After years of development, Amazon Sidewalk is finally going live this week. The company’s first major stab at expanded community networking, Amazon Sidewalk will do a few things for smart home device owners. Utilizing low-power broadcast methods including Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and parts of the 900MHz radio spectrum, Sidewalk seeks to fill in the bandwidth gaps for a number of web-connected devices in our homes by enabling faster setups for many smart home devices (like smart lights, locks, and cameras) and enhancing overall internet connectivity for this same suite of gear.
On June 8, Sidewalk-enabled devices will automatically go live. In terms of hardware, Sidewalk-ready gear is pretty much every Amazon Echo product produced since 2018, along with various Ring hardware. (Find the full list of compatible hardware here). While most of these devices are only capable of operating over Sidewalk’s BLE bands for faster setups and expanded Wi-Fi coverage on your property, it’s the Sidewalk-enabled Bridges that have many users concerned.
Sidewalk Bridges: The kings of Sidewalk
Amazon’s spherical fourth-gen Echo speakers, the Echo Show 10, and Ring’s Spotlight and Floodlight Cam play a different role in Amazon’s Sidewalk plans. At launch, these are the only four kinds of devices that will be capable of broadcasting far-reaching signals along the 900MHz spectrum. While most Echo and Ring products will be able to transmit and share BLE signals (similar to a router-based mesh network), it’s the 900MHz-capable devices that truly push Sidewalk to the max.
With Sidewalk Bridges slated to cast signals as far as half a mile away, benefits include Wi-Fi-adjacent coverage for areas prone to spotty Internet. Additionally, tracking devices like Tile and CareBand that rely on Bluetooth will receive a much greater area of coverage, as opposed to what can be achieved with the A-to-B of your phone’s Bluetooth receiving to the tracking device’s transmission. Say your dog goes missing. With Fetch (Tile’s latest — a Bluetooth-trackable dog collar) and Sidewalk community networking, you can potentially track your mutt from miles away as opposed to only several hundred feet in a non-Sidewalk neighborhood. It’s worth mentioning that Fetch has not launched yet, but it’s an Amazon product separate from Tile.
Privacy and user data
The simple fact is that not every Sidewalk Bridge device owner is going to want to have their hardware live and broadcasting to the community. While Amazon has gone out of its way to be transparent about all of the security measures taken to operate Sidewalk (read the whitepaper here), Sidewalk Bridges can broadcast by borrowing a sliver of your home’s ISP-provided Wi-Fi and then re-classing that iota of bandwidth as a 900MHz low-power signal.
Amazon claims that there will be 500MB monthly caps on all Sidewalk Bridge devices (which is barely enough bandwidth to stream 10 minutes of HD video) and 80Kbps caps on data sent from Bridge devices to Amazon servers. Users can also expect a myriad of sophisticated encryptions being applied to all data streaming in and out of households and neighborhoods. That being said, some folks will still be uncomfortable with sharing a sliver of their Wi-Fi with their ZIP code.
After all, Amazon Sidewalk is an entirely new ballgame for Amazon. Post-launch, Sidewalk will certainly be in its infancy (and bug-laden) stage for some time, as any brand-new tech tool should be expected to be. Then there’s the fact that the Internet you’re paying for month-to-month is being mined for data transmission. While enabled Sidewalk Bridges are capped at 500MB per month, that’s still 500MB that could have been used to bolster web-connected gear in your own home.
Whether you’re unwilling to part with any piece of your monthly Wi-Fi bandwidth or you’re not ready to trust mega-tech companies with your user data, opting out of Amazon Sidewalk is an option available to all Sidewalk device owners. Here’s how to disable the service.
How to disable Amazon Sidewalk
You can easily toggle Amazon Sidewalk on or off using the Alexa app. Go ahead and grab your phone or tablet, then launch the app. On the home screen, tap More (bottom right-hand corner). Then, tap Settings, then tap Account Settings.
On the Account Settings page, you’ll see an option for Amazon Sidewalk. Go ahead and tap. On the next screen, you’ll be greeted with a brief explainer of the Sidewalk service with an option to enable/disable at the bottom. Drag the toggle into the off-position and that’s it!
Disabled, your Amazon, Ring, and other compatible hardware will still function and respond as normal but without the ability to transmit or receiving Sidewalk networking signals.
The future of Amazon Sidewalk
As mentioned (both here and before), Amazon Sidewalk is an entirely new service that’ll take time to work all the kinks out of. In a perfectly secure world though, there’s plenty to love about a fully functioning Sidewalk community. We’re talking enhanced connectivity for some of our favorite smart home equipment, easier setups of this same gear, improved tracking for brands like Tile, CareBand, and more, along with new brands joining the Sidewalk family.
The future is bright for Sidewalk but if you’re concerned that a day of smooth perfection is far off (or impossible), the choice to negate the service is yours entirely.
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