How to Build Better Sidewalk Connectivity

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TI is working to improve near the sidewalk edge connectivity for household wireless devices.

Late last year, Amazon announced their “Sidewalk,” a neighborhood network designed to help customer devices work better both at home and beyond the front door. A little less than a year later, the company announced additional details on the Amazon Sidewalk, which highlighted the low-power, long-range connectivity benefits for IoT devices. For anyone who has attempted to install a smart security camera or a connected doorbell at the edge of their Wi-Fi connectivity range, this announcement came as a welcome respite from the difficulties in getting IoT devices to connect and stay connected. 

Texas Instruments (TI) is among the chipmakers working with Amazon to make Sidewalk a reality. When TI announced its support for Amazon Sidewalk, it highlighted several low-power, multi-band devices that enabled developers to build applications that leveraged the Sidewalk protocol as well as Bluetooth Low Energy.

To learn more about these multi-band wireless devices and how they support the Sidewalk, Design News talked with Casey O’Grady, marketing manager at Texas Instruments. She focuses on removing barriers for the global deployment of Sub-1 GHz connectivity to achieve greater distances with ultra-low power.

DN: What is Amazon’s Sidewalk program?

O’Grady: Amazon Sidewalk can extend the range of low-bandwidth devices and make it simpler and more convenient for consumers to connect. Ultimately, it will bring more connected devices together into an ecosystem where products such as lights and locks can all communicate on the same network. Sidewalk can enable devices connected inside the home to effortlessly expand throughout the neighborhood.

For example, by utilizing the Sub-1 GHz wireless band (900 MHz), which leverages low data rates to create a long-range, low-power network, Sidewalk will make it possible for consumers to expand their networks into their back yards and stay connected to their other networked devices. This will enable scenarios such as a water sensor that lets you know it’s time to water the garden in the backyard. The extended range can alleviate concerns of dropping connectivity and expands the use cases for connected devices.

To complement the Sub-1 GHz protocol, Amazon Sidewalk also works with Bluetooth Low Energy to provide greater connectivity around the home.

DN: How is TI supporting the Sidewalk? What specific hardware components and software (digital/analog/wireless) are involved?

O’Grady: TI is providing a suite of low-power, multi-band devices with various security enablers to support Amazon Sidewalk. This includes TI’s CC1352R wireless microcontroller (MCU), which supports Sub-1 GHz and Bluetooth Low Energy, the CC1352P wireless MCU, which provides an integrated +20 dBm power amplifier (PA) for an extended range solution, and CC2652P a multi-protocol 2.4GHz wireless MCU with integrated PA.

DN: How might an engineer develop applications for the Amazon Sidewalk platform?

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Sensor schematics.

The LaunchPad SensorTag kit is based on the CC1352R multi-band wireless MCU which is part of the SimpleLink microcontroller platform. Along with the LaunchPad development ecosystem, developers can mix and match the hardware to create a desired topology leveraging off the broad offering of wireless connectivity stacks to connect whatever is needed.

With this development kit and TI’s CC1352 software development kit, engineers can build a Sub-1 GHz or Bluetooth Low Energy application and then in the future leverage Bluetooth Low Energy via a mobile app to load the Sidewalk image.

The sidewalk-ready development kit combines integrated environmental and motion sensors with low-power Sub-1 GHz and Bluetooth Low Energy wireless connectivity. The development kit includes assembly drawings, a bill of material (BOM), CAD files, enclosure design, Gerber files, schematics, and more.

DN: What applications are involved, e.g., outside cameras and/or lights?

O’Grady: As technology continues to advance, consumers crave the ability to monitor, track, and sense more, whether it’s temperature, light, or motion. From sensors that trigger your sprinklers to a smart mailbox that notifies you of deliveries, the demand for a broad, long-range ecosystem of devices has never been higher. Amazon Sidewalk offers a convenient and cost-effective protocol to connect smart home devices.

While people’s dependency on technology increases, so does frustration if they’re out of wireless network range, unable to connect, or losing time with network or application installations. Companies developing connected devices often use a variety of wireless protocols, but each protocol works within a certain range and may not talk to other devices.

For example, imagine you’re an avid woodworker, your garage is equipped with numerous power tools, and when a project is in the works, sawdust is swarming in the air. To help mitigate the clutter and air quality challenges, you’ve installed wireless air quality sensors and have smart power tools with tracking capabilities. Unfortunately, since your Wi-Fi router is far from the garage, there’s a weak connection to your smart devices. Amazon Sidewalk is designed to help solve these challenges. By leveraging the 900-MHz spectrum, smart devices can stay connected and span further distances beyond the reach of home Wi-Fi. You can easily track and locate your prized power tools and monitor the air particle pollution levels to limit dust exposure.      

DN: Tell me about Sub-1 GHz technology. Is it being used now? How might I include it in my next design?

O’Grady: Connectivity deployments are growing and infrastructure build-out is taking new forms. A continuous Internet connection, traditionally delivered by an Internet service provider or a cellular network operator, has been the backbone of this evolution. In the future, developers of “things” will have alternative ways to connect to the Internet. The Amazon Sidewalk is an example of this, extending the range of low-bandwidth devices and ensuring a subscription-free internet connection. It draws on the foundation of crowd-sourced connectivity, where end-device manufacturers can benefit from the already deployed base of Amazon Sidewalk Bridges that natively connect to the Internet.

If we look at the connectivity landscape, more technologies are coming and evolving. People are mostly familiar with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless technologies because of their strong brand awareness, but they do not solve all the problems, like supporting both long-range and low power simultaneously. This is where Sub-1 GHz has a major advantage. The physical properties of radio signals in the Sub-1 GHz bands make it more suitable for longer range, lower power, and more resilient connections. These advantages make Sub-1G Hz the natural choice for massive industrial and commercial IoT deployments like grid infrastructure.

With the number of connected nodes increasing within homes to the exterior and beyond, the capability to build reliable, long-range networks is critical. Long-range connectivity extends our ability to collect more sensor data, monitor more devices, and build smarter products. As different types of radios become more common in the things around us, it requires multiple gateways for end devices to talk to each other and connect to the cloud. This is where Amazon Sidewalk can reduce the complexity and eliminate the need for companies to design and manufacture their own gateways.  

To get started designing with Sub-1 GHz, the LaunchPad SensorTag kit can be used along with TI’s SDK to easily build up a long-range, large node Sub-1 GHz network. It is simple to get a prototype running, leverage TI’s tools for RF testing, and then build your application. TI provides intuitive training models, documentation, and support for companies to get their connected products into production. 

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CC1352R SimpleLink High-Performance Multi-Band Wireless MCU. (Image Source: TI)

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

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