Telcos launch eSIMs to support wearables technology

Telcos launch eSIMs to support wearables technology

 

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.

The cost:

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.

Activation Process:

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.

The cost:

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.

Activation Process:

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?

Currently only the Apple Watch 3 GPS+Cellular.

Do I need to purchase my devices (phone and watch) directly from Telstra or Optus?

Optus expects both devices to be from the same service provider – all service providers are not supported. Telstra expects the phone to be on a Telstra plan. Both companies expect you to be an existing post-paid customer to avail this facility.

Do I have to pay extra for calls and messages made from the watch?

No. All calls and messages will be charged according to your current post paid plan and added to your monthly post-paid bill.

Do I have to pay extra for any mobile data used from the watch?

No. All mobile data accessed from your watch will be added to your usual monthly post-paid plan. If you have a monthly data limit, any data used will be deducted from your data limit in next month’s billing cycle from activation. For example, let’s say your monthly limit is 1GB, and you activate your plan on 4th October. You use 200MB from your watch in October. Then you will have 800MB data available for use from your phone in November. Say you use 500MB data from the phone. Even though you only have 300MB left, you can use additional data up to 1GB from your watch. Say you use 400MB. Then you will have 600MB data to be used from your phone in December.

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?

Yes. You can dial 000 anytime from your watch once your cellular service has been activated.

Are any cellular services not supported on the eSIM?

Yes. MMS and Voicemail are not available on your watch. These services are only accessible through your phone.

Can I use the watch to make calls on International roaming?

No. Currently, both Telstra and Optus do not support International roaming for One Number and Number Share. Your watch will not be able to connect to a cellular network outside Australia even if your phone can. International roaming charges will apply to your phone usage only.

Is there a minimum contract period for this service?

No. You can cancel either service at any time via the Watch app on your phone.

Can I use the same phone number on multiple watches?

No. One phone number can be paired with one watch only. You can switch between multiple watches using the Watch App on your phone, but only one watch will be cellular connected at any given time.

Will my watch use cellular services if it is within Bluetooth range from my phone?

No. The watch will automatically switch to Bluetooth connection when it is within range from your phone. It will switch to cellular only when it is out of Bluetooth range from your phone.

Can I expect the same call quality when using my watch?

This depends on the area where you are receiving the call. Apple Watch 3 does not support 3G networks. Your phone automatically switches between 3G and 4G depending on your location, but the watch can’t. You will experience call drops or missed calls if you are in a 3G coverage location.

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?

If your watch is lost or stolen, anyone can access your cellular network and any sensitive app data stored on your watch. To prevent misuse, you need to cancel your eSIM subscription immediately through the Watch app on your phone. Otherwise, any calls or data usage from your stolen device will be charged to you.

 

Sources:

 

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.