Late last year Amazon activated the latent networking capabilities in millions of Amazon smart home products in the US to create the Sidewalk network. LoRaWAN is used to create a mesh network between devices beyond their respective home networks. This mesh of devices will be connected to the internet provided at least one of them is connected to a suitable local area network. Although these existing devices act as bridges that extend the network, simpler devices may exist only as endpoints on the network. At first all Sidewalk devices will be Amazon products, but third-party manufacturers have also partnered with Amazon and begun to offer devices that will operate on the network. Benefits aren’t limited to the greater range LoRaWAN provides, existing Sidewalk-capable devices can also act as Bluetooth bridges to allow other devices to automatically connect or reconnect to the local Wi-Fi network in addition to supporting connectivity on Bluetooth-only devices. Compatible devices will also be able to continue to operate should their local internet access be interrupted, provided neighbours are still connected (and within LoRaWAN range). Although high bandwidth applications will experience limited functionality, certain security applications will greatly benefit as alerts can still be pushed to users in the case of local (home) network outages.
This network represents the single largest LoRaWAN network available to US consumers in terms of coverage. Coverage will obviously be skewed to residential areas, particularly urban ones. In these areas consumers will be able to make use of the additional functionalities LPWA networks provide, a market that’s proved difficult to crack so far. Amazon will be able to offer advantages and functionalities to products that haven’t existed before in the consumer market in any significant volume. Early examples of products are focussed on tracking items, pets and cars – use cases the somewhat patchy network will be well suited for.
So far, there has been a considerable focus on consumer applications of the network, but Amazon’s recently announced partnership with the American Red Cross for tracking the supply of blood between donation sites and distribution centres indicates the potential for usage in a commercial setting.
Amazon, now one of the largest parcel carriers in the world, has its own deliveries to track. The fragmented nature of the delivery side of Amazon’s business: Amazon Logistics’ franchise-style model, the gig worker supported Amazon Flex, and third-party logistics provider Amazon Shipping will need a consistent connectivity platform to support tracking in order to provide a more uniform and constant customer experience. To reach a similar result on an international scale Amazon would need to partner up with a huge number of communication service providers.
Sidewalk is well suited to tracking items across an urban area, the fragmented nature of the network is less of a negative for use cases that require travel between the islands of connectivity in residential areas. However, Amazon may run into issues if it wishes to extend into other use cases. Some of the larger LPWA use cases like smart metering, crop monitoring or remote asset monitoring will be difficult to address without consistent, regional coverage. To achieve that level of coverage Amazon would need to start supplementing the network with dedicated infrastructure as opposed to merely relying on items in their customers’ homes. A move that would put their free at the point of use business model at risk, and would bring Sidewalk into greater competition with the traditional CSP space.
A more detailed view on what Amazon Sidewalk will be used to connect, the network’s benefits to Amazon and its partners, and whether MNOs need to be worried about Amazon’s growing presence in the sector can all be found in our Key Topic Insight report: Amazon Sidewalk: A unique networking proposition.