Amazon has asked the FCC to approve an outdoor Sidewalk-capable device called the Amazon Sidewalk Ring Bridge Pro, which is designed for professional installation as opposed to being a consumer-oriented technology. This signals that Amazon is planning to take its Sidewalk network to the next level by either providing more robust coverage in areas where consumers’ homes and devices don’t reach or that it could be planning a professional Sidewalk network offering for enterprises.
In the filings with the agency Ring and its agents describe an outdoor gateway that has dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LoRa, LTE, and GPS capabilities. Ring also filed a document attesting that the device is designed for professional installation. It defended that assessment to the FCC by noting that the “Device is for commercial and industrial use,” and that it requires specially trained installers to set it up and program it. Initially, I wondered if this device was simply going to be sold to security pros as part of a professional security offering by Ring, but the attestation noting that the device was for commercial and industrial use threw me.
The phrase industrial, and the inclusion of GPS have me wondering about Amazon’s larger ambitions for Sidewalk. Sidewalk is Amazon’s answer to a low-power wide-area network for IoT devices. So far, we know it runs over Bluetooth and 900 MHz LoRa radios and is designed to handle small packets of data. Bluetooth radios are used for nearby devices, while LoRa can provide long-range coverage of up to a mile. It’s also a mesh network so a group of radios can provide coverage over a wide area. When Amazon announced Sidewalk back in 2019, it also said it had a test of the service running in Los Angeles and launched a Sidewalk-compatible dog collar that could track pups in the area.
But dog collars aren’t the only thing Sidewalk can connect. There is a desperate need for cheap modules and data costs to connect devices that are located beyond the reach of a home or corporate Wi-Fi network. For example, people often ask us at the IoT Podcast for sensors that would track when their mail arrives or when a garden shed door is opened. In enterprise and corporate settings, having cheap connectivity over large areas could be used for asset tracking for fleets or equipment across a municipality. With a reliable and cheap network it’s also likely we’d see more sensors deployed to measure things like air pollution or water quality. In California, researchers are using LoRa-based sensors to track wildfires.
Sidewalk fills a need that other companies such as Senet, Helium, Sigfox, MachineQ, and many others are also trying to fill, but Amazon has used its hundreds of millions of consumer devices in the wild to build out its network. Amazon put Sidewalk-capable radios in its fourth-generation Echo devices as well as in some Ring devices. Consumers end up as a node in the Sidewalk network and data coming into the network traverses the consumer Wi-Fi as needed to get onto the public internet. In a PR faux pas, Amazon said that the Sidewalk capability would be turned on by default, causing consumers and journalists to warn people to turn off this intrusive new technology.
In June, Amazon turned the network on, but we’ve had no update since on how many people stayed in the network (I opted in because I think this is an overall win for the IoT and it isn’t intrusive). Every time I ask Amazon about the existing Sidewalk coverage I get a formal non-answer from a company spokesperson. I reached out for this story and have not yet heard back. I also haven’t seen developers launching Sidewalk-capable devices. My hunch is that this particular device might be a way to provide more robust coverage for the Sidewalk network because the existing coverage from Sidewalk-enabled consumer devices wasn’t enough. The use of LTE as a potential backhaul would be essential in such a gateway.
It’s also possible that the interest in Sidewalk has also led to enterprises inquiring about Sidewalk coverage for their own campuses, so they can deploy their own sensors on a relatively cheap network provided by Amazon. In this case, a company like Disney might use Echo devices installed in hotel rooms and larger gateway devices around the park to create a network for IoT devices that don’t send a lot of data. Think of it as a companion to the newly launched AWS 5G service.
I don’t know what Amazon is planning here, but it’s clear that Amazon has big plans for Sidewalk. And other LPWAN players should take note.
We discussed this on this week’s podcast if you’d like to hear more.