Amazon’s Sidewalk Low Power WAN is a disappointment, regardless of four announced partners
Amazon Sidewalk, which was silently announced at Amazon’s yearly hardware conference in Seattle in September 2019, is a shared network that claims to assist its devices function better. Particularly, it’s a 900Mhz-based low power wireless area network (LPWAN) to link trackers, sensors, lightbulbs, and other IoT devices. Amazon states you can leverage Sidewlak to streamline device installation, find lost items, and more. However, Amazon’s webpage just refers to Echo (“smart” speaker) devices as Sidewalk endpoints where Bluetooth is enabled.
Observe that Amazon Sidewalk is optional and can be switched off at any point. Instructions to enable or disable Sidewalk for your Amazon devices is here. It comes at no extra expenditure and has a capped data usage of 500MB each month, for each account. To learn more about this, go to Amazon Sidewalk’s webpage. Amazon stated that Sidewalk will have enhanced range in contrast to Bluetooth and tap into reduced power than 5G.
“We’re going to develop a reference design referred to as Ring Fetch – a dog tracker that will leverage Sidewalk and ping you if your dog leaves a specific perimeter,” stated Dave Limp, senior vice president of devices for Amazon at that conference. “This will be coming next year,” he added.
More than a couple of years later, there are no tangible advantages, visible outcomes or fresh information about Sidewalk deployment in the U.S.A. or anyplace else. Sidewalk stays a mysterious mesh network with nil coverage maps anywhere to be identified on the amazon.com website.
“A ton of people might not even be aware it’s there,” stated analyst Carolina Milanesi, president and principal analyst of Creative Strategies. “It’s not like Alexa, where you can see a prompt for it.”
The Sidewalk network – which is reliant on Bluetooth Low Energy for short-range communication, 900MHz LoRa or frequency-shift keyring over protracted distances – is set to max out at 80 Kbit/s on any single Amazon device functioning as a Sidewalk “bridge.” And Amazon caps Sidewalk’s per-client data usage at 500MB each month.
The fact that Amazon turned on Sidewalk with zero notification, much less permission, goes on to receive complaints. “I think there’s value in the Sidewalk concept,” stated analyst Mark Vena, president and CEO of SmartTech Research. “The issue is that Amazon conducted a Biblically disastrous rollout of this.” He added that Amazon “would have really put themselves in a much improved position” if they’d make Sidewalk opt-in.
“I was very critical of their rollout,” emailed Jennifer King, a privacy and data policy fellow at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centred Artificial Intelligence, including that she is pretty hesitant about it. “I have a lot of concerns with regards to their practices.”
Privacy advocates highlight the massive amount of data Amazon gathers with regards to the preferences and tastes of its consumers and also to its late adoption of such common trust-building measures as putting out transparency reports recording how it responds to governmental requests for that data; Amazon’s reports stay considerably thin in contrast to those of the other tech giants.
Amazon did not answer a Light Reading Question with regards to its Sidewalk opt-out rate, but furnished a statement attesting to Sidewalk’s “robust coverage across major U.S. metro regions.” It did not include any individual user success stories, as Sidewalk’s encryption and data-minimization strategies obscure those details. This writer opted out of Sidewalk a long time ago.
No security susceptibilities appear to have been reported for Sidewalk so far – the major criticism made in a report from Cato Networks put out this summer was that IT admins would have issues to retain track of all the Sidewalk devices in an organization.
Amazon’s preliminary sales pitch for Sidewalk included a comprehensive white paper on its privacy and security features but impacted further from a lack of particular upsides for clients, leaving too much to their imagination.
In May 2021, Amazon made the announcement with regards to a first grouping of partners that would leverage Sidewalk’s shared bandwidth for their own services: San Mateo, California, Tile; CareBand (a Chicago developer of senior-care systems); and Level (a smart-lock organization in Redwood City, California)
Light Reading states that the Tile integration appears particularly noteworthy “Expanding the area in which these device-tracking fobs can call home can tackle a competitive disadvantage Tile faces against Apple’s AirTags, which can tap into Apple’s massive Find My Network. However, with Tile’s Sidewalk integration only live since June, Tile isn’t ready to discuss details yet.”
“It’s been going good, but I can’t share any particular numbers,” Mira Dix, a Tile spokesperson, sent an email to Light Reading.
One specialist wondered how many Tile owners are aware of this new connectivity. “Sidewalk is still majorly promise, and I’d be shocked if most Tile buyers are aware of the collaboration,” emailed Avi Greengart, president and lead analyst at Techsponential.
CareBand CEO Adam Sobol also stated it was too early to speak, including “There should be additional news in Q1/Q2 or next year.”
In September, Amazon made the announcement of a fourth partnership with Life360, a San Francisco firm that furnishes family-safety tools. Vena, of SmartTech Research, made the suggestion of additional partnerships along the lines of the Tile deal would be in order and suggested one in specific with another vendor of device-tracking fobs. “I think you might see them partner with Samsung,” he stated. “I think that would make logical sense.”
Ms. Milanesi made the suggestion of watching to see hyperlocal use cases get built out. “Rather than thinking about a neighbourhood, you can think about a campus or a big manufacturing facility or whatever the scenario might be,” she stated. “The technology underlying it might be leveraged in differing ways.”
Analysts all concur that Amazon is overdue to persuade its consumers to leverage Sidewalk.
“The idea that Amazon is developing a crowdsourced network would be a ton more simpler for customers to accept if Amazon could demonstrate concrete advantages to Echo owners,” stated Greengart of Techsponential. “Individuals are happy to take part in crowdsourced systems, like Waze’s traffic data, when the advantages to the user is obvious.”