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Amazon Sidewalk Approaches

As a household that has several Amazon Echo devices, I feel obligated to share the news about Amazon Sidewalk, including how to disable it.

What is Sidewalk?

Sidewalk is a “feature” in the latest firmware for the current generation of Amazon smart home products, including; Echo smart speakers, Ring doorbells & security cameras, and Tile trackers. When enabled, Sidewalk capable devices used by neighbors, visitors or passers-by are able to leverage your local internet connectivity.

Amazon says that these Sidewalk interlopers are allowed a limited amount of bandwidth, just 80 kbps, which is about the same as a tradition VoIP phone call.

Why Sidewalk?

That’s simple – ubiquitous connectivity is very convenient. Amazon knows this from years of experience. For example, their WhisperNet was a mechanism leveraging AT&T’s 3G mobile network to provide ubiquitous connectivity to early Kindle e-book readers.

Tile tracker

Imagine someone who uses Tile Pro to track their car keys. They are, as so many do each day, dropping their child off at Travis Elementary School, which is across the street.

It could be very handy if their Tile Pro found our front room Echo Dot, allowed it to ping Amazon servers. If they later lost their car keys, Amazon would know they had been near our home. Presumably, Amazon would have a more detailed record of their location that might otherwise be possible.

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Raspberry Pi as a Wi-Fi Bridge

Raspberry Pi are fun little devices. They’re a bit like rabbits in that they tend to multiply. We started out with one as a replacement for a failed Squeezebox, and now have 6 or 8 of them around here. Most are media players running PiCorePlayer. The availability of the Pi4 inspired me to deploy one as a media server, running PiCorePlayer with Logitech Media Server. Yet another Pi4 hosts our local instance of Home Assistant.

Of course, with several RPi deployed it only seems sensible to have a spare on hand. So I usually have a Pi3 and Pi4 readily available for whatever tinkering occurs to me. Earlier experiments with Dicaffeine for example.

We recently installed a new television in our living room. That room had been without a TV for years, but it was decided that a particularly large open wall would be a good place to put a larger TV. A new Vizio M65 now fills that void.

The Vizio M65 is the larger and newer brother to the M50 that’s been in our family room for several years. In 2016, 50” was the largest that was deemed acceptable, both in terms of price and spousal approval. In 2020, it seems that 65” is the new normal and price/performance sweet spot.

The new TV is installed. It connects to our Wi-Fi without issue. That satisfies the requirement for access to Netflix, Amazon Prime, CBS All Access and Disney+.

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Welcoming the Ubiquit Unifi 24 Port Gen2 Switch

Late last year I replaced my core network switch with a 24 port Ubiquiti Unifi (US-24-250W) managed switch. The Unifi switch was offered on E-bay at an attractive price. It fit into our existing Unifi cloud-key managed Wi-Fi arrangement, so I splurged.

Unifi-Stuff

In general, the Unifi switch was a good upgrade. It let me make greater use of POE. It made Wiresharking SIP traffic more convenient.

Alas, I stumbled upon an issue that I had not expected. It was noisy. The noise was the result of a pair of cooling fans.

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The Sound of Silence

For the past couple of days my office has been blissfully, almost eerily silent. Silent like I’ve not heard in several years. It’s enough to make me want some kind of background sounds, which is something that I’ve never wanted previously.

This newfound silence has been brought about by a combination of things. It cool enough outside that the door is closed. The mighty Fujitsu Halycon air conditioner is taking a much needed break. Today, it’s not so cool that I need a heater.

Most significantly, I’ve turned off the 24-port Netgear switch that serves as our network core. The other day I swapped an older 10/100 switch into service so I could clean out the old Netgear unit. Racked and untouched for along while, it was terribly dusty inside & out.

Netgear GS524T

This old Netgear GS524T has two built-in 40mm fans. They’ve been making noise forever. It’s been getting steadily worse. The 10/00 switch that I have as backup is fanless, so the familiar whine of the wee fans has been silenced for now.

In fact, according to my Netatmo Weather Station the ambient noise level in my home office is around 36 dba. That’s pretty quiet.

2019-12-10 15.11.05

Just now, staring at the approaching holidays, I don’t really want to spend on a new & much better switch, so I think I will replace the fans in the old one. It’s a $20-30 project. I’m told that folks do this routinely in the case of Ubiquiti switches. They replace the noisy stock fans with quieter fans from Noctua.

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Offline Today

From 3am this morning our home network has been offline. This was expected. Comcast, our primary access provider, was quite good about notifying us of a planned fiber upgrade. The process has been taking areas of the neighborhood offline briefly…

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The Ubiquiti LiteBeam Wireless Bridge Looks like Fun!

Occasionally something crosses my path that looks like a fun toy. I find myself wishing I had a project to justify the purchase. Such is the case with the Ubiquiti LBE-5AC-GEN2-US LiteBeam Wireless Bridge.

A pair of these devices form a long-range wireless bridge operating in unlicensed spectrum. It fits right in with our existing Unifi Cloud Key and AC Pro Wi-Fi APs. Best of all, at under $70 per end, it’s really affordable.

LiteBeam 5AC Gen2

Ideally, I’d use a pair of these radios to gain access to the Tachus fiber internet service that runs up Harvard Ave. That’s 1.43 miles (2.29 km) due west of our home. The Ubiquiti setup tool shows that we could achieve 250 Mbps over that link.

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