Call it “home connectivity beyond the home.”
eCommerce giant Amazon announced new details this week about Amazon Sidewalk, its bid to create a distributed (localized) IoT network. Amazon announced plans for Sidewalk last year, and the company said in this week’s update that it is now set to launch the initiative at some point in 2020.
In terms of mechanics, Sidewalk will use consumers’ in-home Wi-Fi bandwidth to connect devices across long distances (as great as half a mile). That will boost connectivity in a way that Amazon said extends well “beyond your front door.”
The bandwidth contributions will come from Amazon Echo devices, Ring Floodlight Cams and Ring Spotlight Cams. Amazon said in its announcement that Sidewalk will extend the low-bandwidth working range of such devices, with bandwidth sharing across neighbors representing a “network of networks” that will help devices stay online. The company has said the network enhancement is available at no charge.
The movement toward stitching smart homes together to form “smart neighborhoods” hints at connectivity that extends beyond individual consumers to entire communities.
Using Sidewalk won’t require new hardware, as the system is available as a software update to Echo and Ring products. (Users can turn the Sidewalk feature off if they would like.)
The Sidewalk news comes as Amazon is slated to unveil new products and services at a virtual event later Thursday (Sept. 24). Amazon watchers expect the event to (not surprisingly) emphasize the smart home.
In a way, Sidewalk seems to create a neighborhood-level standard that weaves together other standards to connect devices that are in turn tied to, say, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. In terms of potential use cases for Sidewalk, the enhanced connectivity would allow users to find lost keys or other items, or to manage appliances while away from home but still local.
In an interview with Cities Today, Research Director Jonathan Collins of ABI Research said Amazon Sidewalk “has the potential to deliver low-cost, low-data, citywide mesh connectivity. It could certainly benefit from adoption within smart-city projects. For example, integrating Sidewalk into parking meters would bring low-cost network access for the city, but it will also provide more mesh nodes to strengthen network coverage and capacity.”
But he noted that Sidewalk would “struggle to match 5G’s national coverage.” It has been well-reported that nascent 5G deployments are currently underway, and Amazon itself announced plans last month to launch 5G server sites in Silicon Valley and Boston for commercial use in tandem with Verizon.
Amazon said in this week’s Sidewalk announcement that it will begin a “proof of concept” with the American Red Cross later this year to see if Sidewalk can support the tracking of blood collections between donation and distribution centers.
If that shows promise, the localized nature of the Sidewalk effort – smart device/home connectivity writ large – might bring consumers ever closer to their Amazon-powered devices … even when they’re half a mile away.