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Apple Watch Series 3 Facing LTE Setbacks in China, Likely Due to Government 'Security Concerns'

The cellular capabilities of the Apple Watch Series 3 remain unavailable to new carrier plan subscribers in China, after having been "abruptly cut off...without explanation" just one week after the device's launch in September. A new report published today by The Wall Street Journal has looked into the LTE setbacks faced by the Apple Watch in the country, which is predicted to face ongoing issues over the next couple of months.

Originally, Apple Watch Series 3 models on launch were supported by the carrier China Unicom, but on September 28 -- almost one week after the September 22 launch -- Unicom cut off new LTE subscriptions for the device. Those who had signed up for a subscription prior to that date remain unaffected, but now anyone trying to sign up for LTE on their Apple Watch are unable to do so. Unicom said on its website that the feature had been available "on a trial basis" and didn't specify when it might resume.

But in China, the feature was abruptly cut off for new subscribers, without explanation, after a brief availability with one telecom company.

Industry analysts say the suspension likely stemmed from Chinese government security concerns to do with tracking users of the device, which uses different technology than standard mobile phones.
On the Apple Watch Series 3 cellular support site, all Chinese carriers -- China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom -- now say "coming later this year." Previously, Unicom specified the following: "Cellular service available only for mobile lines opened in Guangdong, Henan, Hunan, Shanghai, and Tianjin." A few days after September 28, Apple updated the page with the new reference to support later in 2017.

Industry analysts cited "security concerns" likely raised by the government in China related to tracking wearers of Apple's device. Because the Apple Watch uses different technology than standard smartphones, China's strict regulation policies can't simply be outfitted for the new LTE product.

Specifically, analysts believe the problem lies in China's user identification system. When users purchase a smartphone in the country, they register for a SIM card under their real names with a network carrier. But, the Apple Watch contains a tiny embedded SIM card (eSIM), which is placed in the device by Apple, not carriers. Analysts believe this raises questions of "how carriers and regulators can track the device user's identity," because the eSIM "isn't mature enough yet in China."
The benefit of a device carrying an eSIM is that, with software, users can choose a telecom operator and a communications plan. But in China, that new system raises the question of how carriers and regulators can track the device user’s identity.

“The eSIM (system) isn’t mature enough yet in China,” one analyst said. “The government still needs to figure out how they can control the eSIM.”
Now, officials at China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology are said to be studying how to resolve the issue before granting any broad cellular access to the Apple Watch. This process, according to analysts, "could take months."

The Apple Watch LTE roadblock is the latest problem faced by Apple in China, after last year facing the shutdown of the iBooks and iTunes stores due to the release of a controversial independent movie. Over the summer, Apple then removed the majority of VPN apps from the App Store in China, following regulations passed earlier in the year that require such apps to be authorized by the Chinese government.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 4
Tag: China
Buyer's Guide: Apple Watch (Neutral)


Top Rated Comments

(View all)

18 weeks ago

Gee, will Cook show a backbone on this one or will he cave on China related issues as he usually does?


So, Tim can either
(a) Do what's best for the profit of the company
(b) Do what's best for his personal ideals

... and he'll be criticized either way.

Love how this works.
Rating: 8 Votes
18 weeks ago

Gee, will Cook show a backbone on this one or will he cave on China related issues as he usually does?


What a flaky, inappropriate and trollistic comment.

What are you suggesting he do?

It’s not like he can, or would want to, use nuclear sabre rattling, or any other satisfying, dramatic but ultimately ineffective or self-destructive action, to advance his case.

You seem like a man with a plan, So what do you suggest he do.
Rating: 7 Votes
18 weeks ago

Really?! Government security concerns?!


Yes, as in the Government can't track the users well enough and guarantee it's security. ;)
[doublepost=1508427983][/doublepost]

I would bring manufacturing back to the US so I wouldn't be beholden to my Chinese masters. He has no problem standing up to the US gov't and FBI.


That's because it's not about 'standing up', it's about following the law of the land, whichever land that is. TC has said that Apple will follow the law in which ever country they operate. And, surprise, the laws in China are different than in the USA.
Rating: 6 Votes
18 weeks ago

Let's pretend you're the CEO of Apple, one of the largest companies in the world, and responsible for 120,000 employees.

What would you do? Would you show backbone, or would you cave on China? Please be specific, listing actions and steps you would take on how you would handle this going forward.

I would bring manufacturing back to the US so I wouldn't be beholden to my Chinese masters. He has no problem standing up to the US gov't and FBI.
Rating: 5 Votes
18 weeks ago

Gee, will Cook show a backbone on this one or will he cave on China related issues as he usually does?


Let's pretend you're the CEO of Apple, one of the largest companies in the world, and responsible for 120,000 employees.

What would you do? Would you show backbone, or would you cave on China? Please be specific, listing actions and steps you would take on how you would handle this going forward.
Rating: 5 Votes
18 weeks ago

#3 - Allow the Apple Watch to be sold with cellular connectivity in China, and let the government track where people are using it.


Given #3 is the status quo with iPhone (and all devices with actual SIM cards) i'm not even sure you could say it "compromises their ideals" in this case.
Rating: 5 Votes
18 weeks ago
And right as you thought the Chinese government couldn’t get any stupider.
Rating: 4 Votes
18 weeks ago

When I read more and more about the Orwellian surveillance state China imposes on its people, I am aghast that someone who is so vehement as Tim Cook about progressive views and human rights is as visibly enthusiastic as he is to be doing business in China and promoting Apple so heavily to China.


Even Google has shown more courage.

For years China censored their search results. At first, Google figured that it was better to at least be partly available than not available at all.

But in early 2010, they finally couldn't excuse the Chinese government censorship any more and redirected Google China queries to Hong Kong where responses were not censored. A couple of months later China banned almost all access to Google and many of their products.

Because of that, Google went from having around 36% of Chinese searches and growing, down to only 1%.
Rating: 3 Votes
18 weeks ago

1) Those are examples… to prove my point. You have one of the worst assembled products which is an abject failure on many levels, and very low yield product.


You talking about the Mac Pro?

Or the Moto X, which was built very nicely. I have had two, one custom made, and one stock (which is STILL my reliable daily driver, in fact).

What is brilliant model you have that says you can get final assembly of a quarter billion iPhones a year in the US?


Yes, they could ramp up production here. It's just a matter of not wanting to wring every penny out for profit.

Freaking automobiles are built in the US, and they're infinitely harder to assemble than a simple phone.

We may perceive the price as high compared to cheap devices but the price is low compared to what it would cost to have all the manufacturing in the US.


Already pointed out that Flextronics said it only cost about another $10 to make phones in the US, and that was with lower quantities and no robotics.

And that doesn't even consider getting all the patent holders to be US owned or limitations with even building a product if we can't certain components manufactured in the US. That also doesn't even consider the cost or availability of having all materials, like Al, Si, or Li, sourced in the US. I think the battery is manufactured in Thailand, but the Lithium probably comes from China.


That's the same as Foxconn. Parts have to be shipped in from all over.

Heck, the iPhone CPU is made in Texas, the glass in Kentucky, and other chips here as well.
Rating: 2 Votes
18 weeks ago

Gee, will Cook show a backbone on this one or will he cave on China related issues as he usually does?


I don't get people like you. If by "getting a backbone" you mean telling China to change THEIR laws to match what you inexplicably think you're in a position to decide, and therefore get the products shut out of that country, no Tim won't. And no one with a lick of business sense would do such a stupid thing. If you want him to go all Trump and make a fool of Apple, then perhaps you're backing the wrong company.
[doublepost=1508447304][/doublepost]

I would bring manufacturing back to the US so I wouldn't be beholden to my Chinese masters. He has no problem standing up to the US gov't and FBI.


You'd bring the manufacturing back to the US, and then the price point would be so far above market that no consumers would buy it (which is why Apple moved manufacturing to China in the first place). Also, yes, US CITIZENS STAND UP TO THE US GOVERNMENT. It's kind of part of what we call civic duty.
[doublepost=1508447564][/doublepost]

Sure they could. Motorola proved that with the X assembly in Texas.

Apple already assembles Mac Pros there.


1. The Moto X is a dud and that company is a zombie being subsidized by Lenovo at this point.
2. The Mac Pro, to start, is so much more expensive than the competition that it's virtually impossible to move. Also, the ONLY reason they assemble in Texas is for TAA compliance.
Rating: 2 Votes

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