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How Apple’s new watch with e-SIM works (Relevant for GS Prelims, GS Mains Paper III; Science & Technology)

Apple launched the LTE, or cellular, version of its Apple Watch 3 in India last week through service providers Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio. However, soon after, Reliance Jio filed a complaint with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) that Bharti Airtel has violated unified licence (UL) conditions by not setting up its infrastructure for pairing the network with the Apple Watch inside the country.

The e-SIM concept
The Apple Watch 3 LTE pushes a relatively new concept and technology for India and rest of the world. While the Apple Watch is a few years old, the LTE version is different as it does not need to be tethered to an iPhone to work. Once set up, the Apple Watch 3 LTE can connect directly to the cellular providers’ network as an extension of your mobile number.

Effectively, the LTE variant of the Apple Watch is not dependent on the iPhone like before. It can make and receive calls, pull data for music streaming on Apple iTunes or even help you call an Uber or Ola without using the phone.

It does all this with the help of an e-SIM, which works in combination with a built-in antenna and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) radio. The e-SIM is a fraction of the size of a normal SIM and not something you can take out or swap. It works with the UMTS radio to connect to the network and stores the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) and the associated authentication key of your mobile number. If the phone is unreachable, the call is then diverted to this device, which also has the same IMSI number.

No extra charges
In most countries, you have to pay extra for using this technology. However, in India, both the service providers are adding this to the existing plan with no extra charges. Apple Watches are locked to certain geographies with multiple versions. So, an Apple Watch purchased in the US or China might not work in India.

In 2016, the Samsung Gear S2 3G was the first device with an e-SIM. However, that was never officially sold in India. For the past couple of years, the cellular versions of Apple’s iPad Pro models have had something similar, an Apple SIM that connects to supported local networks without a SIM.

No policy for e-SIMs
Since this is a relatively new technology, there is no specific policy as such on e-SIMs. Earlier, companies that worked on SIM virtualization technologies were unsure about entering the Indian market because it was illegal to have SIM which was not tied to a specific user who was identified. With e-SIM, this is not an issue, as the device and the e-SIM is tied to the international mobile subscriber identity of the user’s phone and hence, the owner is easily identifiable.

In case of the Apple Watch 3 LTE, it is learnt that both service providers took all permissions needed before launching the service. According to a statement issued by Bharti Airtel, “DoT was duly notified prior to the launch of Apple watch including product features, network architecture and lawful interception and we have also requested them to carry out a demonstration of the same.”

(Adapted from The Indian Express)

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