Amazon is rarely out of the news, and the recent news has focused on how valuable the company is, the large market cap and Jeff Bezos stepping down as CEO last month to be replaced by Andy Jassy. This time, however, the big news is Amazon mesh, a network to connect users and their devices. The tech giants have called this project Amazon Sidewalk+ with the idea first being made public back in 2019 where they announced they wanted to extend and expand the connectivity of their customers.
According to Amazon, the main reason was to provide a better service for their customers whilst using their devices. Although there has been some backlash by those in the safety and security space, the idea seems to be very safe and simple.
Now, I know what many of you are thinking – how will e-commerce company Amazon, of all companies, be able to do this? Well, here is a little information for you (and many of you tech wizards will certainly not be surprised) that all Amazon Echo and Ring doorbells will have this built-in. Amazon announced in June that in the US it will switch on this service allowing people that want to opt-out to do so.
The Sidewalk project will create a network mesh between all the connected devices so it can increase the connection field around the devices. It will be able to do this by using Low-energy Bluetooth and 900MHz radio signals to pass data with the connected compatible devices. By doing this, the network can extend the reach of the signal and thus it will be able to cover a larger area to allow devices to connect.
Here is an example of how this will work: imagine if you have a compatible device at the end of your garden such as a light which you normally can’t control with your phone. With the extended network, that light could connect to a neighbour’s device and by doing this it will be connected to the network, and you will have the ability to then use your phone to control the light.
There has been some concern regarding how much data the network will use for those who agree to be part of it and Amazon have estimated that the data usage could be around 400-500mbps a month. For most people, this is such a small amount that it won’t even be noticeable. If we put this into context, most home broadband contracts have unlimited usage on data but for those that might have 40-50Gb a month this is the equivalent of around 1% of their monthly usage or for those that stream shows on TV, it’s the equivalent of around 30 minutes of streaming.
Another use for this mesh is for users around the network to connect and possibly use the mesh to perform other tasks such as a Ring doorbell (Amazon-owned) to be installed in the part of the house where the usual Wi-Fi signal doesn’t reach. This provides customers with a great alternative to the far more expensive Wi-Fi extender mesh products on the market. For those who have back doors that are not easily accessible, this will provide additional security too.
Amazon has also teamed up with Tile, the tracking product. Tile is mostly used by customers to locate their items that are easily forgotten or lost such as keys, bags or valuable large items that are stored outside of the house (like in the garage or shed) that people need help tracking or protecting. The device also uses Bluetooth which is very compatible with the way the Sideway project will work. Tile is the first 3rd party that Amazon has partnered with and this list will probably grow with time as they look to extend the service further to cover as much area as possible.
As is normal in situations like this, many users are concerned about the security of this project. According to what Amazon has released regarding how it will work so far, there will not be any security concerns as the connections will not identify which device was connected meaning that if your Ring doorbell extends the network to a nearby device, the system will not mention that this device was connected to that particular Ring doorbell. However, people need to be aware that Amazon itself can collect this data and the way the users interact with the network.
To conclude, this service is not great for those of us who are conscious of security and feel like others accessing the network might intrude on our personal space but for those individuals and households that need this service, it will be a great alternative at no expense (should they have an Amazon Echo or Ring doorbell). This will provide the service they need but they should also be conscious of using this service as Amazon will collect data from this service to help optimise it and its use.