AT&T is making it easier for customers to upgrade to newer smartphone models more frequently, as long as they're willing to pay more.
The country's second-largest cellphone carrier says it's introducing an option called AT&T Next on July 26. Instead of paying, for example, $200 up front to buy a smartphone, customers would pay monthly installments of $15 to $50 on top of their service plan, depending on the device.
The new plan is designed to satisfy customers who want the latest and greatest devices. The traditional two-year service contracts get in the way of annual upgrades. Last week, competitor T-Mobile US Inc. introduced Jump, which provides device insurance and more frequent upgrades for $10 a month.
Under the AT&T Next option, customers can trade in their phone after a year and get a new one, paying no upgrade or activation fees. As an alternative, they can stop paying the installments after 20 months and keep the device.
AT&T says a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone, for instance, would require monthly installments of $32, or $640 over 20 months. At that price, the installment plan makes for a far more expensive phone than one bought for the usual $200 up-front fee.
A customer who trades the S4 in after a year also loses money compared with someone who buys the phone for $200, then breaks the contract after 12 months, pays the early termination fee and sells the phone to finance a new one.
With the installment plan, the customer pays $384 in a year. Without it, the customer pays $478 for the phone and for activation, termination and upgrade fees, but can make about $300 of that back by selling the old phone.AT&T Next does eliminate the hassle of ending a contract and finding a buyer.