China Suspends LTE Access to Apple Watch Series 3 Amidst Security Concerns

Apple fans in China who who shelled out the cash for an Apple Watch Series 3 almost certainly regret that decision today, as the smartwatch’s LTE feature has been turned off in the world’s largest consumer market.

According to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, state-owned carriers in China have cut LTE cellular access to Apple Watch Series 3, preventing owners of the device from signing up for a cellular connection service.

Since the Apple Watch Series 3 launched on Sept. 22, China Unicom has provided LTE to customers. The state-owned company says new customers no longer have that option.

“We were informed by China Unicom that the new cellular feature on the Apple Watch Series 3 has been suspended,” Apple said in a statement.

According to industry analysts interviewed by the newspaper, the move may have something to do with an embedded SIM, or eSim, that the device uses. eSim effectively prevents third-parties like government agencies from tracking customers that use the smartwatch.

The eSIM is essentially a tiny chip that allows users to subscribe to any carrier they choose. Only a small few support it for now, but later on, it will allow you to easily switch carriers via software, rather than having to obtain a new SIM card.

Because the chip is installed by Apple, carriers and regulators don’t have the same control over it. In China, where there are strict regulations and all three major providers are state-owned, that’s a huge concern for the government.

“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.”

Once China has properly studied the eSIM, LTE service for new customers could be restored. However, analysts warn that is likely to take months. It’s a major blow for Apple, which has been pushing hard to make its devices more popular in China.