Mobile network operator EE is trying to capitalise on its 4G headstart in the UK, unveiling a boost to network speeds, pay as you go broadband for tablet and laptop users, as well as a smartphone payments tie-up.
EE was the first major operator to launch 4G services in the UK and is keen to capitalise on that lead before its rivals launch their own services. Vodafone has already said it will be launching its 4G service in the late summer after spending £802m on spectrum in Ofcom's recent auction.
As such, EE is trying to secure as many customers as before that happens. In June, the mobile operator said that more than 500,000 customers have signed up for its 4G service, but it's aiming for one million customers by the end of the year.
As part of a series of announcements, EE says it will double the average network speeds for its 4G users in 12 UK as of tomorrow, giving it a theoretical top speed of 150Mbps, although average speeds are more likely to be around 24Mbps to 30Mbps.
EE says the higher speed service will be available to all existing 4G customers in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Nottingham, and Sheffield.
The operator has also unveiled a range of pay as you go 4G mobile broadband plans for tablet or laptop users.
Prices for the pay as you go broadband start from £15 for a data SIM that comes preloaded with 2GB of mobile data for 30 days, or the same allowance on an Alcatel L800 dongle for £50. Customers can also top up their data from £3 for 500MB, up to £30 for 10GB.
EE has also unveiled a deal with MasterCard that will allow customers to make payments via smartphone, but while it says the service can be used at 230,000 retail outlets nationwide — including McDonald's, Boots, and Greggs — it only works on three NFC smarthphones: the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE and S4, and Sony Xperia SP. Such services have met with little interest from consumers thus far.
Emeka Obiodu, principal analyst at Ovum, says that these updates from EE are clearly aimed at giving it a competitive edge as other players launch LTE later this year.
"For EE, offering pay as you go LTE is a tactic to corner the market for sporadic users of mobile broadband. It is safe to assume that other telcos will want to lock customers into some sort of contract and so EE could tap this opportunity for a while," Obiodu said in a statement.
"The doubling of LTE speeds in several cities across the UK is a nice headline. But, on its own, we don't believe it is a standout game changer as telcos struggle to sell LTE as a speedier network."
Instead, this will give EE a base from which to offer 4G packages tiered on speed and usage that are far acceptable to customers.