(Pocket-lint) – Amazon Sidewalk is a new network that allows the company’s low-power devices to connect more easily, becoming a default feature for Echo and Ring users when it activates fully on 8 June.
After announcing the network way back in 2019, Amazon has recently updated Sidewalk to include the latest smart home devices, and it’s now set to evolve from a beta test period to a full-time feature.
However, though Sidewalk is being billed as a positive for smart home users in Amazon’s ecosystem, there’s actually plenty to understand before allowing it into your setup.
In this guide, we’ll be detailing it all – let’s explore what Amazon Sidewalk is, how it works and why you might consider opting out.
What is Amazon Sidewalk?
Amazon Sidewalk is a low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless network that’s developed for low-powered devices, with the goal of allowing them to better communicate over long ranges.
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi often don’t offer enough range, while 5G is complex and requires a lot of power. That’s where Amazon Sidewalk comes in handy.
Here’s how Amazon describes Sidewalk:
“We came up with something that we call Amazon Sidewalk. It’s a new low-bandwidth network that uses the already existing free over-the-air 900 megahertz spectrum. We think it will be great for keeping track of things, keeping things up to date – but first and foremost, it will extend the distance at which you can control these kinds of simple, low-cost, easy-to-use devices.”
How does Amazon Sidewalk work?
Amazon Sidewalk works in the background. It lets you connect to and even track simple devices up to a mile away, kind of like an extended mesh system.
There are two types of Sidewalk devices: Sidewalk Bridges and Sidewalk-enabled devices. And, as you may have guessed, these Sidewalk Bridges provide connections to Sidewalk-enabled devices.
According to Amazon, some devices, like select versions of the Ring Floodlight Cams and the Ring Spotlight Cams, function as bridges, providing connections to Sidewalk-enabled devices.
The whole idea is that one user’s Sidewalk Bridge can securely provide a connection to another user’s Sidewalk-enabled device. This creates a mesh of connected devices that could allow something like an outdoor camera, which is outside of a typical Wi-Fi range, to stay connected and communicate.
Another example is you could use a Sidewalk-enabled tracker, like a Tile, to track down a missing item while out of Wi-Fi range.
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Which devices use Amazon Sidewalk?
Currently, only Sidewalk Bridges, such as the Ring Floodlight and Ring Spotlight Cams, are available.
However, we don’t have any word on when the feature will expand to other territories.
An Amazon spokesperson told us in 2020: “We recently began emailing customers with Echo devices registered in the US to give them more information about Amazon Sidewalk. This service will only be available in the US when it launches.”
The new Echo/Echo Dot and newest Ring Floodlight and Spotlight cameras work as Sidewalk bridges so they can be at the centre of the Sidewalk network and communicate with other Sidewalk compatible devices such as pet trackers, Ring smart lights and the new Ring Car Alarm when they’re out of Wi-Fi reach.
- Amazon Echo Dot (3rd generation and newer)
- Amazon Echo Dot with Clock (3rd generation and newer)
- Amazon Echo Plus (all generations)
- Amazon Echo Show (all generations)
- Amazon Echo Show 5 (all generations)
- Amazon Echo Show 8 (all generations)
- Amazon Echo Show 10 (2020)
- Amazon Echo Spot (2017)
- Amazon Echo Studio (2018)
- Amazon Echo Spot (2018)
- Amazon Echo Input (2019)
- Amazon Echo Flex (2019)
- Ring Floodlight Cam (2019)
- Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019)
- Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019)
How to opt out of Amazon Sidewalk
Since Amazon Sidewalk relies on a new style of neighbourhood mesh networking, it’s natural that a few security concerns are still very much up in the air.
Amazon has a whitepaper relating to Sidewalk privacy and security, but, given the fact this is a relatively new concept and the first iteration of the network, it would be surprising if it had no security frailties present.
Naturally, as with the other smart home giants – and, really, with any company – some users will likely have concerns regarding user data in Sidewalk.
Amazon notes that Sidewalk is simply a delivery system, and that the bridges and gateways never read the data involved – only seeing the data packets that authenticate the journey.
However, even if it’s not the personal details, it’s still an uncomfortable fact for some that Amazon would know that a user walked by a house, unlocked a nearby door or found their lost item in a nearby street – and when – as well as knowing where Sidewalk is used less in an area.
These are very real and fair concerns, which is why you have the option to disable Sidewalk – even though Amazon will, as we say, activate the feature by default from 8 June.
Follow these steps to opt out of Amazon Sidewalk
- Open the Alexa app on your iOS or Android device
- Go to ‘More’
- Choose ‘Settings’
- Tap ‘Account Settings’
- Select ‘Amazon Sidewalk’
- From there, tap the toggle so it reads ‘Disabled’
Writing by Maggie Tillman. Editing by Britta O’Boyle.