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26 September 2019

Haystack unveils new DASH7-enabled LoRa kit, Amazon teases Sidewalk

Just after Haystack Technologies unveiled its rather cool new LPWAN equipment, and promptly selling out of the developer kits, Amazon teased the community with what could be a seismic announcement – Amazon Sidewalk. Details are scant, but a 900 MHz mesh protocol with a range of 500 to 1,000 meters has excellent application in Amazon’s smart home footprint.

Haystack can trace its origins back to wireless supply chain visibility technologies in Savi Technology, a firm that was acquired by Lockheed Martin in 2006 and then spun back out in 2012. Haystack was founded in 2010 by Patrick Burns and J.P. Norair, and created the DASH7 protocol to focus on low-power wireless applications in wide-area networks. The DASH7 Alliance was founded to handle the required certification processes, and to boost industry adoption.

DASH7 itself is open source, and derives its name from the ISO 18000-7 standard from which it was originally based – although it is now no longer technically compliant. Running in the 400MHz and 900MHz ISM bands, the protocol does offer meshing capabilities. Notably, DASH7 handles OSI layers 2 through 6, meaning that the PHY radio itself can consist of multiple options and you can run your chosen application layer on top. In this instance, Haystack is using Semtech’s LoRa, but it also says that STMicro’s Spirit is an option.

The HayTag 2.0 here uses Semtech’s SX1276 LoRa transceiver, an STMicro STM32 MCU for the processing, and u-blox’s ZOE GNSS transceiver. Combined, Haystack says this is the most advanced GPS tracker in the world, and the $650 devkit consists of three of the tags and a LoRa gateway based on the Onion Omega 2 Linux board. The gateway pairs with computers via WiFi, and is also bundled with a 2,900 mAh battery if you want to use it on the go, and a 915 MHz monopole antenna.

With the tags, Haystack is pitching multi-kilometer ranges, multi-year battery life, and GPS precision. Because of the DASH7 implementation, the company claims that it can extend the ground range of LoRa by 300% compared to using the LoRaWAN networking stack. That’s a big claim, and while we don’t have the equipment to test it, Haystack does have plenty of happy customers using that DASH7 stack.

Another notable function is how the gateways will use DASH7’s multicast feature to push partial GPS data to the end-points, which helps the devices cut down on the time needed to determine where they are in the world. This time-to-first-fix is claimed to be in the two to three second range, compared to an unassisted GPS which can take minutes in the worst case. With Haystack’s XR mode, you can apparently push the capabilities further.

At least you can go out and acquire some of this equipment if you want to test these claims, or spin up your own version on your own kit and see how it performs. The same can not be said for Amazon’s new Sidewalk announcement, which was made at its hardware event this week.

The gist is that the protocol is the basis for extending the Amazon ecosystem outside your home, and the first product to make use of this will be a dog tracking tag. Confusion reigns because Amazon has said very little about Sidewalk itself, besides it using 900 MHz channels and working at a range of half to a full kilometer.

A number of outlets make mention of mesh capabilities, but Amazon doesn’t – it hasn’t even published the press release yet. The Ring Fetch is the first device to make use of the protocol, and at the event, Amazon said that the 700 devices it had handed out to staff had managed to cover the LA Basin area within three weeks.

Now, accurate location data is pretty mission-critical to tracking a beloved pooch, but to this end, there’s no mention of GPS capabilities. That’s not great, given the very mixed accuracy of protocols via gateway readings, and if the Sidewalk system is meant to be using node-to-node data for its positioning, the performance could be woeful.

So then, what could the protocol be? The range is too far for WiFi, but could be within spec for Bluetooth Mesh – although it would have to be using some advanced hardware here. The same range concerns are present in Zigbee and Z-Wave, but Amazon’s Echo range makes use of Zigbee and its Ring brand/subsidiary is enmeshed in the Z-Wave ecosystem. One of its more recent buys, Eero, even uses Thread in its mesh WiFi offering.

Amazon is a board member of the Zigbee Alliance, while Ring is the same for the Z-Wave Alliance. It is possible that Sidewalk is a fork of one of these, or an adaptation layer for Bluetooth perhaps, but the discussed range seems to put it out of contention for being LoRa-based. DASH7 running on a non-LoRa radio would bring mesh capabilities to the table, but Haystack CEO Burns says that as far as he knows, Amazon is not using DASH7.

Whatever Amazon is using, it has an immense advantage over many in the LPWAN sector thanks to its smart home household footprint. If all new Echo devices going forward support Sidewalk, it could very quickly build out comprehensive urban coverage, and then use this network as a platform on which to build more smart home services.

CSPs were in a similar position a few years ago, and while we thought Comcast might be the first to start sticking LoRaWAN in its set top boxes, none have so far taken that step. Amazon seems unlikely to open up Sidewalk to other companies though, and we don’t envision it becoming an IoT network operator. Sidewalk, to this end, becomes another way to create a stickier smart home ecosystem, and keep its customers buying more gear from Amazon and its retail channel.

The Amazon announcement notes “we think developers will build all kinds of useful, low-cost products for this network. We started with the obvious use case of lighting with Ring’s smart lighting, but think about all the things that are far from your home WiFi that might use Sidewalk—weather stations to tell you how much rain you’ve gotten, a water sensor in your garden with your tomatoes, a little sensor in your mailbox that lets you know when the mail has been delivered. The possibilities are endless.”