Amazon Alexa has colonized the smart home, and now Amazon Sidewalk is coming to spread a shared network around your neighbourhood. Both similar and different to mesh WiFi systems in approach, Sidewalk isn’t just one wireless standard but a whole bundle of ways for the Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets to get online, and future trackers to pinpoint your lost keys or pets.
On 24th November, Amazon started notifying Echo and Ring users of a new service that it’s rolling out this year called Sidewalk. Amazon sidewalk is essentially a proprietary shared network that runs on top of your personal network. According to the company, it uses a “small portion of your Internet bandwidth”, although it obviously won’t help you out with your internet bill.
What is Amazon Sidewalk?
Amazon Sidewalk is basically a new type of wireless network that makes smart home capabilities much longer-ranged. A Sidewalk Bridge connects to your Wi-Fi network and essentially extends the connectivity range beyond what your router can output. In some cases, Amazon says this range could be half a mile.
It works by using various communication protocols, such as 900MHz radio signals and Bluetooth Low-Energy, for inter-device communications. The system will intelligently switch between these protocols depending on the range and power needed.
The feature was quietly announced late last year and again at this year’s fall hardware event.
In a nutshell, it’s a sort of secondary, shared network for certain connected Amazon devices. The idea is it uses Echo and Ring devices as a bridge to extend connectivity over longer distances. So, say your internet goes down and thus renders your outdoor Ring security camera useless.
Not an issue with Sidewalk—you can just tap into a neighbour’s Echo or Ring device. Because, oh yeah, Sidewalk pilfers a small portion of your bandwidth that then gets lumped together with other Echo and Ring devices in your vicinity to create this separate network.
Does using Amazon Sidewalk mean hitting your Internet Cap faster than before?
With even “unlimited” home internet connections typically having some small print about just how much data you can use in a month, it’s no surprise that figuring out how Amazon Sidewalk might contribute to that usage is important. Amazon, though, insists that the bandwidth demands of its private networks are actually relatively low.
The maximum bandwidth that a Sidewalk Bridge, like an Echo, will take up to the Sidewalk server is 80 Kbps, Amazon suggests. That’s the equivalent of about 1/40th of the bandwidth which streaming the average high-definition video would require. Amazon caps the total monthly data that your Sidewalk-enabled devices will use to 500MB.
How safe is Amazon Sidewalk and how can you opt-out of it?
You might have not heard about Amazon Sidewalk until today, but I am sure most of you, are aware of what an Amazon Echo or Ring camera is, in fact, a large portion of the readers might be owning one as well. And if you own one of those devices and live in the U.S. (or know someone who does), you need to tell them to opt-out of the service as soon as possible.
What about that white paper? The one where Amazon goes into great detail about its privacy and security measures? At the end of the day, that’s a white paper written and commissioned by Amazon. Of course, Amazon is going to tell you that it’s done everything in its power to make sure the Sidewalk is private and secure. They might not even be lying about that. But there are talented hackers out there who, given enough time, would likely find a way to exploit a potentially gigantic secondary network that gives them access to a wide swath of homes.
The worst part of all, the Amazon sidewalk will be turned on by default, though you can turn it off if you prefer. The option for that is in the Amazon Alexa app for iOS and Android. Tap More > Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk to find the toggle control. If you do disable Sidewalk, you won’t have access to neighbourhood Sidewalk networks of course.