Bluetooth: Its Incredible Journey
Bluetooth wireless technology has been with us for over 20 years. It has become the de facto connection technology for exchanging data between a varied range of fixed and mobile personal devices.
Yes, Bluetooth remains the global standard for seamless and secure short-range wireless connectivity.
The Specifications of the Bluetooth System
Now, prepare yourself for a flashback: Let’s fade into 1999… I’m standing in and looking around a London office interior wondering who chose the stark blue carpet, which is sympathetically disguised with contemporary furniture, where the sunlight from the cinemascope-like window engulfs the open workspace with a sense of hopefulness. This is my workplace for the next year or so. I don’t know anyone here and, of course, they don’t know me other than the technical director who interviewed me, but I’m determined to take a ‘glass-half-full’ approach.
I was contracted by the company to develop some Bluetooth software, but first I needed to find out more about this very new technology. So, armed with my laptop, I sought out a quiet place to digest v0.9 of the “Specification of the Bluetooth System: Core” and “Specification of the Bluetooth System: Profiles” – a heavy read indeed, but one that made a huge impact upon my future career path.
A pressing delivery to make
I was asked to develop just one aspect of the specification, along with its periphery components. I read through the associated protocols of what I needed to know in order to write the software for what was then known as the LAN Access Profile (LAP) and I later became it’s Editor. The profile was eventually disbanded and replaced with the Personal Area Networking (PAN) Profiles.
I had to update the existing Network Driver Interface Specification (NDIS) for Bluetooth using the underlying protocols for serial communications, which are RFCOMM and UART to create a new PCMCIA driver, and I also used both the Service Discovery Protocol (SDP) and the Generic Access Profile (GAP) which would enable my PCMCIA device to become visible in the Windows environment. These, and several other components, would collectively bring my profile to fruition. I knew that, at some point, I would have to face the demon of the thousand pages or so but, not for now, as I had a pressing delivery to make, which was a world first!
An eclectic engineering team
Yes, at the time, I was a software engineer who had been contracted to develop a uniquely new Microsoft Windows device driver. It marked the first engagement that brought me into the wireless and telecommunications space, and I absolutely loved it! My new device driver would permit other computers to interconnect, akin to the Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) such as Wi-Fi but doing so over Bluetooth.
The team included a talented hardware engineer who developed the FPGA software for the very new Bluetooth silicon; a firmware engineer that linked the FPGA gubbins to the PC where my device driver would connect to the firmware so that communication could be established with the Bluetooth radio and its air interface. An application engineer would humanise the user experience utilising the Microsoft Windows interface, in turn, allowing the user to send and receive data with other computers on the Bluetooth network.
And back to here and now…
For the marketing and business teams the company saw enormous potential for the new technology and, with it, came the inevitable hype. It’s very much the same today to be honest as, when a new technology is developed there is a tendency towards overexcitement and the inevitable hyperbole. The critics, and there were many of them, responded to the marketers’ fairy tale promises with warnings of over-zealousness. Yet Bluetooth survived the early frenzy and has firmly established itself as a reliable and confident wireless technology.
Yes, Bluetooth has stood the test of time. Today it’s become second nature to connect your personal devices through the technology and I’m proud to say that I’ve had a small, yet significant part to play in its development and evolution. I am confident that the technology will continue to prove itself as a leading name in connectivity.
Until next time…
The Specification of the Bluetooth System is currently at version 5.3, where the SIG continues to evolve and deliver enhancements to the technology. It has seen the release of the Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) radio, along with the introduction of the LE Coded PHY for longer ranges, which are just a couple of examples of the many enhancements that further expands the technology’s capabilities and assure us of its longevity.
In a recently published Market Update 2022 report from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) it is anticipated that annual Bluetooth device shipments are expected to exceed 7 Billion in 2026. The Bluetooth SIG and its members continue “to deliver innovations that improve the capabilities of Bluetooth® technology and help shape new market trends,” said Mark Powell, CEO. With this in mind, I’m looking forward to the next 20 years…
So, this is where ‘the future is bright, the future is blue’ Dr G signs off.