"Security concerns" lead to LTE service shutdown on Chinese Apple Watches

Enlarge  You can now make calls from your Apple Watch without the phone nearby

Though the cellular-enabled Apple Watch 3 was available for a few days with a single carrier, China Unicom, new cellular subscriptions haven't been allowed in the country since late September 28, according to the Wall Street Journal.

On the Apple Watch Series 3 support page, all three of China's major cellular providers (China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom) list LTE service as "coming later this year".

When the Apple Watch Series 3 became available on September 22, LTE service was available exclusively through China's Unicom wireless company. Analysts suspect the shutdown is due to security concerns from the Chinese government, which heavily regulates all mobile phone service and devices.

At the center of the controversy is apparently Apple's decision to use a so-called eSIM card for accessing wireless networks. eSIMs allow users of mobile devices to sign up with a carrier, and even switch carriers, via software, without the need to ever swap out physical SIM cards.

According to The Wall Street Journal, regional LTE access for the Apple Watch Series 3 with built-in cellular functionality has been indefinitely suspended less than a week after the wearable product's China debut. "The eSIM [system] isn't mature enough yet in China", one analyst said.

The eSIM trouble is just the latest wrinkle in Apple's complicated relationship with China. Questions remain about how carriers and government officials will track an Apple Watch owner's identity. Chinese regulators may be slowing adoption to figure out the policy around eSIM cards, which are built into the watch. LTE service is the primary new feature on this year's Apple Watch model. None of the three carriers commented on the suspension. Chinese app developers reported Apple to local antitrust regulators. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has been cracking down harder on the use of VPN services for almost a year in efforts to regulate the websites accessible by its citizens.

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