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.