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A new wireless standard: what is Amazon Sidewalk?



  An overhead photo of a winding sidewalk with the Amazon logo on top.
Wilm Ihlenfeld / Shutterstock

At Amazon & # 39; s annual hardware event, the company unveiled a new wireless standard for the internet of things and smart home devices called Sidewalk. Sidewalk promises a greater range than Wi-Fi and Bluetooth with a lower power consumption and complexity than 5G.

What is Amazon Sidewalk?

Sidewalk is a new wireless standard that Amazon hopes smarthome and other IoT devices will use to communicate instead of Bluetooth, WiFi, 5G and the many additional standards that exist. The problem with existing standards is a matter of range, complexity and power consumption.

Most of the current wireless standards do not broadcast far and are usually limited to your home. Those who can reach far distances are incredibly complicated to set up. And power consumption, especially with battery-powered devices, is always a concern.

Amazon says that Sidewalk solves these problems. By relying on a low bandwidth of 900 MHz, it has a greater range and better penetration than WiFi and Bluetooth. And, like some Wi-Fi devices, Sidewalk forms mesh networks to increase that distance. The 900 MHz also benefits from lower power consumption and less complexity from a cellular standard such as 5G.

With the Sidewalk standard, Amazon wants to bring your smarthome outside to the rest of the world.

Low power, wide -Ranging Spectrum

  A city with a display of many IOT devices connected to it.
Ekaphon maneechot / Shutterstock

Most wireless standards that consumers use do not have much reach. Wi-Fi, ZigBee and Z-Wave usually only reach your home and maybe hardly in your garden. And even then, they often need a kind of repeater to cover the entire house. The range of Bluetooth is drastically shorter, sometimes measured in inches.

The great thing about WiFi, Z-Wave, ZigBee and Bluetooth is that they usually do not need much power or expensive equipment to use. Some of them will even perform well on battery power.
The other major wireless standards that consumers encounter revolve around their cell phones and tablets – that is LTE and soon 5G.

These two standards have a much wider range than Wi-Fi or Z-Wave, but there are costs involved. The equipment to be broadcast is incredibly expensive (do you have an LTE tower?), Hard to maintain and requires a huge amount of power. For example, it is not suitable for your garden.

Amazon & # 39; s Sidewalk wants to bring out the best of both worlds. The company promises that the standard will use relatively little power (measured in years of battery life), but at the same time the network will have a much larger range than Z-Wave or ZigBee – up to half a mile. The company does this by reusing the unlicensed spectrum, 900 MHz.

If you are old enough, you may have already used a device that communicated with the 900 MHz spectrum: cordless telephones. Amateur radios, such as walkie-talkies, also use the same frequency, which is precisely because 900 MHz benefits from a significant range and building penetration and low battery consumption.

But unlike walkie-talkies or cordless phones, Amazon Sidewalk devices will form a network, which in turn extends their reach even further. The company already sent test equipment to employees and with only 700 nodes, the Sidewalk network covered most of the Las Angeles basin.

Wireless devices for outside your home

  A series of smart ring lights along a side path.
Ring Smart lighting already uses the 900 MHz spectrum. Ring

You may wonder, "what else?" On this point. Do we need wireless devices that extend outside the home? Amazon thinks so, and they are a few compelling use cases. A contact sensor switched on the sidewalk would reach your mailbox if, for example, you live on the ninth floor of an apartment complex.

If you have ever tried to take an echo outside for a cookout or to enjoy the weather, you may also soon have problems with the range. Wi-Fi outside your home is very irregular. With a built-in 900 MHz radio, your Echo can make contact with a compatible bridge, which then provides access to your WiFi router.

Amazon already has another product on the market that does something similar: Ring Outdoor Smart lighting. On the outside, they look like typical path lights that you put around the sidewalk that leads to the front door. But they work on smarthome, so you can control them via speech or app.

But, as we have already established, WiFi is not a reliable connection method for devices in your garden. So the Ring Smart Lights do not make a direct connection to your wifi. Instead, they have 900 MHz compatible radios. You install the lights and a bridge in your house. The lights connect to the bridge, and the bridge connects to your W-Fi.

At its hardware device event, the company showed an emerging pet tracker named Fetch. It looks a lot like a key ring and attaches to your pet's collar. When the tracker leaves the predefined geofenced area, you will be notified. In theory, you could follow your pet if it encounters other sidewalk devices from other users.

Companies such as Tile and Trackr have long promised a crowdsourced network for finding your lost items. But the problem is always the range and having a multitude of devices to connect. Sidewalk in any case solves the reach problem and hopes to stimulate acceptance better than single-purpose trackers.

Now Amazon just has to make it relevant

  A Ring Fetch tracker on a loop.
Ring Fetch uses Amazon Sidewalk to support notifications. Amazon

All this is an exalted hopeful promise at this point. A mesh network such as Sidewalk is only as good as the number of users that it can claim. The Thread standard from Google, for example, has several advantages over ZigBee and Z-Wave, but has still not seen the light of day. So it doesn't do anyone any good – at least not yet.

Amazon says it will release an SDK next year and theoretically any manufacturer could add a 900 MHz radio to its product and use the SDK to add Sidewalk compatibility. But as Microsoft famously encountered with Windows Phone and apps, that does not solve the chicken and egg problem. Manufacturers may not be willing to build Sidewalk devices unless consumers purchase them. But without buying Sidewalk gadgets, consumer interest may never grow.

Amazon will also have to convince consumers of security, since the 900 MHz spectrum can be easily intercepted (it must be to work with amateur radios & # 39; s). The last thing you want is someone's walkie-talkie who picks up the signals from your Fetch device.

However, if Amazon achieves the goals, our smarthomes may soon include more than just the four walls in which we live. With the kind of range and mesh network that it represents, you can someday read about smart villages.


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