The Apple Watch was originally designed to pair with an iPhone, and so the first-generation Apple Watches—and even the Series 2 Watches—do not come with cellular connectivity. Meaning, you can’t insert any SIM card to the Apple Watch, and it can only connect to the internet when it is paired to an iPhone over Bluetooth.
However, since the launch of Series 3, Apple has released the GPS+Cellular variant of its Apple Watches, which utilizes the eSIM technology to connect to the cellular network and to the internet.
The use of eSIM in Apple watches instead of a traditional SIM card is mainly to save space so Apple wouldn’t need to include a SIM card tray, but there are also some advantages for you, too, like the ability to switch between cellular networks without needing to replace your SIM card.
Cellular Data for Apple Watch: Is It Necessary?
The main benefit of having an Apple Watch with cellular data enabled is pretty obvious: you can use the full functionality of the Apple Watch even when you don’t have your iPhone nearby. So, for example, you can run without having to pocket your bulky iPhone and can still use almost all of the Apple Watch’s full features.
In a GPS-only Apple Watch (the standard model without cellular) there are features like Apple Pay or fitness tracking that you can use without iPhone pairing, but with the cellular connectivity, we get much more.
For example, when running you can stream music from Apple Music or Spotify, so you don’t have to rely on the Watch’s local storage to store music. You can also get iMessages and emails on the Watch when you don’t have an iPhone around, which can be handy in times of emergencies.
Back when the cellular+GPS Apple Watch was first introduced with the Series 3, there were issues where the cellular Watch couldn’t make phone calls without the iPhone, but nowadays this is no longer an issue, as long as you get the right data/voice plan for your Apple Watch. Truphone’s Apple Watch eSIM cellular plan, for example, offers unlimited data, voice, and SMS for only $9.99/month.
To summarize, here’s what the cellular Apple Watch can do without iPhone but with cellular data available:
- Full SIRI functionality
- Phone calls and VoIP calls
- iMessage and email
- Internet-based audio streaming apps like Apple Music and Spotify
- Any viable apps that need an internet connection
Obviously, you can use features like Apple Pay, listening to saved music, view stored photos, and health and fitness tracking features without any internet connection at all (the GPS-only Apple Watch can also do this.
How To Set Up Cellular Data on Your Apple Watch
If you happen to possess a cellular-enabled Apple Watch, setting up cellular connectivity on your Apple Watch is fairly easy. Before we begin, make sure to prepare the following:
- You need an iPhone (at least iPhone 6S with the latest iOS) for the initial setup
- Make sure you have the latest software on your Apple Watch (if it’s brand new out of the box, it should be okay)
- Make sure to install a carrier settings update on your iPhone, if any.
- You have to subscribe to an eligible cellular data plan that supports Apple Watch. Both your iPhone and Apple Watch must use the same carrier. Obviously, make sure both are within the carrier’s network coverage. However, if you use the Family Setup feature to set up for a family member, you can use a different carrier.
Then, to set up a cellular plan on your Apple Watch, simply follow these steps:
- Open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone
- Tap the My Watch tab on the Apple Watch tab, then go to Cellular
- Tap Set Up Cellular
- Follow the instructions for your carrier here
Typically your carrier would provide a scannable QR code that you can use in this step, some other providers might also have their own App where you can set up the Apple Watch’s plan directly.
Once the data plan is activated, your cellular Apple Watch will automatically switch to the most reliable wireless connectivity available to ensure power efficiency. So, it will automatically pair with your iPhone over Bluetooth when it’s nearby (the most power-efficient option), connect on an available and recognized Wi-Fi network, or cellular (the least power-efficient option).
When the Watch connects to a cellular network, the cellular button on the Apple Watch screen will turn green, and the green dots on top of it show the cellular signal’s strength. If this cellular button is white, it means that your cellular plan is active, but your Watch is currently using Wi-Fi or iPhone connectivity.
Changing Carriers On Your Apple Watch eSIM
Since your Apple Watch is using an eSIM technology, you won’t need to switch to a new SIM card when switching between different carriers. However, keep in mind that unless the watch was set up for a family member via the Family Setup feature, both your iPhone and Apple Watch must use the same carrier. So, if you want to change your carrier, you have to change both.
To do this, simply switch the carrier on your iPhone (if your iPhone is still using a traditional SIM card, this will mean changing your SIM card, then:
- Go to the Apple Watch app on your iPhone
- Go to the My Watch tab, then go to Cellular
- The Apple Watch should automatically switch to the carrier that your iPhone is currently using. If not, you can tap Add a New Plan then follow the onscreen instructions depending on your new carrier. Contact your new carrier if necessary for this step.
Keep in mind that cellular roaming on your Apple Watch would not be supported outside the carrier’s network coverage area.
eSIM technology on the Apple Watch provides so much more versatility for consumers, especially in the ability to easily switch between different carriers without us needing to physically remove and replace the SIM card. This is especially useful for Apple Watch owners who often travel internationally. To make the most of the Apple Watch eSIM, make sure to get a suitable data plan that offers global coverage, like Truphone’s Apple Watch plans.