Verizon’s 5G fixed wireless in the cards for some Walgreens stores

Verizon on Wednesday announced a major Network as a Service (NaaS) agreement for integrated network services at more than 9,000 Walgreens and Duane Reed-branded retail stores across the country.

The multi-year deal with Walgreens Boot Alliance marks Verizon’s largest NaaS agreement with an enterprise customer on this scale. Interestingly, Verizon will be turning on 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) in some of the stores “very very soon,” according to Sampath Sowmyanarayan, president of Global Enterprise at Verizon.

He didn’t disclose how many stores are teed up for 5G FWA, but did say it’s part of step one in bringing 5G to certain locations.

Verizon has been vocal about the opportunity for private 5G networks and mobile edge compute, but those aspects aren’t at the forefront of the Walgreens agreement.

“Down the line we may explore options on private networks and other network solutions, but immediately getting 5G connectivity with fixed wireless in some of those stores is in the cards,” Sowmyanarayan said.

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The sites will use Verizon’s Fixed Wireless Access platform, with a CPE device and handoff as ethernet.

Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service using millimeter wave spectrum should be available in parts of 60 cities by year’s end. And Sowmyanarayan said “wherever a Walgreens store overlaps with Verizon’s network footprint and the conditions are right” is where the 5G deployments will happen.  

Verizon says it’s using industry leading tools to identify those locations in key markets for Verizon and Walgreens.

Walgreens will be one of the first pharmacies around the world to get 5G connectivity, following a similar thread of real-world deployments Verizon has underway including a General Motors’ factory facility and recently announced 5G in-building installations planned for co-working workspace company WeWork.   

“When [Walgreens] wants to transform to the pharmacy of the future, do omni retail, we will ensure that 5G is there for them,” he added.

Network as a Service

While some locations will see 5G, as a Network as a Service deal, Verizon’s focus is much broader in helping enable Walgreens wide-scale digital upgrades.

Essentially, the carrier is taking charge of a range of components like connectivity, security and managed services, with different needs based on store locations.

Historically, enterprises had to go through different channels for different network elements, but with NaaS customers say what kind of service level agreement (SLA) they need for things like bandwidth and reliability capabilities at which stores.  

As a fully integrated service, Verizon takes care of all the other aspects for delivering network services, without enterprises needing to procure the underlying elements themselves.  

In a situation like Walgreens, to tailor services with a deployment scale of 9,0000 locations, Sowmyanarayan said Verizon tends to create profiles.

Core corporate locations, for example, could have different needs where Verizon brings in fiber or different providers, or higher security, while larger stores might use the carrier’s LTE or 5G network.

Backend operations are part of the agreement, as well as bringing security and connectivity to things like kiosks – with a lot of Verizon’s work “enabling the plumbing” for new services from Walgreens.

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One component of the deal is Verizon is implementing new infrastructure to support next-generation Wi-Fi across store and non-store locations.

In a project this size, the nationwide implementation typically takes about two to three years, he noted. But Verizon says its NaaS platform and approach cut that down to a 1-year transformation. That initial phase has already kicked off and once that’s complete then the project will focus on more real-time updates with new initiatives rolled out as new technologies come in.

While Walgreens is the largest NaaS deal to date, Verizon has many more its currently working on, according to Sowmyanarayan, who anticipates a lot more NaaS deals happening both in the U.S. and internationally. More than 50% of his customer base has a large global presence.

“While most of the competition is pulling back globally, we’re aggressively increasing our global presence,” Sowmyanarayan said.