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Amazon’s Huge IoT Network

Amazon’s newly-released public coverage maps showcase estimated Sidewalk coverage for any U.S. location. Source: Amazon

In a recent blog post, Amazon invited developers to test drive its gigantic IoT network. This network has been labeled ‘Sidewalk’ and was created by tying together all of Amazon’s wireless devices like Amazon Echos and Ring cameras.

Amazon claims this huge wireless network now covers 90% of U.S. households. Amazon created the network by transmitting Bluetooth and 900 MHz LoRa signals from its various devices. This network provides a benefit to Amazon because it can detect and track its own devices separate from anything a homeowner might do with WiFi.

But Amazon has intended for years to monetize this network, and this announcement begins that process. This network has been under-the-radar until now, and most homeowners have no idea that their Amazon devices can connect and communicate with other devices outside the home. Amazon swears that the IoT connection between devices is separate from anything happening inside the house using WiFi—that the IoT network is a fully separate network.

The network should be robust anywhere where there are more than a few Amazon devices. The 900 MHz spectrum adds a lot of distance to the signals, and it’s a frequency that does a good job of penetrating obstacles like homes and trees.

Amazon believes that IoT device makers can use this network to improve the performance of IoT devices in a neighborhood—things like smart thermostats, appliance sensors, and smart door locks. Such devices use only a small amount of bandwidth but are reliant on the home broadband network being operational to work. Amazon’s vision with this network is that your smart door lock will still work even when your home WiFi isn’t working.

By making the network available to others, Amazon can unleash developers to create new types of wireless devices. For example, using outdoor sensors has always been a challenge since WiFi signals outside of homes are weak and inconsistent. It’s not hard to imagine a whole new array of sensors enabled by the Sidewalk network. Picture a motion detector on a shed door or a leak detector on outdoor faucets. With this network, vendors can now manufacture such devices with the knowledge that most homes will be able to make the needed wireless connection.

This also holds a lot of promise for municipal and business sensors. This is a low-cost way to communicate with a smart city or other sensors. This would enable, for the first time, the deployment of environment sensors anywhere within range of the Sidewalk network.

This is another interesting venture by Amazon. At least in the U.S., this is a lower-cost solution than trying to connect to IoT devices by satellite. The only cost of building this network for Amazon was adding the wireless capability to its devices—mere pennies when deployed across millions of devices. But interestingly, Amazon will also have a satellite network starting in 2025 that can fill in the gaps where the Sidewalk network can’t reach.

Amazon says that it has already made deals to test the network with companies like Netvox, OnAsset, and Primax. Now that manufacturers know this network exists and is available, this ought to open up a wide range of new IoT devices that are not reliant only on WiFi. This might finally be the network that enables the original promise of IoT of a world with sensors everywhere, keeping tabs on the environment around us.

By Doug Dawson, President at CCG Consulting

Dawson has worked in the telecom industry since 1978 and has both a consulting and operational background. He and CCG specialize in helping clients launch new broadband markets, develop new products, and finance new ventures.

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