The Low Power Wide Area Network for the home
Amazon announced SideWalk in september 2019 and they will launch the service in the US by end of this year. But what is it, how does it work and will it have any impact? This post addresses Amazon's SideWalk a bit more in detail.
What is Sidewalk?
Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network, that helps connect devices such as Ring security cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors, smart irrigation and pet tracking devices in the vicinity of the home. Amazon Sidewalk creates a crowd-sourced wireless network, free-of-use, based on Semtechs LoRa technology, amongst others, which extends the range of a customer’s home network to connect both outdoor and indoor, low-bandwidth smart home products.
How does it work?
Customers will need a Sidewalk Bridge. Existing Amazon Echo devices, Ring Floodlight Cams and Ring Spotlight Cams can be used for this purpose. These devices are pooled together to create a shared public network that benefits all Sidewalk-enabled devices in a community. Amazon Sidewalk uses Bluetooth, the sub Ghz freeband spectrum and other frequencies to extend coverage. As SideWalk bridges are shared in a public 'community' network and provide approximate location, use cases such as location tracking for pets is in reach, although the accuracy of the approximate location will strongly depend on the number of bridges that are shared in your neighborhood.
Which devices are supported?
When you read LoRa, you might think that all existing LoRaWAN devices out their would just work, but that is not the case. First of all there is a big difference between LoRa and LoRaWAN. LoRa is the underlying communication technology while LoRaWAN is the protocol and management layer on top of the LoRa protocol which is defined by the LoRaWAN alliance.
It seems that Amazon is using its own protocol on top of LoRa. This can be true because Amazon acquired RING back 2018 and on his part Ring acquired Iotera back in 2017. Iotera was building a citizen-powered network for pet trackers. You would buy a pet tracker with a base station from them. The tracker would connect to your own base station, as long as it was in its range. Once it got out of range of the home base station, the tracker would connect to any other base station in the Iotera network. One of the first use cases Amazon refers to is tracking pets...
The assumption that Amazon uses its own proprietary protocol on top of LoRa is also derived from the following statement of Amazon: Only devices authorized by Amazon to use Sidewalk’s low-bandwidth connections are allowed to connect to Amazon Sidewalk.
Open for developers?
It is unclear whether Amazon will open SideWalk to developers. Amazon's current strategy is to reach out to device manufacturers to use the new chipsets. Amazon has released this security whitepaper and sign up page at http://bit.ly/AmazonSidewalk to be notified when more information is available.
Tile is set to become the first third-party Sidewalk-enabled device when it launches its latest tracking device later this year. A Sidewalk-enabled Tile is being pitched as a way to locate pets or valuables in a community or neighborhood.
Amazon SideWalk is not the first crowd-sourced low bandwidth wireless sensor network out there. Amazon Sidewalk has many similarities with TheThingsNetwork, a crowd-sourced LoRaWAN network originating from the Netherlands. TheThingsNetwork has current more than 125.000 active members, most of whom are makers and developers, and is active in 150 countries. The main difference is that TheThingsNetwork is an 'open' platform that allow makers and developers to connect their own devices which makes it popular with this target group.
Amazon SideWalk tends to be a 'closed' system that only supports connected devices from the dominant service provider or third parties device manufacturers.
The question is which strategy will be most successful? Business and IoT providers are struggling to monetize on makers and developers prototyping their IoT solutions and the adoption of TheThingsNetwork crowd-sourced network together with LoRaWAN capable devices for the home is yet to come.
Will Amazon succeed in dominating the home market with Amazon SideWalk by creating a 'closed' ecosystem using device manufacturers and provide turn-key solutions to the consumers? First insights will become available in 2021, although in the US, as their is at this moment no indication the service will be available in other continents. This can be concluded from the fact that Amazon only mentions the 900 MHz band in its documentation, whereas the sub Ghz freeband available in Europe is 868 MHz.