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Amazon Sidewalk launches June 8 with support for Tile trackers

Starting next month, select Echo speakers and Ring gadgets will be able to connect with devices outside of the home -- including other people's devices.

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After years of development, Amazon is ramping up efforts to establish a long-range wireless network capable of keeping things connected even when they're outside the typical range of home Wi-Fi. It's called Amazon Sidewalk, and on June 8, the company will flip the switch, activating Sidewalk support for most Echo speakers, as well as Ring products, Tile Bluetooth trackers and other early partners.

On the Echo front, Amazon plans to leverage Sidewalk's low-energy Bluetooth connections as something of a backup network for your home Wi-Fi. Per Amazon, that means better stability during device setup and faster reconnections to your router when you update your network name or password. 

Ultimately, those Sidewalk connections will also help keep things like smart yard lights, mailbox sensors and connected garage door openers online, even if they sit on the fringes of your home's Wi-Fi network. At launch, your options for longer-range connections like those will include Ring's line of outdoor lights and cameras, the Level smart lock and Tile's Bluetooth tracker tags.

"Working with Amazon to extend our finding network by securely connecting to Amazon Sidewalk devices like Echo smart speakers was an obvious choice," said CJ Prober, CEO of Tile. "Amazon Sidewalk will strengthen Tile's finding power for our devices and Find with Tile device partners that leverage our finding technology."  

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A Sidewalk pilot program with CareBand's wearable sensors will use the long range connections for better monitoring of patients with dementia.

CareBand

Amazon is also partnering with CareBand, a line of wearable sensors for people living with dementia, to run a pilot test of Sidewalk-enabled indoor and outdoor tracking, automated analysis of activity patterns and help button functionality.

"Getting to the at-home community has been challenging without a strong, scalable and secure network partner," said Adam Sobel, Careband founder and CEO. "I am extremely excited about the opportunity to work with Amazon and further CareBand's mission to empower people living with dementia."

In this illustration, the Ring cameras circled in red, green and blue are using Sidewalk's long-range connections to track an escaped pet and keep outdoor lights and mailbox sensors online. Meanwhile, the Level smart lock connects with the Ring Video Doorbell over Bluetooth.

Amazon

Connections like those that stretch beyond your Wi-Fi network could potentially bring other people outside your home into the equation. For instance, if you had a Sidewalk-enabled device in your home, and a nearby neighbor's dog wandered into your yard with a Tile tracker on its collar, that neighbor would receive an alert sharing the pet's approximate location.

In order for those out-of-home connections to reach Amazon's servers, Sidewalk also siphons off a fraction of your home's Wi-Fi bandwidth: 80Kb of data per transmission, with a monthly cap of 500MB.

Pitches like that raised immediate questions about privacy and security when Sidewalk was first announced. Amazon answered last year with a detailed white paper outlining the ways in which it protects those transmissions. It reiterated that commitment today.

"Sidewalk was built to keep your data secure and to provide you control of your experience," Amazon's blog reads. "Data shared over the Sidewalk network is protected with three layers of encryption, only accessible by the devices you choose, and automatically deleted every 24 hours to protect your privacy."

"In the end, you won't have any information about your neighbor's bridge, and your neighbor won't have any information about your device," Amazon Sidewalk general manager Manolo Arana told CNET. "So there is always this level of minimizing the information that can go across layers."

You can also disable Sidewalk altogether in the Account Settings section of the Alexa app. Amazon pre-emptively turned the feature on for people with eligible devices late last year, which raised questions of why they were asked to opt out rather than opt in.

"We started notifying existing Echo customers with eligible devices that their devices will be a part of Sidewalk and how they can change their preferences before the feature turns on," an Amazon spokesperson told CNET at the time. "Customers can update their Amazon Sidewalk preferences during device setup or any time from settings in the Alexa app." 

Sidewalk-enabled devices use low-energy Bluetooth radios to send their signals up to 100 meters or so, though select devices -- namely, the spherical, fourth-gen Amazon Echo, the Amazon Echo Show 10, the Ring Floodlight Cam and the wired version of the Ring Spotlight Cam -- also use a 900MHz LoRa radio capable of sending and receiving signals from even farther away, with range of up to a half mile. At present, the only Sidewalk partner devices connecting over LoRa are the CareBand wearable sensors from that pilot, though others should follow suit in the coming months.