Turns out I have a low-power, low-bandwidth, long-range IoT network all around me, ready and waiting for my smart gadgets to jump on it. Today, Amazon revealed just how far its Sidewalk IoT network is penetrating the average American neighborhood.
The company’s first Sidewalk coverage map claims that over 90% of the US population can access the now public network (it’s restricted to the US only). Using a Sidewalk Developer Test Kit provided by Amazon, I drove around my town to confirm this data, and in three days of traveling over 40 miles, I found that connectivity was surprisingly strong in my part of South Carolina, even in the wilderness of a national forest.
Amazon released this data in conjunction with the official opening of Sidewalk to developers. First announced in 2019, Amazon sidewalk is a new Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) that Amazon says will help enable the next wave of connected devices. It’s not designed to replace cellular data for high-bandwidth devices, but to be used in place of expensive LTE or 5G connectivity on gadgets that don’t need as much data and where to pay $10 or more per month for data is excessive.
Currently, Sidewalk exists primarily to help Ring cameras send motion notifications even when offline and allow Level smart locks to connect to the Internet without the need for battery-hungry Wi-Fi radios. Amazon has also developed a few initial partnerships, in particular with CareBand, which developed a wearable health tracker. Now Amazon wants others to build devices that use the free network.
All you have to do is request a test kit – a small, gray wireless device with the Ring branding on it – to assess if there is sufficient connectivity in the area where you want to deploy your product, and you can start building. . Nordic, Silicon Labs, and other silicon companies have SDKs and HDKs available now, and AWS IoT Core for Sidewalk provides a one-stop-shop to connect devices. While only the AWS cloud service can directly receive data transmitted through Amazon Sidewalk, Limp says developers are not required to use the AWS cloud service for their device data.
“I want someone to build me a long range connected meat thermometer.” –Dave Limp
What kind of consumer IoT devices could benefit from Sidewalk? Think dog trackers, package trackers, soil moisture sensors, weather stations, leak sensors, mailbox sensors, pill bottles, solar panel checkers, door checkers garage and everything that does not always live somewhere. Wi-Fi is a no-brainer.
“I want someone to build me a long-range connected meat thermometer,” Dave Limp, SVP of Devices and Services at Amazon, tells me. “I’ve had so many things fail. You know, you’re in South Carolina; overcooked pork butt is not what you want.
As someone who’s actually tried smoking pork on a smart stove in my backyard, I can understand the frustrations of trying to hang on to a Wi-Fi bar while enjoying the outdoors. There are many use cases in the smart home where a network like this makes sense. But the biggest benefit will likely come from the dynamic coverage that Sidewalk can offer.
As you can see from my map, I drove while connected to Sidewalk, illustrating how mobile devices, like dog trackers and package trackers, could be monitored through Sidewalk, helping to bridge the gap between smart home and smart city. However, Amazon tells me that there is no update on the Ring Fetch Dog Tracker announced when Sidewalk debuted.
What is Amazon Sidewalk?
The Sidewalk network is designed as a long-range shared community network. It operates on three existing wireless radio technologies: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for short distances, LoRa for long ranges, and 900 MHz frequency shift keying. These frequencies can be linked to the internet using any nearby Sidewalk gateway – which currently includes Echo Show 10, Echo, Echo Dot smart speakers and wired Ring projectors and projectors, as well as a small number of commercial grade bridges. Sidewalk takes a small amount of bandwidth from the internet these devices are connected to in order to be able to send its messages at low data rates. Yes, it uses your internet connection – hence the word “community”.
It’s kind of genius and also literally something only Amazon could do on this scale. What other company has thousands of connected devices in homes? When Amazon first launched Sidewalk on its devices, it was automatically enabled, which was not a good move. The backlash was fierce and Amazon quickly rolled out the ability to disable network participation. Now, when you buy a new device capable of being a sidewalk bridge, you can choose to register.
It’s kind of genius and also literally something only Amazon could do
“Adoption among Ring and Echos users has been very high,” says Limp. “Because Ring has real value that it adds right away. You can receive a motion alert without having to have Wi-Fi on all the time.” If your Ring camera loses Wi-Fi connectivity, it can still Send alerts using Sidewalk, connecting to a nearby bridge that’s always online I’ve tested this personally, and it works.
Sidewalk was originally developed as a solution to Ring Video Doorbell connectivity issues. Because the company’s smart doorbells are placed outside homes, often with bricks or plaster between them and a Wi-Fi router, Amazon found that no matter how good the antenna installed , they would still miss the alerts. “We invented a protocol internally (to solve this problem), then a few years ago we announced our intention to outsource it and call it Sidewalk,” says Limp.
Last year when Sidewalk was activated, Limp said there were over a billion instances where Sidewalk was able to send a notification to Ring customers that they would have missed it without it. “We were able to send these notifications over this low-bandwidth backhaul network, and the client was still notified that something had happened, so they could check when things came back online,” he says. Amazon says Sidewalk won’t spy on data from your devices – you can read more at Sidewalk privacy and security statements here (pdf).
The sidewalk could bridge the gap between smart home and smart city
A few companies have already worked with Amazon to develop Sidewalk-compatible products. Today, New Cosmos announced Denova DetectA battery operated natural gas alarm; Primax launches Woody, a smart door lock; and Netvox has a new multi-sensor that combines air conditioning monitoring, water leak detection and condition monitoring. These products would not require users to have an Amazon Sidewalk Bridge in their home; they could take advantage of Sidewalk connectivity from any nearby bridge.
As for where Sidewalk fits into the changing new smart home landscape, it’s a welcome addition, but it’s not the only option. Z-Wave has a long range chip which can extend connectivity over 300 feet, and Thread is a low power mesh network which could extend beyond the walls of your home into the garden or garage with enough appliances. But neither offers the mobility of Sidewalk. As for Matter, Limp Says Sidewalk Complements New Smart Home Standard; Sidewalk and Matter already coexist in Amazon’s Echo smart speakers. “As a data link and transport layer, Sidewalk competes more with protocols like Wi-Fi than with Matter,” he explains. “You could, theoretically, transfer some of the Matter standard to Sidewalk if you wanted to.” Now things get very interesting.
Update, Friday, March 31, 8:15 p.m.: A previous version of this article stated that Dave Limp stated that the use of AWS cloud services was not required to access Sidewalk. After the release, Amazon reached out to clarify that only the AWS cloud service can directly receive data transmitted through Amazon Sidewalk, but developers can move that device data from AWS to another cloud service.