With rivalry looming, EE introduces 4G contract sharing and pre-pay options to the UK

As it said it would a few months back, British mobile operator EE will on Thursday double its 4G speeds for users in 12 U.K. cities. However, that wasn’t the only major announcement the carrier made on Wednesday.
Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Faster 4G — People who have already signed up to EE’s 4G services, or do so before September, will get a free speed boost up to a theoretical maximum of 150Mbps (that’s 24-30Mbps on average in practice). However, after September it will charge higher prices for higher speeds.
  • Shared plans — After July 17, customers will be able to add up to 4 extra devices to their 4GEE plan, from £12 ($18) a month per phone or £5 a month per tablet.
  • Pre-pay — EE is introducing the U.K.’s first pay-as-you-go 4G mobile broadband, starting at £15 a month for 2GB of data, with the ability to pay an extra £3 for each additional 500MB chunk up to a maximum of £30 for 10GB.
  • “Cash on Tap” — EE is also setting up a mobile contactless payment service, with major chains such as McDonalds(s mcd) on board to accept it. Mastercard(s ma) is the financial services partner here.
  • Latest generation of Wi-Fi — EE’s also a fiber broadband provider these days, and it’s releasing a plug-and-play 802.11ac Wi-Fi router called the Bright Box 2.

All this must be viewed in the light of the impending arrival of other 4G players in the U.K. EE got to go first as it was allowed to “refarm” its existing 2G spectrum but, following a spectrum auction at the start of this year, rivals such as Vodafone(s vod), O2(s tef) and Three will soon show up on the 4G scene.
EE is the first U.K. operator to introduce the idea of charging different amounts for different tiers of mobile broadband speed. The practice is not unknown elsewhere in Europe, though – Vodafone, for example, does the same in Germany.
As EE CEO Olaf Swantee put it:

“Our new double speed 4G technology means that we have the biggest, fastest and best network in the UK, and now the equal fastest in the world [equalling South Korea’s SK Telecom]. With our superfast network, we have a unique opportunity to introduce a new era of customer-friendly pricing models based on speed, and we’ll be revealing further details of this later this year.”

As for the contract-sharing aspect of EE’s announcements today, the attraction is debatable as customers could get separate pay-as-you-go 4G data plans for just £3 a month more per phone. That said, unified billing may prove a draw for families and small businesses.
Now we just need to wait for those 4G rivals to show up, to see how EE’s pricing stands up outside of a de facto monopoly situation. Bear in mind that the U.K. is Europe’s most competitive and therefore price-sensitive mobile market, and precedent suggests we may soon see a race to the bottom.