Wow. This week, the media attacked Amazon’s distributed IoT network with a vengeance. Mainstream news and the tech press have come out in force to recommend that people opt out of Amazon’s Sidewalk network by June 8, when Amazon must activate it. For my part, I recommend that you register.
There are really only four reasons to opt out of the network, and after telling you a bit more about them, I hope you will agree with me. If not, here’s how to unsubscribe.
Amazon designed the Sidewalk network to provide a middle ground between home Wi-Fi networks and cellular coverage, with low-cost connectivity for devices that are out of range of Wi-Fi but where cellular radios are not suitable. not because of cost, size, or battery requirement. These Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) have been trying to gain traction for a decade as companies attempt to provide coverage for IoT devices.
The biggest challenge in building these networks is cost, followed by energy consumption. If someone wants to build a sensor that shares weather data multiple times a day, it doesn’t make sense to buy a cellular subscription or put an expensive cellular module in the device. But if they have access to cheaper connectivity, it opens up a world of possibilities. A cheap radio paired with cheap data would mean that the cost of running the device could be much lower and built into the cost of the product, which means we could see a lot of new products.
Amazon first launched its Sidewalk network in September 2019 in its Ring product presentation. At the time, Amazon senior vice president David Limp said Sidewalk could benefit Ring products by allowing them to be outside of the home Wi-Fi range. A year later, in the run-up to its annual device launch event, Amazon discussed how the network would work. And it said its Echo devices, some Ring devices (Amazon owns Ring), and Eero routers would contain sub-gigahertz radios that would support Amazon’s new Sidewalk protocol.
The network would use the Sidewalk protocol developed by Amazon on radios that use the same frequency as LoRa networks to send small data packets up to 800 meters. (Amazon said the protocol would also work over Bluetooth.) The mesh network would then transmit those packets to the Internet through its customers’ broadband networks. Jamie Siminoff, CEO and founder of Ring, likened it to borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor.
Amazon then sent its executives on a press tour to explain the guarantees associated with the Sidewalk network. Amazon would only siphon up to 500MB per month (that’s half a gigabyte), they noted; In the meantime, the company released a document explaining how the Sidewalk protocol works from a security and privacy standpoint. It is very important to note that Amazon cannot see what packets are sent over the network, nor how those packets are routed.
Ken Goto, CTO of Level (Podcast), which will use the Sidewalk network for connectivity inside its smart lock, described the data as a wrapper, wrapped in one wrapper, wrapped in another wrapper. Level uses the Sidewalk network to avoid building Wi-Fi into their smart locks. According to Goto, the lock only has Bluetooth and a Zigbee radio, so Level can save costs and battery consumption. But it does mean that when the lock is outside of a phone’s bluetooth range, it needs another way to reconnect to the lock.
With the Sidewalk network, Level requests can use Bluetooth to access the Sidewalk mesh and then return to the Internet, where the app can communicate with the remote lock. This is a pretty nice use case, and it eliminates the ubiquitous bridges many homes have today to connect Bluetooth devices to Wi-Fi and the Internet.
I firmly believe that this network will be of overall benefit to consumers and developers, who can add new features or create new, cheaper devices that take advantage of it. The privacy and security features are legitimate. Again: Amazon doesn’t see your data, and it doesn’t see developer data. No one else either.
In other words, I think you should sign up. I can only see four reasons why someone would want (or should) refuse to participate.
1. You are on a measured data plane with a low data cap. For people living in rural areas or those who use their Amazon devices on a plan measured with a low cap, losing up to 500MB per month can be too much to bear (although this amount is not likely to be reached in a very rural area without a lot of participating devices).
2. You are a control freak. Talking to a few techies about it – and after getting them to admit that the security protocols looked pretty good – most came to the conclusion that they just didn’t want their home network to be used as a bridge for packets. unknown. What if these packages were illegal? What if the ISP did not allow this type of use? I can’t argue with control freaks, but I can point out that Apple’s AirTags and FindMy networks operate on a similar principle of using your home or cellular data to share Bluetooth location data over an ad hoc mesh network. .
3. You want to know more. Another common complaint about Sidewalk is that by automatically opting for people, Amazon gets a network for nothing and uses your bandwidth to do so. I understand why it annoys people and I don’t like it either. But it does so because it’s hard to build a wireless network and get devices on that network unless there is already extensive coverage. And getting extensive coverage is also difficult. The same goes for asking people to register, because people are lazy. I think Amazon should provide a decent incentive (like digital credit for a free movie) to get people to sign up. So if currently you are not averse to joining the network but want something in return, maybe if you opt out now Amazon will feel the loss enough to offer you something.
4. You hate Amazon and don’t want to give it more power. There are a lot of people who are suspicious of Amazon and seem to have reacted to the Sidewalk news as yet another opportunity to drag the business – even while using Amazon Alexa or Ring devices that would put them at risk of participating in the network. . Whereas if you are really wary of Amazon, you probably aren’t going to be a part of this network because you won’t have the devices. So if you have the devices and you opt out because you don’t trust Amazon, ask yourself why you are still giving it so much space in your house and so many dollars in your wallet.
I’ve covered wireless networks for almost two decades, so I understand better than most that Amazon is generally a selfish entity that drains data and historically doesn’t care about privacy or its employees. . And the Sidewalk Network will benefit Amazon. But not by letting the retailer suck your data or their competitors’ device data. Amazon is building this network because there is a real need for a cheap IoT network with long range coverage.
And because it’s something we all need, I can’t wait to participate. I hope most of you will too.