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Amazon Sidewalks: Would you share your Internet with neighbors?
by Paul Davenport Paul Davenport on

Over the course of the pandemic, network capacity became a hot commodity, as homebound workers and students were forced to run high-throughput functions over “best-effort” links, delivering speeds that were well below what was normal at the office or at school.

All of this was on top of regular streaming and social media access, which itself only accelerated during lockdown, pushing residential Internet usage to record highs.

Now, Amazon is about to ask customers for an even greater share of their Internet connectivity in exchange for increased range and reliability across Amazon’s next-generation household hardware. Called Amazon Sidewalk (and launching June 8 in the U.S.), the technology turns Echo and Ring devices into Sidewalk Bridges, which broadcast a share of your Internet to nearby devices (ie. your neighbors Spotlight Cam) that may have a weak WiFi connection. (To opt out, go here)

The goal is to help ensure that devices that are intended to be always-on never fall offline. While this is probably a boon for folks who have spent more time at home than ever before over the past year (and are buying household items in droves as a result), the question remains: At what cost to already bandwidth-strapped households?

According to an Amazon whitepaper on Sidewalks, “By sharing a small portion of their home network bandwidth, neighbors give a little—but get a lot in return,” as Sidewalks is restricted to only 80 Kbps, which the company explains equals out to 1/40th of the bandwidth used to stream an HD video, while the total monthly usage is capped at 500MB.

What will Sidewalks look like in action? According to Amazon:

“For example, if your Echo device loses its WiFi connection, Sidewalk can simplify reconnecting to your router. For select Ring devices, you can continue to receive motion alerts from your Ring Security Cams and customer support can still troubleshoot problems even if your devices lose their WiFi connection. Sidewalk can also extend the working range for your Sidewalk-enabled devices, such as Ring smart lights, pet locators or smart locks, so they can stay connected and continue to work over longer distances.”

More strains on bandwidth for WFH users?

While 500 MB a month is a small price to pay for smart home security, many folks who began working from home at the start of the pandemic for the first time will be staying put for the long haul. This means that for many households, the increased network usage experienced at the start of the pandemic will be the “new normal” for their household for their household going forward.

Realistically, 80 Kbps is hardly going to derail network performance on its own, but remote workers (and specifically the IT teams managing the workflows out to their users) need to be thoughtful about how their home network is being leveraged, especially when it comes to security.

For starters, enterprises need to be sure that when their workers are remote, they are leveraging reliable connections that meet a specific threshold for speed and security. Many companies are making such requirements a prerequisite for hiring as remote work becomes more commonplace, while some are even paying to have knowledge workers optimize their remote links to support long-term WFH.

Enterprise IT teams also need to leverage tools that grant them greater visibility into these new WFH domains where today’s performance issues may be born. From the cloud environment where workflows live to the last-mile connections delivering apps to users, IT needs comprehensive visibility across all dimensions of the enterprise WAN to ensure productivity doesn’t take a hit.

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Filed Under: industry insights

Tags: infrastructure, broadband, Sidewalks, Tile, RIN, AWS, echo, hybrid office, hybrid work, work from anywhere, work from home, remote workforce, remote work, enterprise IT, enterprise WAN, residential internet, isp, internet, wifi, Amazon sidewalks, Amazon, network management, network monitoring

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