AT&T, Verizon tweak 'Next' and 'Edge' handset upgrade programs

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) made changes to their respective handset upgrade programs to let customers upgrade to new devices sooner. The responses from the two largest carriers come as T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) is offering customers up to $650 per line if they switch to T-Mobile and trade in their phones.

AT&T said customers on a two-year contract as of Jan. 18 are eligible to upgrade as part of the company's "Next" handset upgrade program six months into their contract. When AT&T launched Next last summer, it was only open to customers due for an upgrade or those adding a new line of service. Next lets customers get a device for $0 down if they pay for it in monthly installments. In December AT&T also introduced new "Mobile Share Value" shared data plans that are less expensive and are targeted at no-contract customers and those using Next or bringing their own phones.

Further, AT&T said customers who sign up for a two-year contract after Jan. 19 will be able to upgrade to a new device after 20 months. That used to be the timeframe for upgrades before AT&T shifted to a 24-month upgrade timeline in June 2013.

Meanwhile, Verizon said customers who want to take advantage of its "Edge" handset upgrade program can do so after 30 days. Previously, they had to wait six months to upgrade. Verizon said that eligibility will require news customers to pass credit checks, and that prepaid accounts are not eligible for Verizon Edge.

A spokesman for Verizon told CNET that "this is currently a promotion but we have not set an end date. It is in response to our customer's requests regarding this popular payment and upgrade plan...While it is important to understand what our competitors are doing, Verizon makes decisions based on what's best for both our customers and business."

Under Edge, customers are still responsible for paying off half the retail cost on the phone before they can upgrade. Additionally, Edge customers must use Verizon's Share Everything shared data plans.

Verizon Communications CFO Fran Shammo said today that Edge is generating less than 1 percent of the carrier's profitability and is not "a significant portion of our portfolio." That said, Verizon will remain competitive and will respond where and when it feels it must. "We will compete and respond accordingly when we need to," Shammo said.

For its part, along with its new Framily calling circle plan, Sprint (NYSE:S) has launched an installment plan for new devices. Called Sprint Easy Pay, customers can get a smartphone or basic phone for a simple down payment and 24 monthly payments with no financing fees. Additionally, as part of Framily, for $20 more per line per month, customers can buy up to unlimited smartphone data and the ability to upgrade their device every 12 months.

For more:
- see this AT&T release
- see this Engadget article
- see this The Verge article
- see this separate The Verge article
- see this CNET article

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Analysts: Price war sparked by T-Mobile could cut into carrier profits
T-Mobile fuels wireless pricing wars, but will Verizon finally take the bait?
T-Mobile ends ETFs by offering to pay up to $650 to switchers
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