South Africans will have to have a mobile contract from either Vodacom or MTN if they wish to buy and use a smartwatch with cellular capability in the country.
Cellular or LTE-capable smartwatches are useful in that they allow their users to connect directly to mobile voice, SMS, and Internet services without having to link to a smartphone or Wi-Fi network.
To do this, the smartwatch employs an embedded SIM (eSIM), which can also be programmed to use the same mobile number as a user’s phone.
Vodacom and MTN are currently the only two mobile operators in South Africa which support this capability on their networks.
It should be noted these smartwatches are not exclusive to the mobile operators and may be purchased from another retailer.
However, a MyBroadband reader and Vodacom customer recently said he was concerned that he would not be able to activate a Watch 3 Cellular smartwatch bought from one such retailer – the iStore.
The reader had found it curious that the Cellular versions of both the Watch Series 3 and Series 5 were selling for the same price as the GPS-only variants during a sale.
He believed this may be because the iStore was aware that the cellular models would offer no added value as they could not be used on Vodacom’s network.
He approached staff at a Vodashop to hear if his package could be migrated in order to use the smartwatch with his current number.
He was informed although they could attempt to migrate him to an open smart contract, there was no guarantee that it would work, and that they had little success in doing so previously.
MyBroadband asked Vodacom and MTN whether they would allow for use of supported smartwatches on their networks which were bought from other retailers, and what the activation process entails.
Vodacom was the first to introduce eSIM support for Samsung’s original Galaxy Watch in March 2019.
It later rolled out eSIM capability for Apple’s Watch Series smartwatches as well, and currently lists the following supported smartwatches:
- Apple Watch Series 3
- Apple Watch Series 5
- Apple Watch Series 6
- Samsung Galaxy Watch
- Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2
Note that there may be additional Samsung models which are supported, but are not available directly from Vodacom.
Of importance is that Vodacom offers a OneNumber service, which allows the customer to use the same mobile number on their smartwatch as on their mobile phone.
Vodacom said customers can purchase an eSIM-enabled device from any retailer and have it activated on the Vodacom network.
This will require an active (open line) Vodacom postpaid contract or signing up for a new one.
“The eSIM activation and value-added service subscription will be billed to that contract,” a Vodacom spokesperson explained.
However, the service is not linked to the contract term and may be activated or deactivated at any time.
Vodacom normally charges R25 per month for the OneNumber service, with an activation fee of R98.
Currently, however, no activation fee applies, while the service is also free for the first three months.
Vodacom said that plans were underway to introduce the technology on other tariff plans and for other devices.
This could mean that eSIM support may become available to prepaid customers on its network as well.
MTN introduced eSIM support on its network in South Africa in October 2019.
Originally only available on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 42mm, it now also offers the Galaxy Watch 3 LTE model on various contracts.
It recently announced the launch of eSIM support on several Samsung and Apple smartphones – including the Galaxy S20, Note 20, iPhone XS, iPhone XR, and iPhone 11 range.
It will also be adding eSIM connections for selected Apple smartwatches from 15 December 2020.
With regards to wearables, devices with an activated eSIM on MTN’s network will have their own number, although MTN has stated this number can be paired with a primary device to share the primary device’s data.
MTN confirmed customers can bring their Galaxy watch from another provider and it will provide them with a QR code to link their watch to an MTN contract or number.
They will be charged a once-off eSIM connection fee of R116, as well as a monthly subscription fee of R29.