Amazon Sidewalk launching in June with Tile trackers and others on shared network

(Amazon Image)

Amazon announced Friday that Sidewalk, its neighborhood wireless network designed to provide connectivity to small Internet of Things (IoT) devices, will launch next month with support for Echo devices and partnerships with Tile and Level.

First announced in the fall of 2019, Sidewalk is Amazon’s program to solve connectivity issues for devices on the outer ranges of home WiFi, including such things as yard lights, pet trackers or sensors on mailboxes. Sidewalk’s aim is to provide a wireless infrastructure for these devices by turning Amazon devices like the Echo into connection points that any Sidewalk-enabled device can use.

Starting June 8, compatible Echo devices will gain support and help extend coverage for Sidewalk-enabled devices (like those below). Amazon said that will mean simpler setup and faster reconnection to a WiFi router when a user updates a password or network name.

Tile, makers of tracking devices for misplaced items, will join Amazon Sidewalk on June 14. Tile uses Bluetooth technology to locate items, and by connecting with Sidewalk and compatible Echo devices, the service’s network coverage will be extended. Sidewalk will also strengthen the ability to locate items in-home by incorporating Alexa.

(Tile Photo)

“Sidewalk is all about the next billion things that are going to get on the network,” Dave Limp, devices and services chief for Amazon, said in a CNBC interview on Friday. “Wi-Fi is constrained, mostly to your home, it just doesn’t have the range to go into your backyard and into the neighborhood. Cellular may be the future, but it’s very expensive today. So Sidewalk kind of splits the difference between those two and allows us to put millions and billions of things on the edge of the network but do it in a secure way.”

Sidewalk will also allow users to control Level home smart locks through the Ring and Level apps without having to be within Bluetooth range of their mobile device. A Level lock will be able to connect directly to a compatible Ring Video Doorbell Pro device using an Amazon Sidewalk Bluetooth connection shared only between the two devices, Amazon said.

The feature gives a user the ability to stay connected to the device even if they are across town. It also creates the ability to see and speak to someone at the front door, lock and unlock the door within the Ring app.

(CareBand Photo)

A third partner announced Friday is CareBand, makers of wearable technology designed to improve the quality of life for people living with dementia. An Amazon pilot program will combine Sidewalk’s long-range connectivity with CareBand’s tech to support features like indoor and outdoor activity tracking, a help button, and automated analysis of activity patterns. It eliminates the need to use a smart phone or pair CareBand wearables with a Wi-Fi network.

PREVIOUSLY: Amazon Sidewalk rollout shows the future of ‘forced opt-in,’ taking lessons from Xfinity WiFi

Limp told CNBC that Sidewalk is very long range — up to a half mile in some cases — but very low-bandwidth. Customers who opt in to the network have the opportunity to share “a small amount” of their home internet bandwidth as part of the shared pool of bandwidth that enables the Sidewalk technology.

Limp said Amazon has been experimenting for years with Ring, which it owns, to get connectivity to lighting, without running a bunch of wires out to the edge of a yard.

When asked about Apple’s recent release of AirTags, which are connected to iOS devices, Limp said Amazon’s Sidewalk efforts go beyond just “finding things.”

Amazon has gone with a forced opt-in rather than opt-out approach for users with compatible Sidewalk devices. The service can be disabled in the Alexa app, and there’s more information on the Sidewalk website.

The company answered questions about data security last year in a white paper describing Sidewalk’s privacy and security protocols. Amazon offered some detail on network sharing at the time: “The maximum bandwidth of a Sidewalk Bridge to the Sidewalk server is 80Kbps, which is about 1/40th of the bandwidth used to stream a typical high definition video. Today, total monthly data used by Sidewalk enabled devices, per customer, is capped at 500MB, which is equivalent to streaming about 10 minutes of high definition video.”

“With multiple layers of privacy and security, Sidewalk was built to keep your data secure and provide you control of your experience,” Amazon said in its blog post Friday. “Data shared over the Sidewalk network is protected with three layers of encryption, only accessible by the devices you choose, and automatically deleted every 24 hours to protect your privacy.”

Amazon Sidewalk general manager Manolo Arana told CNET, “In the end, you won’t have any information about your neighbor’s bridge, and your neighbor won’t have any information about your device. So there is always this level of minimizing the information that can go across layers.”

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