Entertainment

How Amazon plans to bring its Sidewalk IoT network everywhere

A new enterprise bridge device is designed to expand coverage beyond residential areas.

Amazon sign

Amazon wants to expand its Sidewalk IoT network from residential neighborhoods to warehouse districts, campuses, parks and more.

Photo: Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images

Amazon is getting ready to substantially grow its Sidewalk IoT network: The company on Wednesday announced a new enterprise device called the Amazon Sidewalk Bridge Pro by Ring that is meant to bring Sidewalk connectivity to warehouses, farmland, public parks and industrial zones — the types of areas where you won’t find many private residences, which have been the backbone of Sidewalk thus far.

The launch of the new bridge comes a little over a year after Amazon first announced Sidewalk as a network that aims to give IoT developers free connectivity for their apps and devices. Sidewalk has been exclusively powered by Amazon’s consumer devices, with Ring and Echo owners sharing a small fraction of their bandwidth to provide a kind of secure mesh network for third-party devices and services.

One of the early users of Sidewalk has been Tile. When a Tile owner loses their keys in front of someone else’s house, Sidewalk can help them find them without the need to be physically within range of the Tile tracker. The only downside: This only works if there’s someone with an Echo or Ring device within range — something that isn’t necessarily true in a warehouse district.

“We have strong residential coverage in more than 100 cities in the U.S.,” said Amazon Sidewalk director Stefano Landi during a recent conversation with Protocol. The new Bridge Pro is meant to expand that coverage beyond those residential areas.

The rugged Bridge Pro is designed to be mounted on rooftops and cell towers. Once turned on, the bridge can provide connectivity for up to five miles. Amazon has already partnered with Arizona State University to test Sidewalk connectivity for environmental sensors on campus and learn how similar setups could eventually benefit smart cities.

Amazon’s new Sidewalk Bridge Pro by Ring.Photo: Ring

The ultimate goal was to drive down connectivity costs for municipalities and IoT developers alike, Landi said. “Every mayor wants his city to become smart,” he said. “The challenge is always the funding.” Amazon is making Sidewalk connectivity available for free, hoping that this will give it an edge over cellular-based networks.

Following the launch, Amazon will make the Bridge Pro available to select partners to build proof-of-concept deployments. There is no set price tag, with Landi saying that contractual terms would be decided on a case-by-case basis. In other words: Amazon may even decide to foot the bill for the hardware if a site helps it to fill key coverage gaps.

So if Sidewalk connectivity is free, and the bridge isn’t meant to generate profits, either, what’s in it for Amazon? Free long-range connectivity, for one thing, which is something a global logistics and commerce company can benefit from in a number of ways, whether it’s tracking containers and delivery vans when cell phone networks are down, or perhaps one day providing connectivity to delivery robots and drones. Asked whether Amazon had plans to mount bridges atop its own warehouses and stores, Landi said the company was “exploring all options.”

However, the bigger benefit may come down to the thing almost everything comes down to at Amazon these days: the cloud. Sidewalk ties in with AWS IoT, and Landi said that thousands of developers had already signed up to develop Sidewalk-powered apps and services. If a bunch of those developers ultimately rely on AWS, Sidewalk could ensure that Amazon’s cloud services will play a key role in the future of IoT, from consumer services to smart cities and beyond.

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