China’s early adopters who tried out Apple Watch Series 3 cellular connectivity with China Unicom are furious after connection failures and China Unicom’s passive reaction. The connection issue, however, seems to be China Unicom’s fault: they still have not gotten formal approval from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology for “one phone number multi-device (一号多终端)” business, essential to support Apple Watch Series 3 cellular connectivity.

Tian purchased the Apple Watch Series 3 through Apple’s official website and China Unicom’s SIM card to pair with it. To his disappointment, after pairing China Unicom’s data service with Apple Watch, he couldn’t receive any calls.

“It’s been two weeks. I called China Unicom seven times, no use. I’ve also visited two China Unicom stores, got a new SIM card with same number, but still no use,” he told TechNode.

Apple announced in its official news room that customers will be able to order Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular) beginning September 22 in China. At the beginning of the new Apple Watch Series 3 release, Apple said they would provide LTE cellular network via China Unicom in five areas in China, namely, Shanghai, Guangdong, Henan, Hunan and Tianjin on its official website.

Apple Watch’s network activation problem in China was first reported by Chinese media The Paper on September 23rd, saying a user that can not complete the real name authentication on Apple Watch 3. Only a week after Apple Watch Series 3 release, Apple’s official website has backtracked from its initial announcement and shows that China Unicom’s cellular network will be available later (今年稍后推出).

Apple’s official website states that China Unicom’s cellular network will be available later (Image Credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Series 3 users who purchased China Unicom SIM card failed to make phone calls using the watch and expressed their anger on Weibo.

“When I was buying the Apple Watch at Apple Store, it said Shanghai Unicom supports data service on the Apple Watch. Now that line is gone. So I’m definitely entitled to return the Apple Watch because it’s not working in the way Apple advertised it at the time point when I was placing the order. But the Watch is working fine, besides this issue, so I don’t want to return it,” Tian says. “If they haven’t tested it, they shouldn’t have advertised it.”

The reason behind the issue

Zhongguancun Online’s interview with a China Unicom’s staff (in Chinese) explains the issue. Apple Watch Series 3 uses eSIM independent cellular data, which required access to China Unicom’s “one phone number multi-device (一号多终端)”. However, China Unicom’s “one phone number multi-device” has only received “probationary” license, and did not pass the formal approval of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. China Unicom had no way to handle large-scale use of China’s Apple Watch Series 3 users, and had to immediately suspend the service.

Both Apple and China Unicom have not yet given the official explanation on the cause of the connection failure. China’s Apple Watch 3 users rage over China Unicom’s poor reaction to the people who suffered loss by purchasing China Unicom’s SIM cards.

“I’m just angry at China Unicom’s ignorance and incompetence in reacting and solving this simple issue. If China Unicom was not prepared for the service, they shouldn’t have offered it in the first place,” Tian said. “I don’t even want to use data service on Apple Watch 3 any more. So disappointed. I just want my SIM card back to normal service.”

Eva Yoo is Shanghai-based tech writer. Reach her at

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