Thanks to Amazon, Alexa is now a household name. The company’s suite devices, including speakers, light bulbs, and doorbells, has helped many people convert their homes into intelligent spaces that can adapt to different contexts and commands.
Amazon is taking its smart home systems a step further with Amazon Sidewalk, a program where your Amazon devices will emit Bluetooth signals that allow your devices to extend beyond their Wi-Fi range.
If nearby houses all join Amazon Sidewalk, this creates a neighborhood network that extends the reach of everyone’s smart home technology. We’ll examine more about Amazon Sidewalk, how it works, and what it means for your smart home planning.
What Is Amazon Sidewalk?
Amazon Sidewalk is a program where Amazon gadgets use part of a home’s Wi-Fi bandwidth to emit low-energy Bluetooth and radio signals. When these signals meet other nearby Amazon devices, they connect to form a network.
Amazon Sidewalk networks are designed to help neighbors extend the reach of their Amazon devices.
For example, with Sidewalk, your garage door opener will work from farther or away and your Tile tracker will keep tracking even if it ends up in a neighbor’s backyard. New Amazon devices are synced to Sidewalk during installation, and older products will auto-sync with Sidewalk through an over-the-air update.
How Does Amazon Sidewalk Work?
Sidewalk works by taking a small part of your in-home Wi-Fi network and translating it into a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signal or a 900 MHz radio signal. These signals are much less powerful than Wi-Fi and aren’t able to carry much data, but they can power basic functions on smart devices. In essence, Amazon is taking a tiny part of a resource you already pay for, Wi-Fi, and making it even more efficient for smart home use.
Because BLE and radio signals extend farther than Wi-Fi signals—in some cases, for up to half up a mile—they can reach Amazon gadgets in your neighborhood.
Each new gadget that joins the network is known as a bridge. When multiple bridges connect, this creates a network of low-bandwidth coverage. As more households participate, the Sidewalk network grows stronger.
Which Devices Work With Amazon Sidewalk?
Almost all Amazon connected home products work with Sidewalk. The new spherical Amazon Echo, Ring cameras, and the 10-inch Echo Show are most compatible. All of those devices are special bridges called gateways.
They connect with Sidewalk right away during setup—you will be asked to confirm this connection—and they are equipped to send 900 Hz radio signals that can reach up to half a mile.
All older models of the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show work with Sidewalk but can only emit BLE as typical bridges. These products have a shorter range for transmission, meaning that your signals likely won’t extend too far beyond your house.
The first-generation Echo and the Echo Look are not compatible with Sidewalk.
The Benefits of Amazon Sidewalk
If your household joins Sidewalk, here are some of the benefits you can expect to see:
- Extended Range. Previously your Amazon devices only worked when they were in the range of your home’s Wi-Fi network. Now, your gadgets can connect from farther away via Sidewalk. Expect your garage door opener to work farther down the street. If you have an Amazon pet locator, you can keep tracking your pets even if they leave your property.
- Fewer Smart Home Outages. If your home frequently has Wi-Fi outages or disconnections, it can be a hassle to reconnect your gadgets each time the Wi-Fi goes out. With Sidewalk, your Amazon devices will still stay connected if there’s a Wi-Fi outage and they won’t need a reboot when your internet kicks back on. If you have a Ring doorbell camera or the Alexa Guard security system, you will still receive motion and safety alerts even if your Wi-Fi goes down.
- Simplified Setup. New Amazon devices will connect to the Sidewalk network as soon as they’re turned on, and you’ll have a simplified process for connecting them to your home Wi-Fi.
- Better Home Connection. If you have spotty Wi-Fi coverage in certain parts of the house, Sidewalk can help strengthen your home connection by drawing from signals in neighbors’ homes.
Do You Need to Buy or Install Amazon Sidewalk?
Amazon Sidewalk doesn’t need any new hardware. If you already have an Echo, Echo Dot, or Ring camera in your home, you’ll have Sidewalk installed via an automatic over-the-air software update. If you buy a Ring Spotlight, Ring Floodlight camera, a spherical Echo, or the 10-inch Echo Show, you will be asked to confirm joining your local Sidewalk network during setup.
Sidewalk is a free service provided by Amazon. You are, however, sacrificing a tiny bit of your home Wi-Fi bandwidth to help Sidewalk operate.
How Much Wi-Fi Does Amazon Sidewalk Use?
Not that much at all. Sidewalk uses Wi-Fi to send short authentication requests and/or quick comments, which use barely any data. The maximum bandwidth a Sidewalk bridge would use during transmission is 80 Kbps. Each month, Amazon Sidewalk promises to use no more than 500MB of data from each household, which is equal to streaming 10 minutes of HD video.
However, because Sidewalk is a shared network, you won’t know when your devices are using your Wi-Fi or your neighbors. This is all part of Sidewalk’s mesh network design.
Is Amazon Sidewalk Safe?
Amazon is committed to making Sidewalk as safe as possible. Sidewalk’s very low-energy signals are not able to transfer any pieces of personal data, which means that there’s no way for your neighbors to hear your Alexa conversations or anything similar. Amazon has also designed Sidewalk with three layers of encryption, meaning that it’s very difficult for anyone to penetrate the system and extract any data or change the system.
However, by definition, smart home technology requires sharing energy and data from your household with a private company. Sidewalk also extends that sharing network to include your neighbors. While Amazon promises not to use Sidewalk for any personalized targeting purposes, there is no telling what might happen in the future or how an inventive third party could possibly disrupt the system.
Does Sidewalk Share My Data With Neighbors?
Amazon says it’s responsible for sending authentications between households, but these authentications only transfer limited metadata, not sensitive information.
Amazon also states that it deletes all information sent over a Sidewalk network every 24 hours and automatically updates the identification codes assigned to participating devices, suggesting that the Sidewalk network could not collect continuous streams of data from one household or device.
How to Turn Amazon Sidewalk Off
Remember, if you already have an Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, or Ring device, your gadgets will automatically be added to the Sidewalk network and you will need to log into your account to log off. To do so, open the app, click More > Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk and toggle Sidewalk off.
Amazon Moves Into the Neighborhood
Amazon is making a conscious decision to become more involved in serving the technology needs of neighborhoods like yours.
If you’re using Amazon for shopping with Prime, information gathering through your Echo, or for security with Alexa Guard, Sidewalk is just another way to help make life at home easier.
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