Amazon is close to launching Sidewalk – its ad-hoc wireless network for smart-home devices that taps into people’s Wi-Fi – and it is pretty much an opt-out affair.
The gist of Sidewalk is this: nearby Amazon gadgets, regardless of who owns them, can automatically organize themselves into their own private wireless network mesh, communicating primarily using Bluetooth Low Energy over short distances, and 900MHz LoRa over longer ranges.
At least one device in a mesh will likely be connected to the internet via someone’s Wi-Fi, and so, every gadget in the mesh can reach the ‘net via that bridging device. This means all the gadgets within a mesh can be remotely controlled via an app or digital assistant, either through their owners’ internet-connected Wi-Fi or by going through a suitable bridge in the mesh. If your internet goes down, your Amazon home security gizmo should still be reachable, and send out alerts, via the mesh.
It also means if your neighbor loses broadband connectivity, their devices in the Sidewalk mesh can still work over the ‘net by routing through your Sidewalk bridging device and using your home ISP connection.
Amazon Echoes, Ring Floodlight Cams, and Ring Spotlight Cams will be the first Sidewalk bridging devices as well as Sidewalk endpoints. The internet giant hopes to encourage third-party manufacturers to produce equipment that is also Sidewalk compatible, extending meshes everywhere.
Crucially, it appears Sidewalk is opt-out for those who already have the hardware, and will be opt-in for those buying new gear.
if you already have, say, an Amazon Ring, it will soon get a software update that will automatically enable Sidewalk connectivity, and you’ll get an email explaining how to switch that off. When powering up a new gizmo, you’ll at least get the chance to opt in or out.
We’re told Sidewalk will only sip your internet connection rather than hog it, limiting itself to half a gigabyte a month. This policy appears to live in hope that people aren’t on stingy monthly data caps.
Just don’t forget that Ring and the police, in the US at least, have a rather cosy relationship. While Amazon stresses that Ring owners are in control of the footage recorded by their camera-fitted doorbells, homeowners are often pressured into turning their equipment into surveillance systems for the cops.