Amazon Reveals Participation of Semiconductor Companies on New Sidewalk ProtocolSeptember 23, 2020 by Jake Hertz
Thanks to some strategic partnerships, the Amazon Sidewalk project looks poised to launch later this year.
Amazon Sidewalk is a long-term effort by Amazon to greatly extend the working range of low-bandwidth and low-power connected devices. Customers install the protocol at the edge of their home network, and according to the tech-giant, receive nearly half a mile of coverage from their home.
To address the range limitations of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the protocols commonly used in smart home designs, Amazon Sidewalk is using the 900 MHz spectrum to develop the new protocol. Amazon claims its Sidewalk protocol will allow customers to place smart devices anywhere on their property, even in dead spots where Wi-Fi and Bluetooth don’t reach.
Two Main Devices for Sidewalk
A Sidewalk network will consist of two categories of devices: Sidewalk Bridges and Sidewalk-enabled devices. Sidewalk Bridges are analogous to routers in that they are the devices that provide connections to Sidewalk.
Examples of Sidewalk Bridges. Image used courtesy of Amazon
The Sidewalk-enabled devices will then connect to Sidewalk Bridges to access the network. Notably, owners of Sidewalk Bridges will be able to contribute a small portion of their internet bandwidth, which gets pooled together to create a shared network that benefits all Sidewalk-enabled devices in a community.
Amazon Gets Help from Semiconductor Friends
Sidewalk is now nearing its release, and this would not have been possible without some strategic partnerships with leading silicon companies. Specifically, partnerships with Silicon Labs, Semtech, Texas Instruments, and Nordic Semiconductor have been instrumental in the development of Sidewalk.
Silicon Labs pledged its support to Sidewalk with its wireless products. This contribution, Silicon Labs explains, will help developers create IoT products with encrypted cloud communication, no matter which protocol is used. SiLabs specifically name-dropped its EFR Wireless Gecko Series products to back up BLE and sub-GHz protocols.
Block diagram of the EFR32BG12 Gecko BLE SoC family. Image used courtesy of Silicon Labs
Semtech also threw in its vote of confidence, claiming its LoRa devices provide long-range, low-bandwidth connectivity, enabling the wireless connectivity needed for Sidewalk. Some relevant hardware in Semtech's portfolio for gateways include its analog front-ends and digital baseband chips.
Block diagram of one of Semtech's LoRa gateway baseband transceivers. Image used courtesy of Semtech
Semtech also offers LoRa transceivers.
Texas Instruments will assist in Sidewalk's effort by providing a suite of low-power, multi-band devices with various security enablers, including the company's CC1352R wireless microcontroller, which supports sub-1 GHz and Bluetooth low energy.
TI's CC1352R is a multi-band wireless MCU with over-the-air upgrades. Image used courtesy of Texas Instruments
Nordic Semiconductor, which previously teamed up with Amazon on Amazon Common Software (ACS), plans to double down on something called a "Device Porting Kit," (DPK) which enables Nordic's wireless chips to be "easily and natively integrated into ACS as one of its reference platforms."
The two chips that are especially relevant here are the nRF52840 SoC—a multi-protocol chip supporting Bluetooth 5, Thread, Zigbee, and Green Power—and the nRF5340 SoC—an application processor running up to 128 MHz with dedicated 1 MB Flash and 512 KB RAM.
The nRF52840 combines a 64 MHz, 32-bit Arm Cortex M4 processor with a a 2.4 GHz multiprotocol radio and a floating-point unit (FPU). Image used courtesy of Nordic Semiconductor
The nRF5340 features similar multi-protocol support as the nRF52840.
Security is a High Priority
In a white paper, Amazon assures users of the security features built into the hardware and software of Amazon Sidewalk products. One of the key components of this system include Sidewalk gateways, which send messages or "packets" to and from Sidewalk endpoints and a Sidewalk network server.
The edgepoint devices in Sidewalk's ecosystems are low-bandwidth, low-power devices (e.g. door locks, lights, leak sensors) that are either built by Amazon in-house or by third-party developers.
Amazon also includes three levels of encryption: 1) the Sidewalk Application Layer, which secures communication between an endpoint device and the application server, 2) the Sidewalk Network Layer, which protects over-the-air communication from the endpoint device to the Sidewalk network server, and 3) the Flex Layer, which adds a secure "message received" timestamp on messages sent to the Sidewalk network server.
Amazon Sidewalk's three-layered encryption plan. Image used courtesy of Amazon
A New IoT Chipset to Come
How exactly does Amazon plan to work with these semiconductor companies? In an Amazon blog directed toward device makers, the company reports that together, they're building a new IoT chipset.
"We’ve begun working with leading IoT silicon companies including Nordic Semiconductor, Semtech, Silicon Labs and Texas Instruments to enable chip sets that will power new devices and enable new customer benefits," Amazon's Ryan Ciovacco explains.
While the protocol isn't fully ready for the market, the company plans to release Sidewalk later this year.