Why Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sees new opportunity in the yard, on the sidewalk, and beyond

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos talks with reporters at a reception following the company’s Alexa devices and services unveiling at the Amazon Spheres on Wednesday evening in Seattle, with Amazon executives Jay Carney and Dave Limp to his right. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Alexa is finally moving out of the house.

That was the underlying theme of Amazon’s annual hardware and services unveiling in Seattle this week, as the company put its voice assistant into wireless earbuds, eyeglasses, and even a ring, as in the kind you put on your finger, not the Ring you put on your front door — although Alexa is going there, too.

The products are the latest sign of the tech giant’s ever-expanding ambitions to take its consumer services and devices beyond the home.

But in his impromptu comments to reporters after the event, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was buzzing about a different initiative that promises to give the company a presence just outside the boundaries of the home — in the front yard, the sidewalk and the surrounding neighborhood.

Amazon Sidewalk will create secure networks that leverage low-bandwidth, 900 MHz wireless spectrum to provide connectivity to small Internet of Things devices, such as smart lights, weather stations, and sensors in places such as mailboxes and gardens.

“It’s a completely new way of thinking about intermediate-range wireless,” he said. “There are a lot of things where Bluetooth is way too short-range, WiFi is way too high power, and so to have something that’s still low-power, but that has much longer range is really a gap in the marketplace.”

He added, “People don’t even realize yet how important that intermediate range is going to be.”

Amazon is publishing a protocol for the network to entice third-party developers to start making devices for the new Sidewalk network. “There needs to be a whole ecoystem of products.”

Sidewalk puts Amazon squarely in the middle of the growing consumer IoT market, competing against a wide variety of device makers and service providers, including many of the companies it competes with in the cloud and consumer products. It also expands the scope of the privacy concerns that have caused some consumers to think twice about putting Alexa in their homes.

The company cautions that the initiative is in the early stages of development, but Amazon was able to roll out a Sidewalk network in Southern California in three weeks that covers the L.A. basin through 700 access point. One access point can provide as much as a mile of coverage, the company says.

Dave Limp, Amazon’s devices and services chief, introduces the Ring Fetch device. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

In an example of the potential, Amazon’s Ring subsidiary, the company known for its doorbell cameras, announced plans for a new device called Ring Fetch that attaches to a dog’s collar and lets the owner know if the pet strays beyond a specified perimeter beyond the house. Described as a reference design, Fetch is expected to be available next year.

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