How to add the Apple Watch Series 3 to your wireless plan

Apple streamlined the setup process for its new, always-connected wearable. Here's what you need to know.

Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
3 min read
Scott Stein/CNET

Until recently, setting up the Apple Watch was a simple process. Scan a bar code, agree to some terms, add a PIN and that was more or less it.

With the release of the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular, however, the process has a few extra steps. Namely, you now have to go through the process of activating your watch and adding it to your wireless plan. Don't fret — it's still mostly painless. Let's take a look at what's involved, as well as some additional tidbits you should know.

Apple Watch Series 3
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Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

To begin setup, power on the Apple Watch and place it next to your unlocked iPhone . A pop-up should display on your iPhone, asking to begin the pairing process.

Tap Continue, then use the camera to scan the swirling bar code on the Apple Watch. Agree to terms, and follow the initial prompts for basic setup.


Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Eventually, you'll land on a Cellular Setup page. Notice you don't have to add the watch to a cellular plan right now, or at any time, but if you shelled out the extra cash for the cellular version, you may as well take advantage of the various carrier promotions (more on that in a minute) until they run out.

Select Set Up Cellular and wait while the Watch app connects to your wireless carrier's account page. Log in to your account, and read through the terms. Accept any terms, and authorize an additional device on your wireless account.

On launch day, some users ran into issues setting up cellular connectivity. As I experienced, the final page to confirm I wanted to add my watch to my account would not load. I eventually had to force-close the app and start the setup process over again. If you run into problems, try doing the same or contacting your carrier for troubleshooting.

In the US, carriers are offering the first three months of service on your watch for free and waiving the activation fee. Carriers outside of the US where the cellular version of the Series 3 is available are also offering promotions, such as EE offering six months of free service in the UK. In Australia, Optus is offering 6 months free. Check with your carrier for promotion specifics. 

After accepting the terms and adding the watch to your account, the Watch app will take you through the rest of setup.

Same number

As you probably noticed during the setup process, your watch doesn't have its own phone number; it uses the same number as your iPhone. Any calls or messages you send when your watch is iPhone-less will use your number.

View connection type

When you leave your phone behind and aren't near a known Wi-Fi network, your watch will switch over to its cellular radio. You can use the Explorer watch face to view signal status directly on the watch face. There's a roughly 30-second grace period for the switch to occur, so don't panic if it doesn't connect right away.

Swipe up on a watch face to view Control Center where you'll find a new cellular signal icon. When the icon is white, the watch has cellular coverage but is connected to your phone or Wi-Fi network. If the icon is green, then the watch is connected to your carrier's network.

Disable cellular connectivity

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Tap on the tower icon to view another Settings page, where you can then disable the cellular radio portion of the watch. You can do this to save on battery life, or if you cancel (or haven't yet signed up) for a wireless plan.