Amazon devices to start communicating with each other by default

From 8 June, Amazon devices will form low-bandwidth ‘Sidewalk’ networks with nearby units to avoid dropout and extend their working range

Visual representation of nodes on a network

Amazon's catalogue of Internet of Things (IoT) devices will soon be able to create low-bandwidth shared networks with each other in an experiment to broaden smart home functionality.

Amazon Sidewalk will create networks between 'bridge' devices, such as Echo or Ring units, by pooling together small portions of bandwidth and sharing this capacity to offer better smart home services to users.

From 8 June, devices will be instructed to search for similar units in order to form these networks, which Amazon claims will make it easier to maintain a consistent connection, even if your own network is knocked offline temporarily. The company also says connecting the devices will extend their effective working range.

For example, if a user's Echo device were to lose connection, it would be able to make use of the Sidewalk network to borrow bandwidth and stay online. Smart lights, pet locators, and smart locks will also continue to work over longer distances when they're tapped into these shared networks.

"Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network that helps devices work better," the firm said in a series of FAQs. "Operated by Amazon at no charge to customers, Sidewalk can help simplify new device setup, extend the low-bandwidth working range of devices to help find pets or valuables with Tile trackers, and help devices stay online even if they are outside the range of their home Wi-Fi.

"In the future, Sidewalk will support a range of experiences from using Sidewalk-enabled devices, such as smart security and lighting and diagnostics for appliances and tools."

Although users may be concerned about the potential privacy implications of participation in the experiment, Amazon claims in its security whitepaper that there are three layers of encryption applied to the data transmitted through the scheme.

Users have the option of turning off participation in any of their devices, although this will be turned on by default once it launches on 8 June.

The shared networks operate under a maximum bandwidth of 80Kbps, with the total monthly data used per account capped at 500 MB. The coverage will vary by location based on the number of participants in any given area, although Amazon claims the greater the number of people taking part, and devices in a network, the stronger it becomes.

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Not all Amazon devices will be supported by the network, with the company setting out a full list of compatible devices in its FAQs. They generally include the third generation and above of several kinds of devices, as well as IoT devices released in 2019 or later.

Amazon has also launched the Sidewalk Developer Service (SDS) for device manufacturers to build and launch devices that are compatible with Sidewalk. These include silicon chipsets, development boards, software development kits (SDKs), device provisioning tools, technical documentation, and cloud integration.

Device manufacturers can get started on building proof-of-concept devices by reviewing a starting guide and technical documentation on the SDS console, before deciding which development board and Sidewalk Bridge to purchase and downloading an SDK.

Amazon had previously hinted that it would seek to create a Wi-Fi challenger network, with the firm discussing plans for Sidewalk in 2019. The service is currently only available in the US, with the company providing no details as to when it plans to extend the scheme.

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