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With ‘Sidewalk,’ Amazon is building its own private neighborhood networks

Amazon is expanding its presence in our communities, and it wants our help.

The company has created a way to leverage its customers’ broadband and Wi-Fi connections to enable it to expand a private network outside of our homes into communities, creating infrastructure to peddle even more devices and services to us in the future. Over time, these steps from Amazon, with the cooperation of its customers, have the potential to dramatically change the way we behave in our neighborhoods.

Called “Sidewalk,” this network technology was announced in September 2019, though it’s still not fully deployed and some of the devices that leverage it have yet to ship. Sidewalk intends to provide a way for people to network many Amazon devices outside of their residences, taking advantage of the goodwill of people and their neighbors to provide shared mesh connectivity outside of the home. The company refers to this as a “crowdsourced community benefit,” but the larger benefit may be to Amazon itself.

Sidewalk is compatible with numerous existing and upcoming Amazon products, such as Echo speakers and Ring security cameras. Unfortunately, it’s an “opt-out” service; disabling it requires changing a setting in the Alexa app. By being opt-in, Sidewalk automatically assumes that we will share a fragment of our network bandwidth with our neighbors in order to extend and increase the network range of Echo and Ring devices up to a half mile outside the home. (The company says that the data used by Sidewalk is capped at 500 MB a month, the equivalent of 10 minutes of HD video.))

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