Amazon Wants to Bring Its ‘Sidewalk’ Home Network to Broader Market
(Bloomberg) -- Amazon.com Inc. is opening its Sidewalk wireless network to outside developers to see if a technology built to extend Wi-Fi coverage outside the home has commercial applications beyond the company’s own devices.
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Sidewalk is built on the back of Amazon’s smart-home gadgets and their connections to residential Wi-Fi routers. Some recent editions of the company’s Echo smart speakers, Ring video doorbells and outdoor cameras use Bluetooth, long-range radio waves and other wireless protocols to connect with Sidewalk-eligible devices, borrowing a slice of Wi-Fi bandwidth to receive and send signals to Amazon servers.
Amazon announced it was building Sidewalk in 2019 and says the network now covers about 90% of the US population. “It kind of hits the sweet spot between cellular functionality and Wi-Fi, but goes to a place where Wi-Fi doesn’t have the best coverage,” Dave Limp, the senior vice president of Amazon’s Devices and Services group, said in an interview.
The Seattle-based company said it expects a set of Sidewalk devices to hit the market later this year, including a logistics shipment tracker, a smart door lock and a sensor that can detect water leaks. If more developers get on board, “I think we’ll see stuff coming down the pipeline in six to 12 months,” Limp said.
Sidewalk was originally designed to help keep Amazon’s smart-home devices online, bridging the gap where home Wi-Fi can’t reach a motion sensor or internet-connected door lock. But the e-commerce giant believes other companies will find a use for a long-range, low-bandwidth network.
Many “Internet of Things” devices, including water monitors, inventory trackers and motion detectors, are based on very low-power operations for which such a system might be ideal. (When Amazon announced the program, it illustrated the pitch with prototype dog collar tracker called Fetch, which hasn’t made it to market.)
A coverage map the company plans to release on Tuesday shows Sidewalk blanketing major metropolitan areas and extending out to small towns. The network generally misses sparsely populated and rural areas, as well as some industrial and agricultural zones closer in to cities.
Limp said the coverage map filled out in recent years as more people bought devices. A floodlight cam hung on the top corner of a garage might extend the network by a kilometer, Limp said, while signals broadcast from an Echo speaker inside a home – which must beam data through walls – might end after a couple of hundred meters.
He said a large majority of people owning Sidewalk-compatible devices had opted to participate in the network, sharing a portion of their home’s bandwidth. Amazon sought to address privacy concerns by encrypting the data transmitted on the network and not disclosing to users when someone was connecting via their devices.
The company also deployed bridge devices to fill gaps not covered by its customers. Amazon will make those available to commercial users who want better coverage or connectivity in remote places.
Amazon will offer builders of Sidewalk-connected devices free access to the network. It’s integrated with Amazon Web Services products, and Amazon is hoping that successful developers end up using paid AWS services to store and manage the data from their devices.
Sidewalk is similar to Apple Inc.’s Find My network, which uses Bluetooth in iPhones and other devices to locate lost Apple items, as well as products from some other companies.
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