Amazon is rolling out its Amazon Sidewalk system for customers in the US, and by default you are enabled for bandwidth sharing. Here’s what you need to know and how to opt out of sharing your Internet connection with your neighbors.
First Announced In September 2019, Sidewalk is a new idea and a long-term effort to extend the smart home to entire smart neighborhoods using various local network options.
Beginning on November 24, Amazon began emailing Echo device owners to inform them that an update with Amazon Sidewalk will be released soon. Although the system will take time to build, the first steps are now being taken.
With that in mind, here are some of the important points users should know about Amazon Sidewalk.
What is Amazon Sidewalk?
Amazon Sidewalk is basically a new type of wireless network that makes smart home capabilities more powerful. A curbside bridge connects to your Wi-Fi network and essentially extends the range of connectivity beyond what your router can generate. In some cases, Amazon says this range could be half a mile.
It works by using various communication protocols, such as 900 MHz radio signals and Bluetooth Low-Energy, for communication between devices. The system will intelligently switch between these protocols based on the range and power required.
However, these Sidewalk networks work a little differently than your home Wi-Fi. The bandwidth on a sidewalk network is open not only for your own devices, but also for your neighbors. It is a bit like a local mesh network, but in a neighborhood.
Most Amazon device owners already have a curb bridge in their homes. Recent Echo and Ring devices will soon receive wireless updates that will allow them to function as bridges.
Amazon Sidewalk benefits
As mentioned above, one of Amazon Sidewalk’s first and foremost goals is to expand the reach of its smart home devices. What it looks like in practical terms could differ depending on your smart home setup.
A Sidewalk network could, for example, ensure that outdoor security cameras or lights have a working connection, even if they are far from your Wi-Fi router. It could also mean faster connectivity if a device connects to a nearby curb bridge, rather than trying to connect to a router further away.
If you drop a tile device while walking around the neighborhood, it could still be in range of the local curb network, and you will be able to connect to the appropriate servers using a neighbor’s curb bandwidth.
Sidewalk will also make device onboarding much faster and easier. And Amazon envisions other uses as well, such as a pet safety service called Amazon Fetch that alerts users if their pet wanders outside of a preset perimeter.
Are there drawbacks to Amazon Sidewalk?
For one thing, Sidewalk is not a replacement for a home Wi-Fi network. The available bandwidth on a sidewalk network is quite small: Amazon says the maximum bandwidth is only 80 Kbps, with a maximum limit of 500 MB. As such, it is only really useful for low-power devices like smart locks, security sensors, and tile trackers.
Of course, there are also security and privacy concerns. If your dog has a curb tag attached to his collar, it means he may be submitting the location, duration, and frequency of all his dog walks to Amazon. Amazon has a White paper which explains some of their safety policies related to sidewalks.
Of course, there is also the question of whether it is a shared network. Although Amazon says it will encrypt all traffic sent through a curbside network, users will not know who is on a specific network or how much traffic their neighbor might be sending through it.
Still, users will only be able to exercise marginal control over their local sidewalk networks. Currently, users don’t have a way to find out which curb bridge their compatible devices are connected to.
Can I exclude myself from Sidewalk?
The downsides and implications of Amazon Sidewalk wouldn’t be as urgent if it weren’t enabled by default. The system opts out instead of opting out.
Once Amazon actually enables Sidewalk, users will see an information splash screen that explains what it is and what it does. There, they will have the option to disable it, it will be enabled by default.
Users will also be able to disable the local network system through the Amazon Alexa app. The option is in Settings> Account Settings> Amazon Sidewalk.
If users disable Sidewalk, their devices will not be able to connect to their local neighborhood networks. On the other hand, neighbors won’t be able to use your sidewalk bandwidth either.
Amazon will begin opting out of the Sidewalk program for users on June 1, 2021. Users will be required to opt out.