U.S. operator Verizon is in talks to provide U.S. retailer Walmart with antennas and other equipment to create 5G services, according to a news report. The services would first come to a limited number of locations this year, to help Walmart with the new digital health services it hopes to introduce soon. The move would also up speeds for store operations in general, and for the surrounding community.
Walmart is looking to remake its 4,700 stores into hubs that draw shoppers for medical treatment and other services, not just groceries and clothes. Walmart could also use 5G services to improve cameras alerting staff to shoplifters or scanning shelves for out-of-stock inventory. Walmart will be opening the health clinics at selected stores, offering interactions with doctors and other health-care providers through streaming video over a mobile phone. The company opened two such health clinics in Georgia last year.
Under the partnership with Verizon, shoppers could, for example, arrive at Walmart stores, allow their medical data to be stored in an app that detects when they arrived, and allow them to self-register for their preventive care visit. After the appointment, visitors would be able to pick up their prescription and the shop for other items. The connectivity in the store would detect if the items placed in their cart need to be restocked. The technology could also be used for doctors to remotely examine patients.
Considering the usefulness of 5G to IoT applications, a special relationship between a mobile operator and a large corporation is a potential gold mine. Enabling diverse services such as stocking control, security and tracking, on top of communications brings a large and steady revenue stream to an operator and makes it indispensable to the enterprise partner.
In this case, the partnership between Verizon and Walmart has the potential to become broad-based but is starting in a more limited way, with an emphasis on one specific service—digital health services. Walmart, like other big-box stores, has seen its traditional business encroached upon by Amazon and other online retailers. Like many mobile operators, it has been looking for new value-added digital offerings that can give it increased relevance. Digital medicine is one of those.
For Verizon, this medical offering is the thin edge of the wedge, a way for it to begin a relationship with Walmart that could grow into something more bigger and more extensive. It is a good place to start, in that it involves a service that is not part of Walmart’s current offerings, and in that it requires new technology that Verizon can provide. Even at this early stage, though, the deal includes other elements, such as restocking tracking, that deploy the IoT to support Walmart’s more traditional business. This allows a path forward for Verizon to eventually work with Walmart on all aspects of its business using 5G.