Amazon launched its Sidewalk network in June. This is a local network established between Amazon devices in your home and around your neighborhood. This connects devices like the various kinds of Echo devices and Ring cameras. The network will also communicate with Tile devices used to keep track of things like keys and pets.
The network does not use your home WiFi, but instead establishes a new network using a combination of Bluetooth and 900 MHz LoRa signals. While Amazon won’t comment on future plans for this network, it would be a natural way for Amazon to create a smart home network that is apart and separate from WiFi.
Amazon automatically enabled newer Echo and Ring devices to act as bridges in the network. The network can then connect to any other smart home device that has the ability to communicate with the bridges. This doesn’t work with the first few generations of Amazon Echo devices but comes built into fourth-generation Echo and Dot devices. Specifically, the network enables the following kinds of connections:
- Localized Bluetooth LE connections between the Sidewalk bridges and Sidewalk-enabled devices in your home;
- Long-range Bluetooth LE and 900MHz connections between your Sidewalk bridges and Sidewalk-enabled devices outside of your home, including other people’s devices;
- Long-range Bluetooth LE and 900MHz connections between your Sidewalk-enabled devices and Sidewalk bridges outside the home, including other people’s bridges.
The bridges on the network communicate with the Amazon cloud using your home broadband connection. Amazon says that it is limiting an individual connection to no more than 80 Kbps and is capping total data usage from any home at 500 MB of data per month.
If you have one of these devices in your home, this becomes another use of your monthly data. While half a gigabyte may not sound like a lot pf broadband, it is significant to people using cellular hotspots or other data plans with small data caps. This will be one more use of data that contributes to total home usage for anybody saddled with a broadband data cap.
In urban areas where there are a lot of such devices, this creates an interesting network. If you drop your keys while jogging or your dog wanders away, they can be located if connected to a Tile locator device. Amazon is touting the Sidewalk network as something that is good for everybody.
Amazon’s real plans have to be more than making Tile devices work better. The giant retailer probably has visions of selling a range of outdoor sensors that will work as long as homeowners or neighbors have a bridge device. In the future, you might buy an external sensor that makes its broadband connection through your neighbor’s Ring camera.
But this is also a bit troublesome. This creates a free mesh network for Amazon. Over time, it’s likely that many devices sold by the company will be capable of communicating with this network. The richest guy on the planet will have created an incredibly valuable network by taking small amounts of data from anybody using an Echo or Ring device. Users are able to disconnect bridges from the Sidewalk network, but devices are enabled automatically.
Amazon says data is safe on the network. Data is supposed protected by several layers of encryption, and Amazon plans to delete all data every 24 hours.
This reminds me of the WiFi network created by Comcast using home routers. Comcast swears that the network doesn’t use home broadband, but it’s unlikely that somebody would know it if it did. Amazon isn’t making such a claim and is brazenly using a small slice of people’s home broadband for free. Amazon is the only company that could currently pull this off since it has a huge number of Echo and Ring devices already in homes. But there is nothing stopping other smart home device makers from doing something similar and not even telling us about it.