This story has been updated. A previous version incorrectly stated a restocking fee would be applied to trade-in devices. The restocking fee only applies to devices returned within the return period.
After last week teasing the dawn of “What’s next in wireless,” AT&T late Monday announced its new ‘Next’ plan, that will give its customers the option of upgrading their devices (smartphone or tablet) every 12 months.
Subscribers who opt for Next—which will be available starting July 26—will skip the down payment and activation fee, instead paying a monthly installment. Monthly payments will range from $15 to $50 depending on the device—a Galaxy S4 is $32 per month, for example, which figures out to $640 after 20 months. When the 20 months is up, the payments stop and the customer owns the device. But if the customer decides to upgrade after 12 months, they trade in their device and the process begins again.
New and existing customers who are eligible for upgrades can use Next and the service applies to all device in AT&T’s portfolio. At any time during the 20 months, customers can feel free to pay off the balance on the device and any customers who cancel service before the 20 months is up will be handed a bill for the remaining balance on the device.
Devices need to be in good working order after 12 months to be traded in toward upgrades.
Despite a few similarities, AT&T Next is still very different from T-Mobile’s "Jump" early upgrade plan, which the carrier last week announced. With Jump, customers pay a $10 monthly fee for the right to trade in their device up to twice a year. If T-Mobile customers opt for the upgrade, they trade in their current device and T-Mobile wipes out the remaining payments. Then customers pay the upfront cost on a new device and start another 24-month cycle of payments.
With both T-Mobile and AT&T rolling out new options for early device upgrades, Verizon might not be far behind. Droid Life is pointing out leaked slides that indicate Verizon could be introducing a service called VZ Edge that would allow customers on the carrier’s 12-month device payment plan to upgrade once they’ve paid off 50 percent of the cost of their current device.
Away from the device side of service, Sprint last week made an announcement guaranteeing unlimited talk, text and data for life, with plans starting at $80 per month. Those unlimited plans launched yesterday but it’s highly unlikely Sprint will come out with an unlimited device upgrade plan to match.