Online retailer aims protocol at middle ground between Bluetooth and 5G
Amazon is developing a wireless protocol that will fill the gap between short-range options like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Zigbee and the longer-distance cellular networks – such as the emerging but complex 5G technology – and fuel the development of a wave of new Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
The Lowdown: The giant online retailer announced the Amazon Sidewalk wireless networking effort this week at its annual Amazon Devices event in Seattle, the latest move by the company to put its stamp on the burgeoning IoT space. Along with Sidewalk, Amazon also rolled out new Echo speakers and a version of its Alexa virtual assistant technology with multilingual capabilities.
The Details: Amazon officials admitted that Sidewalk is in the early stages of development. They envision Sidewalk as a low-bandwidth, long-distance protocol that will leverage the low-bandwidth 900MHz spectrum to connect and control low-cost IoT devices 500 meters – and up to a mile – away. The protocol will not only extend the range of the devices but also require less power than is needed for Wi-Fi, they said.
Sidewalk will have a mesh nature to it, with the idea that a few access points will provide a broad coverage area for the network. Amazon has tested the protocol, sending 700 devices to employees and other people in Los Angeles. Within three weeks, the network was able to connect devices across the city.
Amazon didn’t say when the protocol will be available for use, but said the company will publish the protocol so that other device makers will be able to use it in their products. They pointed to weather stations that let users know how much rain has fallen, sensors to measure water in a garden, and mailbox devices that alert users when mail has been delivered as examples of the types of devices that will be able to leverage Sidewalk.
Next year, the company will roll out a reference design called Ring Fetch, which will be a dog tracker that can take advantage of Sidewalk, alerting users if their dogs stray too far.
The Impact: Having a low-bandwidth long-distance protocol like Sidewalk for that middle ground between Bluetooth and 5G could accelerate the already rapid proliferation of intelligent connected devices and open up a wide range of new opportunities for device makers and their channel partners. IDC estimates that by 2025, there will be 41.6 billion connected IoT devices generating 79.4 zettabytes of data.
Background: Amazon in 2018 bought smart doorbell start-up Ring for $1 billion, another affirmation of the e-tailer’s belief in the IoT space. The company already has a number of connected devices – including Ring products, Echo, and Eero – that use such wireless standards as Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Thread.
The Buzz: “People don’t even realize yet how important that intermediate range is going to be, for things like lights in your yard and controlling your lights on your sidewalk in the street,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
“We think [Sidewalk] will be great for keeping track of things, keeping things up to date,” said Dave Limp, senior vice president of devices and services at Amazon. “But first and foremost, it will extend the distance at which you can control simple, low-cost, easy-to-use devices.”