AT&T and Verizon scramble to compete with T-Mobile's 'Jump' device upgrade plan

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Remember when T-Mobile's actions didn't really faze the bigger carriers? Looks like those days are over. AT&T is chasing its former acquisition target with a new device upgrade plan similar the Jump program T-Mobile announced last Wednesday.

The new program, called AT&T Next, lets you trade-in your smartphone or tablet for the latest and greatest gadgets every 12 months. AT&T isn’t the only company following T-Mobile’s lead either; rumor has it Verizon will also be rolling out its own trade-in upgrade program in August.

AT&T Next basics

Starting Friday, July 26, Next will be available to new customers and existing AT&T patrons who are eligible for an upgrade. The program requires you to pick a device and a non-subsidized, contract-free service plan, but commit to paying a separate monthly payment for your device for 20 months. (Sound familiar?)

Under AT&T's Next plan, you could get a Galaxy S4 this year and a Galaxy S5 next year.

Payments are typically $15 to $50 depending on the device, according to AT&T. The Samsung Galaxy S4, for example, will cost $32 per month under the new plan.

After 12 months of device payments, you can either trade-in your device and upgrade to a newer device, complete with a new payment plan, or continue paying your first device fee for the full 20 months. If you trade-up for a new smartphone or tablet after 12 months, AT&T waives the remaining installment payments on the previous gadget.

Next requires no down payment, and numerous fees are also waived, including activation, upgrade, and financing. You can also pay off your device as soon as you want with no penalty. If you cancel your AT&T wireless service before the device is paid off, however, the balance you owe on the handset immediately becomes due.

Kiddie gloves

One small detail to keep in mind is that AT&T trade-ins require you to keep your devices in good and functional condition. In other words, don’t drop your iPhone on the pavement and expect to be able to trade-in a smashed handset.

It sounds like AT&T will be pretty firm with this detail as well. An AT&T spokesperson explained to TechHive that if your device is not in “good working condition,” you’ll be responsible for the full 20 months of payments. You can get around this, however, if you have AT&T’s mobile insurance by filing an insurance claim and paying the deductible for a replacement device. You will then have a fresh phone to trade-in when the time comes.

The biggest difference between AT&T Next and T-Mobile Jump is that the latter is designed to let you swap devices twice a year, while AT&T will only let you switch once a year. Jump also tacks on an extra $10 per month, while AT&T’s plan does not. But T-Mobile’s extra $10 not only lets you trade-in devices, it also acts as an insurance scheme protecting your phone from loss, damage, or theft.

Big Red huffing and puffing

Not content to let AT&T steal the T-Mobile spotlight, Verizon may also be working on a similar program called VZ Edge, according to leaked documents obtained by Droid Life. Details are slim about Verizon’s plans, but it looks like you will be able to upgrade to a new phone after the device is 50 percent paid off. The new plan also won’t require any upfront costs, upgrade fees, or a service contract, according to the leaked slide.

In April, Verizon cancelled its option that let customers upgrade to a new phone every 20 months. Several days after the plan change, Verizon unveiled a new Device Payment Program that lets you pay full price for a device in monthly payments over a 12-month period. That program requires you to pick a device that costs $350 or more and tacks on a $2 monthly financing fee for the duration of your payments.

VZ Edge appears to be an extension, or perhaps a replacement, of the current Device Payment Program. Verizon’s new plan is expected to go live on August 25, assuming the rumors hold true.

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