Sprint launches 'One Up' handset upgrade program, following rivals

Sprint (NYSE:S), as had been rumored, joined rivals T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) in offering its own early handset upgrade program, called "One Up."

The carrier is promoting the offering with a $15 discount on its Unlimited, My Way and My All-in plans--to $65 per month from $80. It's not clear how long that introductory offer will last. Customers must choose one of those three plans to access Sprint's new One Up handset discount program. CNET reported earlier this week that Sprint was readying the program.

"Sprint is excited to offer the new Sprint One Up program and the great value it provides to customers," Sprint spokeswoman Kristin Wallace said. "Like any service or plan, we reserve the right to make changes to it in the future to best serve our customers."

The program is available today, though not currently to customers in Florida or Washington, D.C.

Under the One Up program, new and existing customers can buy an eligible smartphone or tablet and agree to 24 monthly installment payments for the device. For a limited time, customers can enjoy no down payment for the device, Sprint said (although it's not clear how long that "limited time" will last). After 12 consecutive payments, customers can give back their current device, as long as it is in good working order, and upgrade to a new smartphone or tablet. Sprint One Up is also available for smartphones on the My All-in plan as well as on tablets in combination with tablet plans starting at just $5 a month.

Sprint also said existing customers who meet upgrade eligibility requirements can participate in One Up. Sprint said customers who are not yet eligible for an upgrade but have had their current phone for 12 months can give back their current phone and sign up for One Up, provided they meet the credit qualifications, through Jan. 9, 2014, according to Wallace.

"Sprint One Up is the best value in wireless," Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said in a statement. "The new program gives Sprint customers the ability to upgrade every 12 months and unlimited talk, text and high speed data for just $65. And, unlike other carriers, Sprint guarantees the unlimited talk, text and data for life. No other plan can compare."

Sprint is the last of the fourth Tier 1 carriers to launch an early upgrade program; the other carriers launched their programs over the summer. Analysts generally agree that such plans are not necessarily the best deals for consumers but could boost carriers' margins, at least in the short term.

T-Mobile's handset upgrade program, called Jump, lets customers upgrade to a new phone every six months if customers finance the device through the T-Mobile EIP (equipment installment plan) and pay $10 per month per phone. The $10 fee lets customers upgrade their phone twice every year after the initial six month enrollment period has expired. T-Mobile says the $10 fee not only pays for enrollment in the Jump program but also is an insurance plan that will protect the customer if their device malfunctions, is damaged or is lost.

Meanwhile, AT&T's Next handset upgrade program lets customers upgrade their smartphones and tablets every 12 months if they agree to add a monthly installment payment to their bill. Customers buy a smartphone or tablet with no down payment and agree to pay monthly installments for the device over the course of 20 months. However, after 12 payments, if the device is in good working order, customers can trade it in and upgrade to a brand new device with no down payment, or can keep using their device and have no more payments after 20 months. If AT&T customers cancel wireless service, the remaining balance on the device becomes due.

Verizon's Edge program divides the cost of a phone over 24 months, and if after six months 50 percent of the retail price of the phone is paid, the customer can upgrade to a new device. The only caveat is that customers must be on a Share Everything data plan.

For more:
- see this release
- see this CNET article

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