Summary:

It appears that LTE subscriber numbers at EE — a carrier that still has a monopoly on 4G in the UK — are increasing at an accelerating pace. But rivals are set to launch their 4G offerings soon.

EE launches the UK’s first ever fleet of superfast 4G taxis in London and Birmingham

Half a million people have signed up for EE’s 4G services in the 7 months they’ve been up and running, the British carrier announced on Thursday. That’s the fastest LTE take-up in Europe thus far, the operator claims.

That’s kind of unsurprising, as EE currently has a monopoly on 4G in the UK — the carrier has been “refarming” all the lovely 2G 1800MHz spectrum it already holds for 4G services, and rivals will only enter the LTE game later this summer using other spectrum they bought at auction earlier this year. Still, EE’s numbers seem to show an acceleration in takeup, as less than 2 months ago it reported a total of 318,000 LTE subscribers.

That said, with those rivals (Vodafone, O2 and Three) about to launch their own 4G services, EE seems aware that it needs to evolve its own offering. So it’s about to start providing two new twists, namely shared 4G plans – for multi-device or multi-person use – and its first pay-as-you-go 4G plans, for tablets and laptops only.

Pricing and availability are yet to be announced, but EE is coming to the end of its 4G-exclusivity honeymoon phase and it would be foolish to make these offerings too pricey. Of course, it would be pretty dumb to make them too cheap either – no-one in the uber-competitive British mobile market wants a race to the bottom just as they spend billions upgrading their networks.

“By the end of June, we will have rolled out 4G across 55 percent of the population, and will continue to switch on new towns and cities,” EE CEO Olaf Swantee said in a statement. ” And with commuters spending an average of 75 minutes travelling every day, EE will also roll out 4G across the busiest airports, commuter routes and shopping centres across the UK.”

EE aims to have 98 percent population coverage by the end of 2014. The next towns and cities on its rollout list are Aberdeen, Bath, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cambridge, Ipswich, Middlesbrough, Northampton, Norwich, Poole, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Swansea and York.

Incidentally, EE says its average 4G download speed is 19.4 Mbps at the moment. That’s decent, but it’s worth noting that its average download speed across both 3G and 4G is a still-respectable 13.6 Mbps — bearing in mind that EE has around 26 million customers, 98 percent of whom will still be on 3G technology, that’s a handy reminder that modern HSPA networks can do a pretty good job too.

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