What is Amazon Sidewalk? Your guide to Amazon's local wireless network

Everything you need to know about Amazon’s new wireless tech

What is Amazon Sidewalk?
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Spend a day without Wi-Fi access and you’ll quickly realize how much you’ve come to rely on it, but it’s not without its faults: range isn’t great, walls weaken the signal, and a power cut disables it completely.

While it’s not meant as a replacement for Wi-Fi, Amazon’s new Sidewalk tech is designed to make up for some of its shortcomings.

Security cameras, IoT sensors, outdoor lights and many other low-power smart home devices tend to be the things that are furthest away from your router where the connection can be patchy and unreliable, so Sidewalk could be a real saviour.

With Amazon now switching it on in the US, here’s all you need to know about the new wireless standard.

What does Amazon Sidewalk do?

Sidewalk is designed to fill the gaps in between Wi-Fi and 4G or 5G. It uses a tiny portion of your internet connection to build a shared network for your surrounding area, which other Sidewalk-compatible devices can use if Wi-Fi isn’t available.

Because it’s shared, these devices could belong to Johan next door, Jim and Marie across the street, or possibly even Ian who lives half a mile down the road.

amazon sidewalk network

The more Sidewalk Bridges there are, the better the network will be, the intention being to create Sidewalk networks that cover entire neighborhoods.

That means that if your pet dog goes missing and it’s wearing a Sidewalk-compatible tag, such as one from tracking brand Tile, you’ll still be able to track down its approximate location even if your pooch has wandered way outside of the range of your own Wi-Fi.

It also helps to ensure that devices receive crucial security updates.

How does Sidewalk work?

Sidewalk is really just a new way of using old tech. It takes advantage of the 900MHz portion of the radio spectrum, which has been used in the past for walkie talkies, pagers, and cordless landline phones.

While it can’t handle much data, it’s reliable, doesn’t use much power, and works over longer distances than newer, more capable standards such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Sidewalk will use Bluetooth as well but not for the larger scale, neighborhood-wide stuff, mainly for things like simplifying the setup process of new devices, or helping nearby devices reconnect to Wi-Fi if they lose the connection.

If you’re worried about how much of your bandwidth Sidewalk’s sharing with your miserable neighbors, don’t be. It can only manage 80Kbps, which is about 2.5% of what’s required to stream high-def video, plus it’s capped at 500MB a month.

We’re not talking about using somebody else’s bandwidth to stream a load of 4K movies here.

amazon echo 4 with sidewalk

Which devices use Sidewalk?

Sidewalk can be activated with an over-the-air update from Amazon, so there are already over 20 devices out there that can be used as Sidewalk Bridges, although only two of them – the new, spherical Echo and 10-inch Echo Show – can use the aforementioned 900MHz network.

Pretty much every other Echo smart speaker is compatible though, except for 2014’s original and the first-gen Dot. All sizes of Echo Show support it, as does the Echo Studio and both generations of Echo Plus. Ring’s Floodlight Cam and both Spotlight Cams are also on the list.

Amazon switched on this Sidewalk functionality on compatible Echo devices in June 2021.

When it comes to devices that connect to a Sidewalk Bridge though, it’s a different story entirely. Back in September, Tile proudly proclaimed it was the first third-party to support the tech.

Smart lock maker, Level, is also on board for Amazon Sidewalk, so you can control your locks in the Ring and Level apps without needing to be in Bluetooth range of your phone.

A Level lock can connect directly to a compatible Ring Video Doorbell Pro device using an Amazon Sidewalk Bluetooth connection shared only between those two devices.

It’s fairly safe to assume that other Amazon-owned brands will soon join the Sidewalk party, so expect other devices in the Ring range to use it, including the forthcoming Car Alarm and Fetch pet tag. Blink’s affordable security cameras could well be near the top of the list too.

What is Amazon Sidewalk?

Can Sidewalk be turned off?

Yes. In the Alexa app, tap More, choose Settings and look for the Amazon Sidewalk option within Account Settings.

If it’s not there, it hasn’t been activated on any of your devices, but if it is you can simply select this option to disable it. If you do decide to do this, all other functionality will remain the same.

For privacy reasons you won’t be able to see which devices are connected to your Sidewalk Bridge and vice versa. If you use Sidewalk to locate a lost device you’ll be able to see the approximate location but not the street address of the Bridge that’s being used.

Will it be renamed Pavement when it launches in the UK?

If only.

If you’re in the US and own one of the aforementioned devices Sidewalk will be activated automatically but there’s still no official launch date for other countries – the email saying otherwise that was sent to some UK Echo owners earlier this year was an error on Amazon’s part.

TAGGED    smart home    amazon alexa

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