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This week, on June 8, Amazon officially launched Amazon Sidewalk. It’s not a device, but rather, a shared network that allows select smart home devices, such as Echo speakers, Ring Security cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors and more, to better connect to the internet.
How Amazon Sidewalk works
Amazon Sidewalk creates a low-bandwidth network and then qualifying smart home devices within a given community contribute a portion of their internet bandwidth to the Amazon Sidewalk network so that the network becomes stronger. Although Amazon smart home devices, particularly Amazon Echo speakers and Ring cameras, will be the primary contributors to the network, known as Sidewalk Bridges, any smart home devices that meet the Sidewalk standard can contribute to the network.
The idea is that entire communities would pool their bandwidth so all devices could take from the strongest internet connection in the community and not just what’s available in the device’s home network. The radius of a Sidewalk community would be about half a mile. Think of each qualifying smart home device as a mini mesh network. The more devices that contribute to the Amazon Sidewalk network, the stronger the network becomes and the better connection all devices are able to have.
This means that even if your internet connection stops working in your home, your devices will still be able to connect to the internet. It also means that if you are too far out of reach from your router (maybe you moved your Echo speaker to the backyard or you want to unlock your smart door from down the block), you will be able to stay connected to the internet and use your smart home devices through the Sidewalk network.
Amazon explained in a blog post in September 2020,
“In the future, Sidewalk will also support a range of experiences from using Sidewalk-enabled devices to help find pets or valuables, to smart security and lighting, to diagnostics for appliances and tools.”
The bluetooth tracker device, Tile Tracker, for instance, will be able to connect to Amazon Sidewalk beginning June 14.
How much of your bandwidth will you have to share?
The reason why it is so important that as many smart home devices connect to the Amazon Sidewalk network as possible is because each device only contributes a maximum of 80 Kbps (0.08 Mbps). For reference, it takes 3 Mbps to stream in standard definition and up to 25 Mbps to stream in HD or 4K. Amazon has also stated that it will never use more than 500 MB of data in a month per account. Most internet plans with data caps reach about 1 TB.
Can you opt out of Amazon Sidewalk?
Your Amazon smart home devices will automatically contribute to the Amazon Sidewalk network unless you choose to opt out. You will have to go into your Alexa app and disable the Amazon Sidewalk setting. To do this, simply go to Settings -> Account settings -> Amazon Sidewalk (use the slider to disable).
Should you be concerned about your privacy?
Amazon has assured the public that Sidewalk users should not be concerned about their privacy.
“The Sidewalk network uses three layers of encryption to keep data shared over the network safe, and the same strong encryption standards are required for all applications and devices that use the network.”
The Sidewalk network uses three layers of encryption to keep data shared over the network safe, and the same strong encryption standards are required for all applications and devices that use the network.
Due to this advanced encryption system, many security experts are (cautiously) optimistic about the Amazon Sidewalk. Tech industry analyst Patrick Moorhead, for instance, commented, “I haven’t seen very many triple-protected, triple-encrypted systems out there. That said, there’s no infallible system.”
Others, however, are much more concerned than Moorhead. The primary fear is of data being leaked and of Sidewalk users becoming more vulnerable to hackers. Eric Null, U.S. policy manager and global policy counsel for Access Now, for instance, commented,
“It’s only a matter of time before personal information is leaked from these devices.”
It’s still unclear, therefore, whether the Amazon Sidewalk is any more of a risk than using Facebook or accessing public Wi-Fi. It’s ultimately a personal preference regarding how much you are willing to risk to stay better connected and have an overall better smart home experience.
Written by:Ari Howard
Associate Writer, Broadband & Wireless Content
Ari Howard is an associate writer for the Allconnect team. She researches and writes about broadband news and studies, particularly relating to internet access, digital safety, broadband-related technology and t… Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content
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