Amazon lights up Sidewalk, its wireless IoT network

Echo speakers and devices from Tile, Level and CareBand will join Sidewalk in June.

Amazon lights up Sidewalk, its wireless IoT network

The new additions represent the biggest expansion of Sidewalk since Amazon first unveiled it in September 2020.

Image: Amazon

Amazon is getting ready to light up a vast network of tens of millions of devices to power wireless networking for the Internet of Things: The company will add compatible Echo speakers and Echo Show smart displays to its Sidewalk network on June 8, and will begin onboarding select third-party device partners the following week.

Starting June 14, Sidewalk will provide additional connectivity to Tile trackers, making it easier to locate lost items within and outside of the home. Sidewalk support is also coming to Level smart locks by late May, and Amazon is beginning a pilot program to provide Sidewalk connectivity to CareBand's elder care wearable devices.

All of this represents the biggest expansion of Sidewalk since Amazon first unveiled it in September 2020. The launch of Tile on Sidewalk also shows why consumers may embrace the technology, and the CareBand pilot foreshadows the potential for applications that go far beyond the home.

Amazon's pitch for Sidewalk is quite simple: As our homes become more connected, we are quickly, and often quite literally, discovering the limits of existing networking technologies. Bluetooth, for instance, only reaches a couple hundred feet. In the case of Tile's Bluetooth trackers, this means that a phone has to be within reach to find a lost item. If you dropped it in a far corner of your yard, you may have to go on a bit of a treasure hunt.

By adding Sidewalk support to Tile, that very same tracker may still be discoverable, provided that someone in your neighborhood is using an Echo speaker. Amazon's smart speakers will double as Sidewalk gateways going forward, and effectively form a neighborhood network that can be used to discover Tiles, or provide connectivity to other Sidewalk-compatible gadgets. "You don't need the phone in the vicinity," Tile CEO CJ Prober said.

This way, it won't matter whether someone lost their Tile-equipped keys at home, in their yard or during an evening walk. "An Echo device can act as an extension of the Tile network," Sidewalk GM Manolo Arana said.

Adding Sidewalk support also allowed Tile to improve the in-home experience, Prober explained. When someone previously asked their Echo speaker to locate their Tile tracker, the speaker had to send that command to Amazon's cloud, which would forward it to Tile's servers, which then sent a request to the user's phone, which ultimately pinged the Tile tracker. Now, the Echo directly connects to the Tile via Bluetooth. And if consumers own multiple Echo devices, Alexa can even tell them which one is nearest to the item they are looking for. "It's kind of a magical experience," Prober said.

The idea of a shared network to discover Tile trackers isn not entirely new. Tile already uses the phones of all of its users to discover trackers, and the company struck a partnership with Comcast to use its gateways and set-top boxes as similar gateways for its own Tile network. However, the addition of millions of Echo speakers adds many more endpoints, vastly increasing Tile's coverage. "It's quite a significant expansion of our network," Prober said.

If consumers don't opt out of Sidewalk, that is. Critics have panned the technology as a "security nightmare" ever since Amazon first introduced Sidewalk; the company has countered that by publishing details about Sidewalk's security architecture, which includes multiple layers of encryption and frequent device ID changes to thwart any tracking and surveillance attempts. "We want to be clear up front about what we are doing," Arana said.

"Privacy is of crucial importance to us," insisted Prober as well, adding that the company had turned down similar partnerships in the past when it couldn't guarantee the security of its data.

In addition to that security architecture, Amazon is also trying to woo device makers by giving them free access to Sidewalk, which in turn can help them offer cheaper devices and services.

So what's in it for the ecommerce giant? "I hope that you love your product," Arana said. Through partnerships like those with Tile and Level, Amazon's smart speakers ultimately become more useful as well.

But there may be another opportunity lurking below the surface. Both Tile and Level are using Bluetooth to connect to Sidewalk bridges; the CareBand pilot, on the other hand, makes use of LoRa, an unlicensed, low-power networking technology with a range of up to three miles in urban settings.

At this point, only a few select Echo models support LoRa. However, one could easily imagine that number to grow, perhaps augmented by third-party gateways. Sooner or later, Amazon could operate a network that covers entire cities, and effectively compete with cellular networks for industrial IoT applications.

For now, the company seems content just simplifying IoT for consumers. Arana said that he very much looks forward to getting rid of a bunch of network extenders for connected devices around the home. "I'm running out of sockets for bridges in my house," he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Level made security cameras, while the company actually makes smart locks.


Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep ReadingShow less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep ReadingShow less
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep ReadingShow less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep ReadingShow less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.


Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories