UK mobile operator EE (formerly Everything Everywhere) has launched a new range of tariffs that allow consumers and businesses to share their 4G plans across phones and tablets, or even with other people.
This is the first time a British operator has allowed multiple devices on a single contract. Pricing and availability has not yet been announced, but EE said that the new plans will provide a "great value solution" for customers.
The company has also announced a new pay-as-you-go mobile broadband offering, which allows customers to pay for 4G internet access on their tablets and laptops without signing up to a long-term contract. Customers will be able to choose from a range of data bundles.
"We recognise that with 4G, customers connect to the things they care about more frequently, across more devices. Our Shared 4GEE plans and Pay as You Go 4GEE Mobile Broadband will offer our customers more ways to do this," said EE chief executive Olaf Swantee.
The announcements were timed to coincide with the news that 500,000 customers are now signed up to EE's 4G service, just seven months after launch. This puts the company comfortably on track to achieve its target of 1 million LTE customers by the end of the year.
EE is currently preparing to roll out its "double-speed" 4G service (averaging 24-30Mbps) in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield.
This is expected not only to provide a better experience for customers engaging with HD videos and pictures, sharing large files, multi-tasking and tethering multiple devices, but also to improve working practices for content-heavy businesses.
By the end of June, EE intends its 4G network to reach over 55 percent of the UK population, and cover 98 percent by the end of 2014. As well as expanding to more key towns and cities, the next phase of EE's 4G rollout will target major commuter routes, shopping centres and airport hubs.
"Reaching 500,000 customers places EE among the leading European operators in terms of 4G subscriber uptake. This represents a remarkable turn-around for the UK, which is on track to become the largest European market by 4G subscribers this year," said Kester Mann, senior analyst operators, CCS Insight.
"EE's announcement puts further pressure on Vodafone and O2, which appear unable or unwilling to bring their own 4G service to market. It is realistic that they may not launch until September or October, which will be nearly a full year after EE.
"The longer EE retains a monopoly on LTE, the more opportunity it has to establish strong brand association with the new technology," he added.
Mann said that offering a prepaid LTE service brings the technology to a much wider addressable market, and the move to launch shared data plans is crucial to satisfying the demands of data-hungry customers and capitalise on the tablet opportunity.
"EE is beginning to look like a market leader that has remembered how to lead. However, we caution that the real proof of the success of the investment in 4G roll-out and customer acquisition will be higher revenue and increased profits," he said.