Your Guide To Using Amazon’s Sidewalk Network For The Internet Of Things

As the Internet of Things became a mainstream reality, it raised an interesting point about connectivity. We quickly learned it wasn’t ideal to have every light bulb, toaster, and kettle buzzing away on our main WiFi networks. Nor was it practical to sign up for a cellular data plan for every tracker tag or remote sensor we wanted to use.

To solve this issue, various tech companies have developed their own low-power mesh networking solutions. Amazon’s Sidewalk network is one of the widest spread in the US. Now, it’s opening it up for wider use beyond its own products, and you can get in on the action.

See You On The Sidewalk

Devices like the Amazon Echo smart speaker already feature Sidewalk radios inside. These offer a mesh network to other Sidewalk-compatible devices, using customer’s internet connections as an uplink to the cloud. Credit: Amazon

Amazon’s Sidewalk is officially defined as a “low power wide area network,” or LPWAN. It’s not intended to deliver high-fidelity video or move masses of data quickly from Server A to User B. Instead, it’s designed to provide a trickle of internet connectivity for all those little devices that just need to get online to send a little data about the place. Current applications include letting the company’s Ring home surveillance devices send notifications even when their main WiFi connection is offline. Sidewalk is also used to keep Level smart locks communicating without the need for a battery-hungry WiFi connection, and for syncing certain brands of health trackers. The technology is currently only available in the US, having been launched in 2021. A further launch in the UK is likely, with Amazon likely to stick to the Sidewalk name over the more locally appropriate “Footpath” moniker.

The technology was initially developed by a startup called Iotera, which launched a Kickstarter back in 2014 for its Iota tracking device. Iotera was later acquired by Ring, which was itself acquired by Amazon. The basic concept behind the technology is simple. Devices like Amazon Echo smartspeakers act as gateways for the Sidewalk network. To perform their regular functions, they are connected to a home WiFi network. They then provide limited Internet access to other Amazon devices via Sidewalk. Bluetooth Low Energy is used for short range communication with Sidewalk devices. For longer distances, FSK techniques are used in the 900 MHz range, while LoRa is used to provide communication at the longest ranges albeit with the most limited throughput.

Owners of Amazon devices can switch off Sidewalk if so desired, but it’s typically enabled by default. Any given Sidewalk Bridge can offer a maximum bandwidth of 80 kbps to connected devices, and Amazon typically limits any one Bridge to using a maximum of 500 MB of bandwidth per month.

The general idea of Sidewalk is to use customer internet connections to create a broadly accessible mesh network in a way that’s seamless, invisible, and doesn’t bother anyone. Over 90% of the population of the United States is reportedly within the coverage area of Sidewalk. If your area isn’t, all you need to do is hook up an Amazon Echo to your home internet connection, and you’re all set.

Your Piece of The Sidewalk

Amazon has released a free test kit for developers that reports Sidewalk coverage in a given area. Credit: Amazon

Amazon has now released free test kits that let independent developers investigate the Sidewalk network. These consist of a small lozenge-shaped grey plastic device that can be charged in a small cradle. The program is intended to help developers determine the level of Sidewalk coverage in a given location. The device repeatedly pings its current location and available signal strength to an Amazon server, with data displayed in a web portal.

For those looking to build Sidewalk-compatible hardware, development kits are already available from companies like Nordic Semiconductor, Silicon Labs, and Texas Instruments. Connectivity modules are also available from Quectel to get devices online. On the cloud side of things, devices can be managed via AWS IoT Core for Amazon Sidewalk, a useful web interface based on Amazon Web Services. Currently, AWS is the only way to receive data from a Sidewalk device, though there’s nothing stopping developers offloading that data to another service for further processing or use.

Devices from third-party manufacturers are already hitting the market with Sidewalk compatibility. Everything from gas alarms to smart locks and home safety sensors are leveraging the low-power link. In many cases, it could enable a device to run on batteries where previously, the power demands of WiFi would have made such operation impractical.

Hardware and software development kits are already available for working with the Sidewalk network. Most offer connectivity over BLE, FSK, and LoRa communications regimes. Credit: TI

If you’re working on any kind of IoT device that could benefit from low-power internet connectivity, it may be worthwhile investigating Sidewalk. It comes with the caveat that functionality is tied into Amazon’s services, and that at present, the network is only available in the US. For some products, that won’t be a problem. For others, the flexibility and openness of traditional WiFi and Bluetooth connections may be more important. In any case, expect similar mesh networks to spring up from Amazon’s competitors as the Internet of Things goes from fad to foregone conclusion.

62 thoughts on “Your Guide To Using Amazon’s Sidewalk Network For The Internet Of Things

  1. As a full-time RVer, this could have potentially problematic repercussions for folks like us. Now, I’m pretty sure I’m a rarity having TWO Alexa devices in my big ol’ fifth wheel, but the majority of us WITH bandwidth are using cellular services. (Starlink has changed the game, fortunately, but not everyone can afford it.) The cell packages we tend to have access to are much lower in monthly bandwidth limits than a home-based fiber setup. And those are expensive, too. I think I’m paying $150 and $135/mo each for AT&T and Verizon. (Can’t remember which is which.) These plans are purchased through an “MVNO”. They are far better than your typical “phone plan”, and I don’t think they even come with a number. (I could go on and on about these plans and the hardware. In our case a Pepwave Max Transit Duo.) So someone else’s trickle could have a big impact.

        1. The main point is it’s been used in Amazon Echos since 2019 yet how many people knew that their echo’s were building Bluetooth mesh networks with their neighbors echos or ring doorbells? Anyone that I’ve mentioned Amazon Sidewalk to has zero idea what it is and that there devices are building mesh networks with other people’s devices. Can it be turned off in the app? Sure, but you have to know it’s even a thing to disable it.

          I’m betting 90 percent of people who own echo’s or ring doorbells even know what sidewalk is, what it does and why it even exists. That’s the problem. This should have been something that was opt-in by default, not opt-out. Bandwidth is limited to 500MB a month but that’s a lot for people who use limited bandwidth internet like mobile or starlink. There was never any warning or anything said by Amazon that they were even doing this. That’s the problem.

          First it was free software for all your data. At first this seemed innocent enough until people found the full scope of how this data is collected and used. Now it’s turned into we are going to use devices you buy with your money to build something you don’t know about to make money. Nobody agreed to this when they bought an echo or ring doorbell. It was just enabled. You have to know about something to disable it and the fact that a majority of people reading this article is probably the first time they are hearing about it is the problem. The fact that it’s been enabled since 2019 (in beta) and people are just now reading about it is the problem. The fact that it went live in the US is 2021 and people are just now reading about it is the problem.

          If you care about finding your lost dog there have been solutions for that for years so that’s no excuse for what Amazon is doing. They built a closed mesh network that now covers roughly 90 percent of the US without paying a cent in infrastructure because they are using devices they sell to build that closed network.

          Honestly, if you trust multi billion dollar companies doing this that’s fine but I don’t. The other issue is nobody can see what Amazon is doing and they have made major conflicting statements about it. They say it uses triple layer encryption and that Amazon can’t even see the data but at the same time they say they will give the data over to law enforcement with a valid warrant which is typical of any company. My question is if they can’t see the data what can they hand over to law enforcement? It’s one or the other. They either can’t see the data or they can. The fact that they are putting 900mhz radios in devices for LORA just for sidewalk in devices that don’t even use LORA is a problem.

          Honestly, of your okay with it that is fine but don’t hide behind something like a lost dog to justify it. There are plenty of devices that already do this that you can purchase and you don’t need Amazon Sidewalk to do it and if you think letting 3rd parties use it is a good idea fine but there are always bad actors out there and nothing is security proof. Personally, I would have been fine if Amazon disclosed this in 2019 when they started it and it was opt-in, not opt-out but you know what they didn’t? Because nobody would have opted in so they did it without even telling anyone.

      1. Well . . . . . run a scan after disabling it. It seems disabling is a visual, not an actual. I can pull the MACs from multiple disabled devices still transmitting OPEN signals.

    1. I am thinking you would be more likely to use this on your own network with your own devices. And maybe the lost dog or kid’s tracking device wondering by.

      Little censors in hard to get public network access with low power source:
      Temperature in the green house
      Water level in the sump pump in the basement

      And that data available instantly on a web site or app on your phone.

      I’m thinking a solar powered infra-red see in the dark motion detecting camera that you can mount anywhere on your campsite within 2-3000 feet of one of your Alexa so you can get a picture sent to your cellphone anytime motion is detected is a possible use case for you.

    2. Straight talk is much cheaper.. Virtually unlimited phone, high speed data, 50 gig hotspot… Way less than 150 ..less than 100 even.. I’m getting 50 gigs hotspot for about 55 bucks in a few minutes here. So laptop can be at campsite instead of the cellulite cubicles. I’m spending this summer outdoors! Productivity not diminished, mojo back is the default as is the result. That’s why I’m not sharp with people and their comments. NY rude is the eventuality of the race to sophistication. I’m walking here! You talking to me! Up yours.

  2. We’ve got multiple Alexa products, Fire TV sticks, and a Ring front door camera. The amount of data these devices phone home to the mothership every day is staggering but no problem for our high speed internet connection. However, if this was on our Google Fi, we’d be over our data limit in a very few days. I don’t trust Amazon not to hook up the data vacuum given how profligate they are with every other device.

      1. That limit isn’t a problem in my situation. I can eat in gig chucks and go flat rate quickly. But I do not want something/someone else eating my lunch. I give Amazon enough of my money (and data) as it is. Spigot has to stop sometime, bro. And if you’re talking about a limit on Amazon’s side, that unicorn doesn’t fly.

  3. How is this legally possible. Is there a loophole, do owners of a smart speaker need to sign a consent form allowing the smart speaker to steal/share valuable customer bandwidth and use of energy. Sure you can disable it… But seriously, do people even know, care about this and if they do how easy is it to disable.
    I really wonder how this is going to develop. Because once the cat is out of the bag other companies will join the “fun” and the already crowded “ether” will be filled with all sorts of twittering crap. And who will be playing for it in the end? And a what cost?

    1. Very likely the reason this is not available outside of the US. Legal wise, I am responsible for tge data flowing out of my connection. Any kidporn going out over this connection and it will be my issue.

      1. That isn’t a problem, there are no packets from sidewalk egressing your network to their destination. Sidewalk packets are sent over VPN to amazon, and then egress from amazons network.

        This protects you, for reasons like you mentioned; protects other peoples data using sidewalk, so you can not intercept it; and arguably protects amazon as they are responsible for filtering sidewalk data sent to the Internet – meaning the type of data you describe becomes their problem to prevent.

        It’s the same setup if I let you use my wifi to VPN into work. All your data falls under works egress policies and it is safe from me/my network trying to intercept it.

        The only potential inconvenience to you is bandwidth, which is why there is an all-or-nothing on/off switch for it.

        1. There most certainly are “sidewalk packets” egressing from your network. How else does it contact Amazon? They go from your Alexa over your wifi to your router and then out to Amazon. You are legally responsible for what gets sent to/from your network, encrypted or not. I just tell everyone I know who has any of that crap in their homes to disable this feature of they haven’t already done so.

          If Amazon wants to use my bandwidth, they pay me for by lowering my Prime subscription fee or something… But I don’t see that ever happening.

    2. If it were China doing it, then it would be state sponsored spying.
      And everyone would be forced into it.

      It’s ok when it’s the worlds richest company.
      Which happens to be based in the USA.

      1. If you use one of those Alexa devices, having it totally firewalled off so it can’t talk to Amazon kinda defeats the purpose of having the devices in the first place.

  4. Yikes, sounds like good snooper technology for Amazon. I really don’t get how people buy into any of this… Even Alexa technology. I don’t get it. Give me good o’ hardwired network. All my automation devices, of which some are wifi connected, are on a separate internal home network and never sees the ‘net’.

    1. Yea, your devices will now be able to exfiltrate wifi heatmaps of your house past your careful firewalling. On the bright side all your neighbors use them too so none of that careful blocking really matters.

      1. That is why I use Home Assistant and Rhasspy for voice control. 100 percent local and. Completely open source. Also, Amazon Sidewalk uses Bluetooth to create the mesh networks or LORA radios so subnets won’t stop this if that device can connect to the internet in anyway. The only thing that will stop it is not buying Amazon smart devices like echo’s, ring doorbells, FireTV, or their new TV’s they sell. There is a reason they are cheap. They use them to make money in other ways and Amazon Sidewalk isn’t the only way either.

    1. Ech, I was too mean. You have a large volume of output and I understand the pressure to post often and quickly, I just wonder if you could have made this more objective and worthy of being published on hackaday than “tutorial to use amazon sidewalk”

    1. It’s one of the unlicensed bands. There’s tons of stuff on it already – just check out all the e-waste cordless phones from the late ’90s, industrial microwave ovens, yadda yadda.

    2. 900mhz is what LORA devices use in the US. LORA is a low power low bandwidth protocol that can send small amounts of data over long distances. The radios in Amazon devices can send data up to half a mile but the record for a LORA device sending data is close to 900 kilometers. It’s actually a neat technology when used properly which isn’t what Amazon is doing. It’s typically used in sensors in remote locations where power and internet are a problem. Like a temperature sensor in a remote location. It can go into low power using an ESP32, turn on once an hour and send the temperature values. They can last on a few AA batteries for a year or more and some can run completely on solar.

  5. One could argue that the ‘Objectionable’ topics are the most valueable. Somehow this IoT network slipped past my notice. Regardless of whether it will end global warming, or help a future AI murder us all, I’m thankful I know about it.

  6. I’m not sure what others are complaining about – this seems relevant to the type of stuff many of us play with – but for me, the objectionable thing here is this line:

    “With Amazon likely to stick to the Sidewalk name over the more locally appropriate “Footpath” moniker”

    I think you mean “pavement” in the UK. “Footpath” I think might be correct is Australia, but in the UK means what I think is called a “trail” in the US?

    The perils of naming products internationally…

    1. I wish people would stop freaking out over names like this. If the company was in the UK and used pavement it wouldn’t bother me at all. Maybe speakers of the more poplar languages need to get over this dislike of divergent vocabularies. Sure if the term is offensive in one culture then you have an issue but sidewalk vs pavement vs footpath??? I mean I wonder if India uses a different term for it as well. What about Canada?
      This should be no more than an interesting example of diversity and the evolution of languages than anything that bothers anyone.

  7. This topic is interesting to me, but I would have hoped for a lot more information, like:

    * Do Sidewalk devices have to be approved or vetted by Amazon somehow? Is it practical for a hobbyist to go through this process, or is it the exclusive domain of companies?

    * How do they prevent a single misbehaving device from blowing through a gateway’s data quota?

    * Can two Sidewalk devices on the same gateway talk to each other directly, i.e. if the gateway loses its internet connection? Is it possible for communication to start in a no-internet state?

    * What are the fees like, or do they count on this just acting as a leader to bring in AWS customers or whatever?

    * Is it possible to use your own infrastructure without paying AWS?

    1. Right now there is only one third party company making sidewalk devices. They makes devices similar to airtags for say, finding a lost dog.

      The internet is not how these devices connect. They form mesh networks via Bluetooth ot LORA. An example would be if your houses internet went down and you wanted to check to see if you closed the garage door remotely. If you neighbor has an echo it would connect to that echo to connect to yours then use your neighbors internet to confirm if the garage door is open. Another use case is if you had a WiFi light that has a weak connection to your router. It would use your neighbors internet to turn that light on or off. Obviously your neighbor or you wouldn’t even know this is happening.

      Zero fees. This is Amazon building city wide mesh networks via Bluetooth and now LORA without paying a penny in infrastructure because you are purchasing the devices to build the infrastructure.

      No, this is 100 percent controlled by Amazon, you can’t use it, only Amazon can. Since no fees are involved it’s all Amazon. It does use 3 layers of encryption and Amazon has released conflicting statements saying they can’t even see the data but have also said they will give the data to law enforcement with a valid warrant. How can they give data to law enforcement if they state they can’t even see the data? Additionally since it uses 3 layers of encryption it’s hard to say for certain what Amazon is doing because nobody but Amazon can control it. Who’s to say they aren’t doing other things also and just not telling anyone I just don’t take multi billion companies at their word, especially considering Amazon has done some super shady stuff in the past.

      1. Also, according to the verge it already covers 90 percent of the US population.

        The company’s first Sidewalk coverage map claims that over 90 percent of the US population can access the now public network (it’s limited to the US only). Using a Sidewalk developer test kit supplied by Amazon, I drove around my town to confirm this data and, over three days of traveling more than 40 miles, found that the connectivity was surprisingly strong in my corner of South Carolina, even in the wilds of a national forest.

        The Sidewalk network is designed as a long-range shared community network. It works over three existing wireless radio technologies — Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for short distances, LoRa for long range, and frequency shift keying using 900MHz. These frequencies can bridge to the internet using any nearby Sidewalk gateway — which currently includes Echo Show 10, Echo, Echo Dot smart speakers, and wired Ring spotlight and floodlight cameras, as well as a small number of commercial grade bridges. Sidewalk sips a small amount of bandwidth from the internet these devices are connected to so it can send its low data messages. Yes, it’s using your internet connection — hence the word “community.”

    2. Also, according to the verge below, sidewalk already covers 90.percent of the US population

      The company’s first Sidewalk coverage map claims that over 90 percent of the US population can access the now public network (it’s limited to the US only). Using a Sidewalk developer test kit supplied by Amazon, I drove around my town to confirm this data and, over three days of traveling more than 40 miles, found that the connectivity was surprisingly strong in my corner of South Carolina, even in the wilds of a national forest.

      The Sidewalk network is designed as a long-range shared community network. It works over three existing wireless radio technologies — Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for short distances, LoRa for long range, and frequency shift keying using 900MHz. These frequencies can bridge to the internet using any nearby Sidewalk gateway — which currently includes Echo Show 10, Echo, Echo Dot smart speakers, and wired Ring spotlight and floodlight cameras, as well as a small number of commercial grade bridges. Sidewalk sips a small amount of bandwidth from the internet these devices are connected to so it can send its low data messages. Yes, it’s using your internet connection — hence the word “community.”

  8. LORA is woeful here in Ireland. I can’t get any sort of a connection on any of the major networks even in metropolitan areas. It’s essentially not usable unless you have your own gateway (and certainly not for things that move) so only cellular IoT is possible and its impossible to get a SIM here for any of the major networks.

    This may be the alternative network that actually has coverage without ridiculous subscription fees just to test that you can get coverage. If they can get an arduino library together and decent support it may even take off as the defacto network for beginners.

  9. I still wish there was a truly open source community network like this. Much as I’m a big fan of the concept, it’s just so much fragmentation to have Tile, Apple, and Sidewalk all separate. This seems like exactly the kind of thing the FOSS community could do very well, if not for the fact that most of the FOSS community wants this to not exist at all.

    1. There could be. All GNU or some other FOSS developers have to do is write an Android app and and maybe a something for an OpenWRT or Opnsense. You could then use BLE with them. Of course you would have to get people to install it and then you would really have to worry about someone using it for some really bad stuff if it was open, or hacking it to do something bad as well. Jerks, that is why we can’t have nice things.
      That is the issue, we want free and open peer to peer services for stuff like this for use to use and experiment on. Of course some folks also don’t want mega corp big brother in charge of them and watching over it all. But at the same time the end users and us developers want it to be reliable and secure. Those two thing wants are now and will always be in conflict I fear.

  10. The giant hack missing here is that Amazon sidewalk hardware has been present in Ring and other Amazon branded products for years. Way before Sidewalk was announced.

    Look up the FCC filing reports for their products.

    You’ll find the typical wifi and bluetooth FCC test findings, but then you’d have also come across another 902 – 928MHz radio.

    1. Exactly, they have been planning this since at least 2019 if not before. There is zero reason for a 900mhz radio being in an echo or ring doorbell. I believe every generation but gen 1 of the echo is compatible with Amazon Sidewalk. Unless you knew about it in 2019 you were part of the beta. Per a verge article Amazon Sidewalk covers 90 percent of the US population (not 90 percent of the US, just where people live).

      Essentially Amazon has built a closed mesh network without paying a penny in infrastructure because they are using devices they sell that you pay for without your knowledge. While all companies (Amazon, Google, and Apple) have been losing money off voice assistant I think this was Amazons way of making some of that money back. Everyone was in a race to be number 1 for lack of a better term yet voice assistants aren’t profitable as most rely on cloud servers which cost money to keep running and they sold devices like echo’s at subsidized prices. It was one of those become number 1 first then make money later situations but nobody learned how to make money. They can’t start adding ads because people would get mad so Amazon went this route. I know Amazon and Google both recently let go a lot of employees in this area. This doesn’t include newer technologies like ChatGPT and Bard.

      Burying it in the TOS and people clicking okay isn’t an excuse either. Companies have made understanding TOS agreements almost impossible unless you’re a lawyer and actually read the 2000 word TOS and companies know this. If this would have been opt-in instead of opt-out that would have been different but obviously most people wouldn’t have opted in so every device since 2019 has Sidewalk capabilities built in.

      Also, wasn’t this essentially what IPV6 was supposed to do? I think at the time it allocated around 50 million public IP’s to every person on the world and if you have ever seen an IPV6 IP you can see why. I remember watching videos five years ago saying IPV6 would connect everything yet Amazon has built a closed mesh network using 3 layers of encryption that nobody but Amazon can decipher. I’m sorry if I don’t blindly trust multi billion dollar companies to do the right thing. Nobody can read the traffic so who knows what else Amazon may be doing.

  11. Let’s see, a Bluetooth LE device that lets the coder set its MAC address. Enough information to get that device connected to Amazon and then to the internet at large.

    Yup, looks like this will eventually be the free internet of choice for bittorrent pirating. 500Mb is plenty of data per day, when you can get that from multiple different sources!

  12. And my housemates wonder why I won’t let them connect their Amazon device to the wifi… Like I am crazy or something.
    Good to be vindicated but bad to know that it is such a losing battle… if as per the FCC, Amazon put the hardware in the devices long in advance, yet didn’t inform the end users – certainly not in language that they can understand – that, to my eyes, shows intent to usurp legal requirements to give informed consent. Amazon and informed consent? Hah hah hah.
    Bears do something smelly in the woods, too, still not sure what it is… :/ More RF pollution. I feel like building a faraday cage around my room now.
    Oh and anyone seen Terminator 3?
    Skynet, anyone?

  13. Great guide to Amazon Sidewalk! It’s exciting to see how this network can expand the capabilities of IoT devices.It’s a useful resource for anyone interested in exploring the possibilities of IoT and connected devices.

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