The new Apple Watch is mostly an iterative update over its predecessor, but for one major feature: LTE. The addition of cellular connectivity has been touted as everything from “nice” to “game changing,” but reviewers appear to have early issues in testing. I didn't run into any in my own testing, but the Verge reported some big hiccups connecting to the cellular network on the device.
An Apple spokeswoman confirmed the problem with TechCrunch, stating, “We have discovered that when Apple Watch Series 3 joins unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks without connectivity, it may at times prevent the watch from using cellular. We are investigating a fix for a future software release.”
The issue here seems to stem from the watch hopping on networks that you’ve enabled on other Apple devices like the WiFi. The wearable draws from the same database, so if, say, you’ve joined a hotel or library wireless network on your iPhone, the watch will spot it and connect. The feature is essentially enabled the same way it is on a phone — the device defaults to WiFi so users don’t tap into their cellular data every time they do something on their device.
The case of a captive network like the above that requires a password or other acknowledgement to sign in presents an issue. The absence of a browser on the watch means you can't go through the formal steps of connecting, so you're essentially in a sort of wireless limbo -- you're connected to the network, but you're not actually getting any data. The shortcoming is due, in part, to the watch form factor, which limits the user's ability to input information.
The reason this is more bug than feature, however, is the that watch can’t do both at the same time, so if it spots a familiar WiFi network, the LTE calling is dropped. That’s likely the fix the company is “investigating…for a future software release.”
Other LTE concerns have cropped up ahead of this round of Series 3 reviews, including some questions around international roaming. Specifically, the device is only designed to operate in its country of origin, so the watch will essentially operate as a non-LTE model when you travel abroad.
The issue likely stems from the relationships the company developed with individual carriers in order to enable call and text forwarding to the handset. Apple wouldn’t comment on whether it’s investigating a fix on that side.