Last month, the Apple Watch Series 3 was finally launched in India through telecom operators Jio and Airtel. It’s Apple’s take on Dick Tracy and James Bond’s wrist watches. With it, you don’t need your phone on you to receive calls and messages.

This nifty feat is possible thanks to a technology called embedded SIMs (eSIMs). Unlike phones which use physical SIM cards to connect to cellular networks, the Apple Watch has an embedded microchip that essentially virtualises a SIM card’s functionalities. This allows it to connect to cellular networks.

The technology heralds a new dawn in wearables, but it isn’t without controversy.

In April 2018, telecommunications standards body GSMA delayed the implementation of eSIMs in the United States. This was due to the US Justice Department investigating possible collusion between carriers in the country to allegedly make it harder for users to port to other services. In October 2017, China suspended cellular connections to the Apple Watch, with reports suggesting that the government could not track users easily.

The government’s monitoring agencies may not be sufficiently prepared to deal with devices connecting to a cellular network without a physical SIM, says Mahesh Uppal, a director in New Delhi-based telecommunication regulations advisory firm ComFirst. “Because eSIMs may require modification in the systems the government has set up, ” Uppal adds.

India saw its own share of Apple Watch-related controversy. After the device’s launch in India, Jio alleged that Airtel was in “gross violation of its licence conditions”. It claimed that Airtel’s eSIM provisioning node, critical infrastructure for the technology, was not located in India. However, this spat had an unexpected silver lining—the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) was forced to acknowledge eSIMs. Days after the launch, it issued a set of guidelines for eSIMs to clear the air.

“Airtel and Jio are using their business and lobbying power to try and legalise a lot of (general telecom) services which were not allowed earlier,” says Abhay Saraf, managing director of Bushel Technologies, which develops software applications for the web and cloud.

However, the DoT’s guidelines and subsequent developments have gone beyond just opening the doors for eSIMs. They have created the perfect setting for India to embrace an Internet of Things (IoT) revolution of its own and the exciting possibilities that come with it. But as with any new technology, a host of challenges also face those hoping to cash in.

Clearing the path

Now, the idea of devices connecting to a cellular network the way the Apple Watch does is not new. We’ve seen this in Amazon’s partnership with Vodafone, where Amazon allows users to download e-books directly onto Kindle devices through Vodafone’s 3G network.


Shashidhar KJ

Shashidhar has been a journalist for over six years and has worked with The Times of India, The Financial Express and MediaNama, his last assignment. He is a fine bloke, and by that, I mean unusually quiet. Over the years, Shashidhar has written on several subjects. Banking, startups and technology, media, and also financial technology. He started his career on the desk at the old lady of Boribunder. At The Ken, Shashidhar works out of Mumbai and writes on telecom and financial technology. What he really wants to talk about though is his vinyl collection.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at detailing the error or queries.