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.