Wireless-Enabled Fashion: Overall Supply Chain Impacts and Differentiating Technologies

Wireless-Enabled Fashion: Overall Supply Chain Impacts and Differentiating Technologies

L.F. Pau (CBS, Copenhagen, Denmark & Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands & Upgötva AB, Stockholm, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/IJMDWTFE.2019010103
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This paper is devoted to the supply and business models around wireless-enabled clothing by and for the clothing industry itself. Employing existing or innovative differentiating technologies, each piece of wireless-enabled clothing becomes a user equipment with customization in functionality and clothing designs. Relevant technologies are selected, allowing to map and model the implications for product integration, supply chains, distribution channels, and quantified costs. This research rests on very extensive collaborative and industrial R&D projects. In conclusion, modular wireless-enabled clothing offers significant personalization and distribution opportunities at costs comparable to mobile terminals like smartphones.
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1. Introduction

1.1. Context

The 2020’s exhibit a significant stabilization of the wireless terminals and smartphones uptake rates, still fueled mostly by wireless infrastructure evolution, novel microelectronics and applications proliferation. Commoditization processes apply to all these three technical drivers, without any rethinking of the core user terminal concept realization. Also, from the psychological and sociological sides, mobile terminals (nowadays called “user equipment” in ETSI/3GPP/ITU standardization language (ETSI, 2018)) are becoming more deeply ingrained into personal behaviors even if realized as devices separate from the human body needing to be held or attached. Time has come to « hide the device » and instead embed the communications functionality into the closest interface to the body which is clothing, while capitalizing on substantial progresses made in some other technological fields than electronics and software, such as chemistry and textile. This change would significantly free human tactile and visual attentions, as shown by products in niche segment applications; very many are for health e.g. (Bioserenity, 2020), but also for professional usages, e.g. (Colas Rail, 2016), defense e.g. (Safran, 2017), and others. It would also fundamentally largely decouple mobile usages from electrical power capacity pitfalls. The wireless clothing would become the human's second skin.

Next, if the communications functionality would be embedded into human clothing, completely different manufacturing and distribution channels would emerge, which have already for a long time proven major know-how in commoditization as well as personalization (retail stores, platforms of e-tailers, fashion designs). A key question is whether the achievable production and channel costs of communications functionality embedded inside clothing/fashion would be competitive with those of the current smartphones industry.

To simplify terminology, « Wireless clothing » is the short-form designation in this paper for modular wireless public network access embedded into washable clothing worn by the user, keeping his hands and eyes free most of the time, with possible extensions beyond communications. Therefore, the traditional modalities of ITU defined “user equipment” are extended to include clothing.

1.2. Limitations of Scope

This paper is in no way a survey of the history, technologies, or technical achievements of wireless enabled clothing from both technological and business perspectives. Likewise, it does not address specific usages coupled to other sensor, actuator, or display technologies, like specific prototype systems found in digital health, commerce, sports, and defense. The present research is not either about wearables, wearable computing, smart watches, eye-ware, Internet-of-Things etc. for which many references and surveys exist with as examples: surveys by Wei, 2014; Wilson S. & Laing R. M. (2018);Wearable Technologies, 2019; Carbonaro N. & Tognetti A., 2019), medical smart fabrics (Tsai, Li, Ho & Lam, 2020), intelligent textiles (Science Daily, 2008); sensing (Gao W. et al.,2019)), sports (Havard B. & Podsiad M., 2018)), etc. . The assumed connectivity to the Internet or to the cloud for the wireless enabled clothing is through a “user equipment” coupled to public mobile networks, and not via a Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or ZigBee link, which are link configurations not addressed here.

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