HomeBuildingsAmazon intros LoRa bridge device to move Sidewalk from smart homes to smart cities

Amazon intros LoRa bridge device to move Sidewalk from smart homes to smart cities

We are a little slow off the mark with this one, but there was a notable missive last week from Amazon about IoT network-building in the US, as the firm announced a new LoRa bridge device, by its own smart-home security subsidiary Ring, to help build its crowd-sourced Amazon Sidewalk network for wider-area smart city use cases in the US. The new unit, called Amazon Sidewalk Bridge Pro by Ring, is targeted at businesses, municipalities, universities, and public services.

The Sidewalk networking platform, announced in late 2019, uses a proprietary version of LoRa in 900 MHz spectrum. It also supports Bluetooth. Amazon said last week its Sidewalk network has grown “rapidly” in residential areas in the US, initially to overcome patchy connectivity for smart-home gadgetry, such as lighting and home controls – by providing wider-area coverage that reliably connects back-yard perimeter sensors, for example. 

But its vision is to crowd-source wider-area smart-city networks from consumer endpoints, such as Echo speakers and Ring products. The new LoRa-based Bridge Pro device from Ring, optimized for longer range (“over five miles”) and greater capacity (“hundreds of devices”), goes a way to fulfill this plan, by creating an aggregate ‘bridge’ network in a ruggedized housing for indoor and outdoor use by enterprises, municipalities, and other organisations. 

The unit (see image, left) provides Sidewalk connectivity to devices like sunlight sensors, air quality indicators, and moisture sensors in places like commercial centres, parks, and wilderness areas, said Amazon. It also delivers “multiple layers of privacy and security protections”, it added. Alongside, Amazon has announced new pilot schemes to test Sidewalk connectivity for IoT applications in public spaces and wildfire areas.

The first project, with Arizona State University, will see the university’s technology officer (UTO) deploy Bridge Pro units on a number of ‘blue light’ telephone poles on its campus to extend the range of its IoT devices (“sunlight sensors, temperature sensors, CO2 detectors, and particle counters”), unburden its Wi-Fi network of IoT traffic, and support faculty researchers’ own smart campus and smart cities experiments.

The second proof is with US IoT maker Thingy, which will use Amazon’s LoRa network to deliver data about air pollutants, air temperature, and air humidity, as part of its involvement in the Environmental Protection Agency’s ‘wildland fire sensors challenge’ to combat wildfires and model smoke movement. Thingy is looking to run its Thingy AQ air monitoring system on Sidewalk’s LoRa system, to help protect public and private land from fire damage.

Bobby Gray, UTO director of digital transformation at Arizona State University, said: “The university is unique in that it is a space that encourages new ideas and disruptive technologies to be developed, tested, and iterated upon quickly. Our goal is to deploy and test Amazon Sidewalk Bridge Pro to bring smart solutions, like those fitted to the blue light poles, to campus at scale and lower costs.”

Scott Waller, co-founder and chief executive at Thingy, said: “We designed Thingy AQ for very remote locations, where power efficiency and range were critical for fire ground operations, and have been using LoRa since day one. Amazon Sidewalk Bridge Pro brings us the power of LoRa in a massive number of needed locations, easy integration with our existing applications in AWS, and trusted security for the devices and applications.”

The Amazon Sidewalk model to crowd-source a nationwide low-power-wide-area (LPWA) LoRa-based IoT network is akin to hotspot maker Helium’s bid to do the same with LoRaWAN, which runs its ‘people’s network’ on a blockchain platform. The Helium model rewards hotspot owners, buying LoRaWAN gateways from the firm, with HNT cryptocurrency for their parts in the peer-to-peer Helium network. 

Busy LoRaWAN operator Senet has agreed a US-based roaming deal with Helium, allowing Senet’s IoT customers to make use of the Helium network and Helium’s hotspot operators to carry (and earn from) more network traffic. The city of San José in Silicon Valley, in California, is working with Helium to extend broadband access to local residents and enterprises in exchange for hosting and expanding new peer-to-peer IoT network infrastructure.

A feather in the cap for Semtech, which owns the LoRa technology, Amazon’s decision in late 2019 to go with proprietary LoRa over LoRaWAN also caused a stir in the LoRaWAN community, that Amazon’s power in the market will pull the ecosystem two ways – and possibly away from its core engine room in the industrial IoT space, leaving a way open for rivals, including the cellular community, pushing NB-IoT and LTE-M as LPWA alternatives.

The LoRa Alliance, in charge of marketing and development of the LoRaWAN protocol, swiftly convened a new working group, called LoRaWAN-Versus-Proprietary, to address certain shortcomings in the LoRaWAN specification to make it workable for Amazon, and to encourage Sidewalk’s switchover to LoRaWAN instead. Amazon is a board member of the LoRa Alliance, it might be noted; so far, Sidewalk remains a LoRa venture.

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