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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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A Dead Ringer For DoorBot

DoorBot-Looking-Left.jpgThis week has seen the team behind the DoorBot pseudo-smart doorbell announce their second generation product. In so doing they’ve renamed themselves Ring.

Honestly, my experience with Doorbot and its creators was so bad that I can’t help but harbor some animosity toward their operation. Yet, I want to be fair. Design is an iterative process. Perhaps they just need a few iterations on the theme to get to more generally usable product.

On the other hand, the description of the new product seems to be an incremental improvement from DootBot. Jump from 802.11B type Wifi to the more recent 802.11N type. Jump from VGA resolution video to 720p video, the baseline for HD. Abandon push-to-talk audio, ala Nextel of old, for something more akin to telephony. It’s basically a reversal of some of the bad design decisions embodied in the first generation product.

On the other hand, they still seem completely wed to their own “cloud service.” My experience with that was expect massive latency on call setup. Expect video only on occasion. I rarely even had continuous audio. On this basis alone you probably won’t receive that Fedex Express package you’re expecting on the first delivery attempt.

I’ve come to understand that my mistake with respect to DoorBot was expecting the kind of performance that I could more reasonably expect from any standards compliant IP phone. The DoorBot team clearly doesn’t have that sort of experience or appreciate that kind of performance. Even if that’s what separates the tools from the toys. DoorBot is a toy. Nothing more.

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