Business Technology

Friday 22 September 2017

Apple's new 4G Watch can't be used with EU roaming

Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new Watch Series 3 comes with one significant limitation: its LTE (4G) can’t be fully used when you roam in the EU.

While we’re waiting for an official response from Apple, the issue appears to have cropped up on an Apple-themed Reddit thread.

One person (with the username ‘learnjava’ on Reddit) claims to have brought the matter up with Apple support staff.

He wrote: “I asked about the little roaming note on the product page, the answer was as follows… The watch will not support roaming. At all. For Europeans that means your country only, even after the recent (June) law about European roaming freedom.”

He went on to elaborate on Apple support staff’s purported response.

“There is no way to use a European watch with eg a US carrier. The hardware might support identical bands (but even then way different than what we are used to from iPhones) but the service rep told me that it is not clear when and if at all it will be possible to change countries. Could be a hardware limit.”

This is an interesting tweak in the launch of the service because Europe has just outlawed mobile roaming surcharges. In theory, this would mean that any LTE service could also be used at no extra cost across an EU border.

However, the roaming rule does not mean that operators or other companies are obliged to offer roaming services. It simply means that they cannot impose surcharges if they do facilitate roaming services.

The reason for the non-roaming clause is not yet clear. It may be a hardware restriction. Or it could be that the billing model between Apple and the local operator is tricky to mesh with conventional inter-operator agreements.

Whatever the reason, it looks unlikely that your Apple Watch 3 will be able to stay connected, independently of your iPhone, outside your home market.

The main appeal of the new Watch is that it lets you make calls, get messages and stream music with no iPhone around. Apple built a digital SIM card into the Watch Series 3, allowing it to piggyback off the same mobile subscription that your phone has, even when your phone’s not around.

The SIM move means that runners, walkers and cyclists can do their daily routines without needing to take a phone with them.

It also means that running out of battery on a phone doesn’t mean an inability to be in touch.

However, to use the mobile service will mean paying an additional tariff to an operator, even though you’re already paying a mobile bill for your phone. The mobile contract must also be on the same operator as your existing phone.

However, while operator deals are in place in the UK and other European countries, in Ireland the company is only selling a GPS version (€379) until an operator comes on board to support the 4G version.

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