In only a few days, Amazon will be activating a new mesh wireless network called Amazon Sidewalk, which automatically shares bandwidth between your Echo and Ring devices and those of your neighbors unless you opt out. The devices (full list here) will go live in the U.S. on June 8.
Once live, these devices in your home will turn into Sidewalk Bridges, and share up to 80Kbps of connectivity to expand the network so more wireless Amazon products work outside the home. For instance, Amazon’s Tile device helps people find lost items. They’ve also partnered with the CareBand wearable device to assist people with dementia. The Amazon Sidewalk program supports these products by providing more connectivity outside the home, so long as your neighbors don’t choose to disable this function by opting out on their Echos and Rings.
The impending rollout of Amazon Sidewalk has raised some concerns, and they are not without merit. In the short term, it extends the Internet of Things (IoT) outside the home, where connectivity is spotty. But it could also be part of a deeper strategy to dominate the gateway between the home and the Internet, according to Robin Gaster, public policy scholar at George Washington University and President of technology and data consultancy Incumentrics.
Privacy concerns. The opt-out function is an easy sequence of menu options on each device, but the move to automatically opt-in could be viewed as sneaky. Amazon insists that data in their network is secure, and they’ve released a whitepaper about that.
Deeper strategy. “Sidewalk strategically is a way to extend some aspects of its home environment out into the community,” said Gaster. “How that could be used is totally unclear right now, but if I told big tech companies that they could own a new network that sits on top of existing broadband and extends fairly universally across major communities, without spending a nickel on devices (in fact being paid for them) and without connectivity costs, I’d be flattened in the ensuring goldrush.”
Is Amazon Sidewalk brand safe? “So far as brands are concerned, there’s plenty of time to see how this plays out,” Gaster stated. “There is fairly shrill opposition from the privacy people right now, but I expect that to die down.”
Consumer upside. “On the consumer side, I see little need to worry, at least at this point, and some useful potential benefits,” Gaster said. “If I could add a network that could reliably find my phone, wallet, and keys in my neighborhood at minimal cost I’d be interested, though we don’t know how well that will work yet. I’d suggest being cautiously interested.”
Why we care. For marketers interested in using voice and audio channels, anything Amazon does to expand engagement with consumers around the home and in the neighborhood is big news. At the very least, mobile phone and car navigation platforms will have another channel to compete with if people stay tuned into Alexa with their Amazon Echo when they step outside.