Amazon’s Sidewalk network is moving out of neighborhoods and into more public places. | Image: Amazon
After going very quiet on its once much-touted connectivity network Sidewalk, Amazon is starting 2022 with a bang. Today it launched the Amazon Sidewalk Bridge Pro powered by Ring (doesn’t that just roll off the tongue?).
This professional-grade bridge is designed to extend the low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless network into public spaces, such as city parks, state parks, city centers, universities, businesses, and other places where there aren’t likely to be a lot of Ring and Echo devices hanging out.
“The long-term vision of Sidewalk is to drive proliferation of smart and connected things,” Stefano Landi, director of Amazon Sidewalk, said in an interview with The Verge. “Today, connectivity is the biggest challenge for devices.” Cellular connectivity is too expensive and Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN are limited in coverage, says Landi. “To help the overall ecosystem, an open network like Sidewalk that’s available everywhere was needed.”
The Sidewalk Bridge Pro is designed for use by businesses, municipalities and other large organizations.
To promote the benefits of this expansion of Amazon Sidewalk beyond the residential, Amazon partnered with Arizona State University and Thingy to launch pilot programs. The university is using the bridge in its smart cities research, and air quality monitoring device maker Thingy is deploying it to connect its air quality systems in wilderness areas where firefighters battle wildfires.
“We designed Thingy AQ for very remote locations, where power efficiency and range were critical for fire ground operations, and have been using LoRa since day one,” said Scott Waller, CEO and co-founder of Thingy. “Amazon Sidewalk Bridge Pro brings us the power of LoRa in a massive number of needed locations, easy integration with our existing applications in Amazon Web Services, and trusted security for the devices and applications.”
Landi says Sidewalk has gained strong residential coverage in over 100 major metropolitan areas since it was turned on in June 2021. There, its primary purpose is extending connectivity for smart home devices.
As the smart home steps outside the home, to landscape lighting, outdoor motion sensors, garage door controllers, and pet tracking, these gadgets can struggle to keep a connection to a home’s Wi-Fi. Sidewalk can extend the low-bandwidth working range of these devices.
In homes, most Echo smart speakers and some Ring cameras act as Sidewalk bridges, allowing it to sip a little bit of each device’s bandwidth to power its network (which uses Bluetooth Low Energy, 900 MHz LoRa, and other frequencies). The more of your neighbors with Sidewalk bridges, the stronger the network. Echo device users can choose to enable Sidewalk when they set up their speaker, and turn it on or off at anytime.
The Sidewalk Bridge Pro could extend that neighborhood connectivity further while using fewer devices. It’s a ruggedized, weatherproof device, designed to be deployed by businesses and municipalities and used outside. An ideal spot would be on top of buildings, says Landi. There it can pick up any Sidewalk signal in the same way your smartphone connects to a cellular tower. So, if Fido runs off to the city park to take himself for a walk, you can still find him.
In ideal scenarios, the Sidewalk Bridge Pro has a range as far as five miles, and it needs to be connected over Wi-Fi or Ethernet (PoE) with the option for cellular connectivity. It requires mains power but has a built-in battery backup.
“This is year number two of Sidewalk, and it’s going to be a long journey,” says Landi. “But we believe this is exactly the type of network that is going to spur innovation. Our North Star is to connect billions of third-party devices.” Landi sees Sidewalk as a network for developers to build devices on that previously they couldn’t make, due to the cost challenges associated with the current connectivity options.
But if developers are going to build for Sidewalk, it needs to be a robust network, and the Bridge Pro is a step in that direction. Amazon wants businesses and municipalities to partner with it to deploy the bridge. There is no pricing available yet, however, as how exactly it will come to market is still undecided, says Landi.