Telcos launch eSIMs to support wearables technology
Until the Apple Watch 3, most wearables needed to sync with a mobile phone via blue tooth to be completely useful. If you have been an early smartwatch user (I jumped on the bandwagon mid last year), you probably missed a few calls because your phone was switched off or in another room, even though your watch was in your hand. If you love the convenience of having your watch alert you with phone notifications but hate the Bluetooth dependency, then Australian telcos have some good news for you.
Telstra and Optus have launched eSIMs that are small enough to fit in your wearable. Vodafone has also announced plans to roll this out in the near future. Using eSIMs your wearable can access the cellular network directly, receiving calls and messages even when your phone is not around. You will be able to use the same number on both your eSIM and phone SIM so that you can seamlessly switch between using your phone or wearable. Now you can leave your phone behind while jogging or grocery shopping and still be reachable on your wearable.
How does the eSIM technology work?
The eSIM is similar in function to your regular SIM card, but it cannot be removed or inserted into the device. The next generation of wearables, like the Apple Watch 3, will ship with a SIM embedded into their hardware. The software or SIM activation code will be provided virtually by your telco operator. Technically, eSIM refers to the combination of the hardware in the device and the software by the telco. However, because the hardware aspect is invisible, the term ‘eSIM’ mainly refers to the software component. You can think of your eSIM as a virtual token that connects your wearable to the cellular network.
To understand how this works, we can explore the concept of door locks. Historically, a door lock needed a physical key to open. But when number locks were invented, a virtual key – the number code, replaced the physical key. Similarly, you can think of your SIM card (with phone number) as the key to connect your mobile phone to the cellular network. eSIM technology means you no longer need a physical card to gain access. Your number is all that is needed to identify you.
eSIMs Vs NanoSIMs
Some Smartwatches, like Huawei’s Android Wear 2.0 come with NanoSIM support. The Huawei watch is the first 4G SIM-enabled smartwatch in Australia. It can access 4G networks directly – letting you make calls, send messages and use apps like Uber, FourSquare and Facebook Messenger independent of your phone. It can also save favourite exercise routes and add music to the workout regime, playing from a local music library. It can do all these functions without being near a phone because it can access mobile data networks via nanoSIM.
NanoSIM is similar to a regular or microSIM card, except that it is smaller and slightly thinner than the traditional versions. NanoSIMs have been around since the iPhone 5. Although tiny in size, NanoSIM is still a physical card that needs to be inserted and removed from the device. The eSIM, on the other hand, is entirely virtual.
So the Huawei Android 2 will require a physical nanoSIM card to function properly, while the Apple Watch 3 only needs a virtual approval (the eSIM) from your telco provider for all features to become available.
Benefits of eSIM technology
Currently, with eSIMs only available in watches, this technology may seem like overkill or a luxury toy for the rich. After all, it’s just like having two mobile phones with the same number – one larger one and one smaller one (the watch) to be used at different times for convenience. Some readers may scoff at the need to make calls with your watch when you already have a mobile device for this purpose in your pocket.
However, one needs to understand that technology is always in a state of flux. What is there today will be gone tomorrow as something better is invented. As the technology matures and enters into new wearables you can have:
- Health watches for the elderly that can automatically make calls to their carers in case of emergency. Old people generally won’t have mobile phones on their person all the time – what to speak of worrying about blue tooth connections in them.
- Wearables for the disabled who can use them even though they are unable to use a mobile phone. (e.g. hearing aids that can receive calls directly)
- Inner garments for women that can automatically call security personnel if the woman is physically harmed.
- Shoes that can navigate automatically using GPS.
All of these devices (and many more) would require eSIM technology in the future. Moreover, they might replace mobile phones altogether. For E.g. calling and messaging could shift completely to watches while a mobile phone could become more like a tablet for browsing and reading.
ESIMs are the future, and it is good to see Australian telcos innovating and leading this change.
Telstra One Number
Telstra One Number is currently available only to existing Telstra consumer customers and small business customers with a 13digit account number. You need to have an existing Telstra mobile number to access this plan. You will need:
- Telstra ID – obtainable by registering your Telstra number online.
- Mobile On a Plan – Your smart phone needs to have been purchased from Telstra
- Eligible iPhone – Your device needs to be iPhone 6 or higher and be upgraded to iOS 11.0 or later versions.
- Apple Watch 3 GPS+Cellular
If you have all the above, you can activate your Telstra One Number plan directly from your watch app on mobile. There is no need to visit any Telstra outlet or wait for any SIM cards to arrive via email.
If you connect before 31/12/2017, Telstra One Number is free for the first 3 months. Otherwise, it is $5/month on top of your regular payment plan.
The phone needs to be on a postpaid plan with up-to-date software. The steps for activating Telstra One number are
- Open the Watch app from your mobile.
- With Bluetooth on, pair your Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular to your mobile.
- When prompted during setup, confirm your Telstra One Number subscription and your device will connect automatically to the Telstra network.
Optus Number Share
Optus Number Share is similar to Telstra One Number but provides slightly more value. To activate Optus Number Share you will need:
- iPhone 6 or newer device on a compatible postpaid plan
- iOS 11.0 or later version installed on your phone
- Apple watch 3 (GPS+Cellular) model
- Apple Watch and iPhone service provider must be the same. Not available with all service providers.
If you connect before 31/12/2018, Optus Number Share is free for the first 6 months. Otherwise, it is $5/month on top of your regular payment plan.
Make sure to have your Optus My Account login handy before activating Number Share. Don’t have one yet? Click here to register.
1 Select the Watch app on your iPhone
- If you don’t have an existing Apple Watch paired; tap Start Pairing and follow the onscreen prompts (you may need your iTunes login details handy if you want to download apps to your watch)
- If you have an existing Apple Watch paired; continue to Step 2
- If you have an existing Apple Watch but need to a pair a new one; tap Pair a New Apple Watch
2 Once the watch is paired, scroll down and tap Mobile
3 Tap Set Up Mobile
4 Confirm that you’re the Account Holder of the Mobile Phone number as shown on the welcome screen, before tapping Confirm
5 Enter your My Account login username (email address) and password and tap Next
6 The Terms & Conditions screen will appear, tick the box to agree before tapping Next
7 If successful, a confirmation screen will appear advising that your Number Share will be activated
8 Tap Done, once activation is complete your Optus Mobile plan will appear
9 An SMS will be sent once Number Share is active
Some Frequently asked questions:
Which watches are supported for these plans?
Do I need to purchase my devices (phone and watch) directly from Telstra or Optus?
Do I have to pay extra for calls and messages made from the watch?
Do I have to pay extra for any mobile data used from the watch?
However, because your watch has limited browsing functionality, it is unlikely that you will use any significant amounts of data from your watch.
Are emergency calls supported on the eSIM?
Are any cellular services not supported on the eSIM?
Can I use the watch to make calls on International roaming?
Is there a minimum contract period for this service?
Can I use the same phone number on multiple watches?
Will my watch use cellular services if it is within Bluetooth range from my phone?
Can I expect the same call quality when using my watch?
Also, Apple Watch 3 does not support the 700MHz Spectrum, which is used by Optus. So this could reduce call quality in certain locations.
In all other situations, call quality will be same between watch and mobile.
What happens if I misplace my watch or it get’s stolen?