AT&T Next to offer yearly upgrades as part of new monthly installment plan

Could it be that T-Mobile's efforts aren't going unnoticed in the wireless community after all? Less than a week after John Legere unveiled Jump -- and just hours after we heard rumors about Verizon's forthcoming upgrade program -- AT&T has taken the wraps off of AT&T Next, an upgrade program that begins on July 26th. Next takes some elements of Jump and the UnCarrier's monthly installment model and adds its own spice to it. So here's how it works: instead of paying for a subsidized phone or tablet and agreeing to a two-year contract, the retail price of the device gets split up into twenty separate monthly payments that get added to your standard bill (so yes, it's still technically a financial commitment -- just done in a different manner). You can pay off the phone faster, if you prefer, or just stick out the 20-month period. As an example, the Samsung Galaxy S 4 will cost you $32 a month on top of your standard wireless plan. While that doesn't sound like a bedazzling option, AT&T is hoping to sweeten the deal by letting Next customers trade in their current handset or slab after the first year of use and swap it out for a fresh model. This won't cost you anything up front, but it resets your monthly payment plan back to month zero.

We asked AT&T if these plans will come with any other hidden restrictions or if certain features will be shunned in favor of the traditional contract, and we were assured that they would remain the same across the board; we even confirmed that grandfathered unlimited data plans are still allowed on Next. As for other matters of fine print, all tablets and phones (including the iPhone) are available through the program, and you won't have to worry about upgrade or activation fees, though the standard credit check applies. Small business customers won't be able to take advantage of Next at the time of launch, but AT&T tells us that it's coming and we'll have it by the end of the year. It also appears likely that this isn't meant to be an eventual replacement to the existing two-year contract option. Your move, Verizon.

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AT&T Customers Can Get a New Smartphone or Tablet Every Year With No Down Payment With "AT&T Next"

No Down Payment, No Upgrade or Activation Fees, and All On The Nation's Fastest 4G LTE Network

AT&T 4G LTE Now Covers More than 225 Million People

Dallas, Texas, July 16, 2013

Today, AT&T* introduces what's next in wireless. Beginning nationwide on July 26, consumers can get a new AT&T smartphone or tablet every year with no down payment, no activation fee, no upgrade fee and no financing fees.**

With AT&T Next, customers purchase a smartphone or tablet with no down payment and agree to pay monthly installments for the device. After 12 payments, they can trade it in and upgrade to a brand new device - again with no down payment - or they can keep using their device and have no more payments after 20 months. AT&T Next is available for new AT&T customers or existing customers who are upgrade eligible.

"With AT&T Next, customers can get the newest smartphone or tablet every year with no down payment. That's hard to beat, and it's an incredible value for customers who want the latest and greatest every year," said Ralph de la Vega, president and chief executive officer of AT&T Mobility.

AT&T's 4G LTE network now covers more than 225 million people nationwide and 328 markets. AT&T's 4G LTE deployment is expected to cover 300 million people by year-end 2014, with nearly 90 percent of the build completed by the end of this year.

The great performance of AT&T's network continues to be validated by independent third-party testing. AT&T 4G LTE service was recognized as having faster average download and upload speeds than any of our competitors in PCWorld/TechHive's most recent 20-market speed tests - the second consecutive year that AT&T has ranked first overall. PCWorld/TechHive also ranked AT&T's as the fastest combination of 3G and 4G services in the 20 cities it tested.*** And AT&T was named America's fastest 4G LTE network in PC Magazine's 2013 Fastest Mobile Networks 30-market study - and also swept the top rankings in all six U.S. regions from coast to coast: Northeast, Southeast, North-Central, South-Central, Northwest and Southwest.****

AT&T Next is available for any current smartphone or tablet in AT&T's industry-leading selection of devices. The interest-free monthly device installments range from $15 to $50, depending on the device selected. For example, a customer purchasing a Samsung Galaxy® S 4 would have no down payment and pay $32 per month, in addition to the monthly wireless service plan they choose, with the option to trade in their device and upgrade after 12 payments or to keep using the device and pay off the installment plan in full after 20 months. There's no penalty for paying off the installment plan early.

AT&T offers a broad choice of device purchasing options. In addition to AT&T Next, customers continue to have their choice of all current options, including getting a discounted device with a two-year service commitment; paying full retail price for a device with no-commitment; getting a partial discount for an early upgrade after six months with a two-year service commitment; or bringing their own compatible device.