KGI: LTE Apple Watch to adopt eSIM, but lack cellular phone calling at launch

Revered Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities wrote in a new report to clients Wednesday that Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE is unlikely to support cellular voice calling at launch, saying the device is instead expected to focus on delivering data to users faster.

In the note, a copy of which was obtained by AppleInsider, the analyst speculates that an LTE-outfitted Apple Watch won’t support traditional phone calls as the Cupertino company is expected, in his mind, to focus on improving the “user experience of data transmission.”

OPINION: why a cellular Apple Watch will be a game changer

While this is a technically feasible feature, Kuo doesn’t expect it to be supported “this year,” indicating this is something Apple could enable later on via a watchOS software update.

“Technologically, while it’s feasible for LTE Apple Watch to support voice services and replace iPhones’ phone function,” he wrote, “we think it must first improve the user experience of data transmission (not via iPhone).” Of course, existing Apple Watch models support making and receiving phone calls over cellular networks, but only when a paired iPhone is nearby.

LTE could also pave the way for Android compatibility and boost shipments, something mentioned in my thinkpiece today, but Kuo doesn’t see Apple taking that step just yet.

Due to space constraints, the device will adopt the eSIM standard which doesn’t require a physical SIM and it will apparently share the same phone number with an iPhone, he said.

This apparently has two benefits, according to the analyst:

(1) negotiations with mobile operators will be more simple and the chances of cooperation with mobile operators will improve;

and (2), 3G connectivity can be scrapped in favor of LTE, simplifying the antenna design and facilitating internal design.

The note says LTE connectivity could be limited to specific markets/carriers. As per Bloomberg, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile will support and sell these LTE Apple Watch models in the US.

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Apple is also in talks with carriers in Europe about offering the cellular version of its wearable device. “The carriers supporting the LTE Apple Watch, at least at launch, may be a limited subset of those that carry the iPhone,” one of the sources told Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman.

It’s interesting that Kuo’s note predicts that Apple Watch Series 3 will use a baseband chip from Qualcomm, not Intel like Bloomberg’s report has indicated. That’s because Qualcomm’s LTE modem takes less space, consumes less power and is more efficient.

What are your thoughts on Kuo’s report?

Is the lack of initial support for direct cellular phone calling on Apple Watch Series 3 going to be a serious deal-killer, do you think? Will users care much given that FaceTime calling and third-party VoIP apps like Skype can easily act as a stand-in for cellular phone calls?

Let us know in the comments!