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Amazon’s Sidewalk Shared Wireless Network Should Be Opt-In

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020 (11:25 am) - Score 2,856
amazon_sidewalk_uk

At some point in the near future Amazon plans to introduce a new feature to their smart devices (Echo, Echo Show, Ring etc.) called ‘Sidewalk‘, which by default will create new wireless network – this has access to both your broadband ISP connection and that of your neighbour’s (if they have similar kit) – to improve connectivity.

At present this “free” feature is in the process of launching in the US, although at some point it’s expected to come to the UK too. Sidewalk creates a separate, albeit shared, network – with “multiple layers of encryption” – that is designed to improve the connection between Amazon’s smart devices and to also extend their range. As part of that the new network can also work with supported devices in close proximity to your own, even if they aren’t owned by you (e.g. neighbours).

NOTE: Some older Amazon kit will not be able to work with Sidewalk (see end of article).

In order to function properly this new network will also syphon off a “small portion of [your] internet bandwidth, which is pooled together to create a network that benefits all Sidewalk-enabled devices in a community.” The maximum bandwidth of a Sidewalk Bridge to the Sidewalk Server is just 80Kbps (or 0.08Mbps) and monthly data usage is capped at 500MB (MegaBytes), so you need not worry too much about it being a bandwidth hog.

One other advantage of this is that if your broadband connection goes down then your Amazon devices (e.g. Ring security cameras and alarms) may continue to function, although at a data rate of 80Kbps they probably won’t be as effective as they were before (that’s only a little better than an old 1990s dialup connection).

So far as well can tell, Sidewalk will create a 900MHz based Long-Range (LoRa) Wide Area Network to establish and maintain itself. “Gateways are Amazon devices, like the Ring Floodlight Cam, that use 900 MHz (LoRa and/or frequency-shift keying (FSK), and/or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to provide connection to the Sidewalk network,” said Amazon.

Amazon Sidewalk White Paper

“With connectivity support from the community, Amazon Sidewalk improves coverage, provides offline functionality, and enables troubleshooting to improve the smart home experience. By sharing a small portion of their home network bandwidth, neighbors give a little—but get a lot in return. As a crowdsourced capability, security and privacy are foundational principles designed into all aspects of Sidewalk. Amazon Sidewalk is just one of many programs demonstrating Amazon’s continued commitment to improving the overall experience of smart devices for our customers.”

The White Paper (linked above) gives us a fair bit of confidence that Amazon has designed this new network in a fairly secure and privacy conscious way, which reminds us a little bit of BT’s FON (shared WiFi) solution on their broadband routers (different use case). Nevertheless, call us old fashioned, but we’d still be uncomfortable with this feature being enabled and shared with neighbours by default, which is Amazon’s current approach.

On the other hand, if you’ve already installed a raft of smart speakers that enjoy listening and recording your every word, then privacy may not be as high on your list as it is for others. We suspect that hackers will also see the new service as somewhat of a challenge to be overcome in the future.

In the meantime, Amazon has at least notified customers of the future service and pointed out how you can disable it (Open the ‘Amazon Alexa App‘ and browse to More > Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk). At present, this is only applicable to the USA, but we still think Amazon should not be enabling this by default (it just feels wrong not knowing what your device might be connecting to in your neighbourhood).

Sidewalk Supporting Devices

Ring Floodlight Cam (2019)
Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019)
Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019)

Echo (2nd Gen)
Echo (3rd Gen)
Echo (4th Gen)
Echo Dot (2nd Gen)
Echo Dot (3rd Gen)
Echo Dot (4th Gen)
Echo Dot (2nd Gen) for Kids
Echo Dot (3rd Gen) for Kids
Echo Dot (4th Gen) for Kids
Echo Dot with Clock (3rd Gen)
Echo Dot with Clock (4th Gen)
Echo Plus (1st Gen)
Echo Plus (2nd Gen)
Echo Show (1st Gen)
Echo Show (2nd Gen)
Echo Show 5
Echo Show 8
Echo Show 10
Echo Spot
Echo Studio

Leave a Comment
14 Responses
  1. Avatar JItteryPinger says:

    Hell No!

    1. Avatar blags says:

      What could possibly go wrong with handing over all your personal data to the worlds largest company….

  2. Avatar Jack says:

    Don’t see the problem if you’re already using Amazon devices, you already know the data is being sucked up but it really should be opt in

  3. Avatar Mark says:

    Will this feature be called ‘Pavement’ over here?

    1. Avatar Michael V says:

      Hahaha! Probably not but I’ll definitely call it Pavement!

  4. Avatar SuperFast Dream says:

    Thank goodness you can opt out (just be careful of all the small print on device updates or offers that opt you back in again) *thumbs up*.

    The morale of the story is, hold on to your 1st Gen kit, it will be worth a small fortune in the future!

  5. Avatar Mark says:

    Should only be opt in from the start. I remember the trouble I had deactivating the BT FON.

    1. Avatar ianh says:

      Same here. It kept being turned back on too. I ended up buying my own routers after that trouble.

  6. Avatar bonehead says:

    And just BT FON, it will be immediately disabled!

  7. Avatar SymetricalAccess says:

    Any company with this much access and knowledge of our lives is bad enough but when it’s a foreign company I consider it a threat to national security. It should be law that these types of things are strictly opt in.

    I avoid these devices but the majority won’t be aware enough to turn it off and I bet the majority wouldn’t be happy with it if they knew.

  8. Avatar mike says:

    Nothing could possibly go wrong with this

  9. Avatar Ben says:

    Sounds like Virgin Media’s WiFi programme and BT FON/OpenZone

  10. Avatar Ray Woodward says:

    I can see Amazon loosing a lot of customers once “Amazon Pavement” arrives over this side of the pond …

  11. Avatar Ray Woodward says:

    It would seem that ‘Amazon Sidewalk’ will *NOT* be rolled out in the UK after all …

    https://www.trustedreviews.com/news/amazon-sidewalk-will-not-come-to-the-uk-and-thats-probably-a-good-thing-4110698

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