official name could be substituted.

According to Bluetooth’s official website, it was Jim Kardach of Intel who proposed the temporary name. He was inspired by something he saw in Frans G. Bengtsson’s novel The Long Ships. The book tells the adventures of the 10th-century Danish king Harald Bluetooth Gormsson .

The king is most famous for uniting Norway and Denmark. Similarly, the new wireless technology would unite the PC with mobile phones. “Bluetooth” seemed to be a perfect name — at least temporarily, of course.

The Nordic letters H and B, superimposed into the Bluetooth logo.

As a bonus for the marketing department, Harold Bluetooth employed a catchy rune that was pictured in The Long Ships. It merged the Runic letters ᚼ, (Hagall) and ᛒ, (Bjarkan), the king’s initials. The result was a stylized B that would meet all the company’s needs until they could come up with something a bit more official and enduring.

In one of those fun twists of fate, by the time the company was ready to seriously consider formalizing a permanent name, Bluetooth had caught on. The technology, name, and even the logo were eagerly embraced by customers throughout the world. Company leadership decided there was no need to fix something that wasn’t broken, and Bluetooth’s interim status became permanent.

Today, as you use your Bluetooth-connected device, reflect on the fact that you, a 21st-century person, are using technology developed in the last century, and are carrying on the 1,000-year-old legacy of a long-dead Viking monarch.


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