When the Apple Watch Series 3 was released in September, it faced problems with its LTE capabilities. Now, the smartwatch is facing another problem. In China many Apple Watches have been intentionally cut off from accessing LTE connectivity.

When the Apple Watch Series 3 launched in China, its LTE features were made available through China Unicom, the state-owned telecommunications operator in the country. Just a few days after, new subscriptions for the LTE Apple Watch were terminated, while existing users appear to be unaffected, according to The Wall Street Journal (via AppleInsider).

Those affected by this issue are users who were able to subscribe on or after Sept. 28. Those who were able to sign up for an LTE Apple Watch between Sept. 22 and Sept. 27 are unaffected and they may continue using the LTE capabilities of the Apple Watch Series 3.

Analysts believe China’s government intentionally cut users’ access to LTE connectivity because it is concerned it won’t be able to track who is using an Apple Watch. This is because the smartwatch is using an eSIM, or an embedded SIM. According to the WSJ’s report, China regulates mobile phones and users must register their SIM cards under their real names with the network carrier.

With the new Apple Watch using an eSIM, which is embedded inside the device by Apple, carriers and regulators wouldn’t be able to use its existing identification system. Simply put, eSIM isn’t mature enough yet in the country and may not be capable of tracking people’s identity. This could be the reason why the Chinese government abruptly suspended the LTE capabilities of the Apple Watch Series 3.

But why is the Apple Watch Series 3 using an eSIM in the first place? An eSIM allows users to switch to another network carrier with a new plan without having to remove and replace a physical SIM card; changing carriers happens through software. Apple also uses physical eSIM cards for its iPad Pros, while Google uses the same technology for its brand new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 smartphones under Project Fi.

The use of an eSIM is simply more convenient to users who don’t want to be tied down to a single mobile carrier. Unfortunately, this type of convenience may not be acceptable in China.

China Unicom said it only allowed LTE access “on a trial basis,” but didn’t specify when it might resume. As for Apple, the company said it is aware of the issue and is waiting on the carrier to provide them with more information. When users look at the Apple Watch Series 3 support site, all Chinese carriers, including China Mobile and China Telecom, are now labeled as “coming later this year,” as pointed out by MacRumors.

This new issue could reignite tensions between Apple and the Chinese government. The tech giant was  forced by the government to remove more than 400 VPN apps from the Chinese App Store, was told to tighten checks on live-streaming apps and Chinese app developers even reported Apple to local antitrust regulators, according to 9To5Mac.

Apple Watch Cellular LTE for the Apple Watch Series 3 has been suspended in China. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato