Sprint suspends Upgrade Now device upgrade program

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) has canceled--at least for now--its Upgrade Now program, which allowed customers to pay extra money to get upgrade pricing for devices earlier than they otherwise would have.

Sprint spokesman Lloyd Karnes confirmed to FierceWireless that the program is "currently not available." However, he said to "check back later to see if the program has been reinstated," indicating that it may not be suspended indefinitely.

The program is one of many changes Sprint and other wireless carriers have made recently to their handset upgrade policies. The changes have, according to some analysts, helped boost carriers' financials and margins by cutting down on the amount of subsidies carriers pay when customers upgrade to new devices.

Over the past two years wireless carriers have made a number of changes to their handset upgrade policies. Specifically:

  • In April 2011 AT&T increased its smartphone early upgrade fee by $50.
  • In September 2011 Sprint announced it was phasing out its "Premier" loyalty program. A chief benefit of the Premier program was that subscribers could upgrade their handset at the fully subsidized price after 12 months of service.
  • In February 2012, AT&T doubled its one-time upgrade fee for customers who were due for an upgrade to $36, following Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), which did so in 2011.
  • And in April 2012, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) started charging a $30 upgrade fee.

The changes by Sprint come as the market braces for even more changes to device subsidies and upgrades next year. T-Mobile USA plans to move exclusively in 2013 to its "Value" plans, which do not offer traditional device subsidies and unbundle service costs from handset costs. Customers will be able to pay the full cost of their smartphones upfront or pay it off in monthly installments, in exchange for lower monthly plan rates.

For more:
- see this Android Central post
- see this Engadget article

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Sprint tinkers with Premier handset upgrade program