You can turn off cellular on a Series 3 GPS + Cellular Apple Watch (or decide not to subscribe to a carrier plan), but there are limitations.

If you have your heart set on a steel Apple Watch Series 3, you're limited to purchasing one of Apple's GPS + Cellular models, rather than a GPS-only option. That's because Apple appears to be limiting its high-end models to its highest-end featureset — no discounted steel or ceramic watches for you.

Apple Watch Series 3 Cellular vs GPS-only: What's the difference?

But what if you don't really want LTE access, and instead want those sweet casings and larger storage space? Good news: You don't have to. There's no need to subscribe to a carrier plan to use the Apple Watch with a paired iPhone; you can just purchase it and never enable data.

From AT&T's website:

If you choose not to set up cellular service during the initial Apple Watch setup process, you can always go back later to the Apple Watch app on your iPhone and select Cellular under My Watch to sign up.

You can also choose to subscribe to a carrier plan but disable cellular data on the watch at any point if you want to save your battery; the Apple Watch has a Cellular button in the top left corner of its Control Center where you can turn LTE service on or off.

And, depending on your carrier, you should be able to stop cellular service at any point if you decide you no longer need it. For example, AT&T in the U.S. requires a $10/month access charge to use data from your iPhone's AT&T Unlimited Plus, AT&T Unlimited Choice, or Mobile Share Advantage plans; to stop supplying data to your Watch, you can cancel that access charge at any time.

But what if my country or provider isn't offering the GPS + Cellular Apple Watch at launch?

Here's where it gets dicey, friends. If your country isn't offering a carrier that supports GPS + Cellular, that model won't be available in your country's store — period — until it gets a supported carrier.

While you certainly can import a GPS + Cellular Apple Watch from a different country, there's no guarantee that it will work with LTE in your country. That's because the Apple Watch Series 3 (due to its very small size) only has a limited number of LTE bands built inside its casing. There are actually six different Apple Watch GPS + Cellular models (3 for 38mm, 3 for 42mm), each of which comes with a different set of bands depending on your carrier and countries. This places a hardware limitation for switching between countries (and also eliminates the option for roaming — at least for this version).

In order to potentially future-proof your GPS + Cellular Series 3 Apple Watch, you'd need to import from another country where the LTE and/or UTMS bands are the same as those your carrier uses.

Apple Watch model Country LTE Bands UTMS bands
A1860, A1861 U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico 2, 4, 5, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 25, 26, 41 800MHz, 850, 1700, 1900
A1889, A1891 Austraia, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, U.K. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 18, 19, 20, 26 800MHz, 850, 900, 2100
A1890, A1892 China 1, 3, 39, 40, 41 2100 MHz

iMore's Joe Keller has more on that subject in an explainer:

Your European Apple Watch won't work with a U.S. carrier

Other questions?


Let me know below.