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Following Verizon, AT&T offers early upgrades, too

Jan. 21, 2014 at 3:41 PM ET

Another day, another wireless company offering early upgrades even earlier.

AT&T customers on a two-year service contract can now switch to its Next program, which allows early cellphone upgrades, after only six months. Previously, customers under contract had to wait until their agreement was up in order to switch.

Customers who sign up for Next will be eligible to receive a new device upon the switch. As before, Next customers can choose to pay for the phone in either 12- or 18-month installments. After that period, they will be eligible for another upgrade.

AT&T’s move to let contract customers make an early switch to Next came late Monday, several hours after Verizon said it will allow early phone upgrades after only 30 days through its own Edge program – as long as customers have paid off 50 percent of the cost of the phone.

The back-and-forth moves are part of a larger carrier fight over device upgrades, termination fee reimbursements and other incentives aimed at retaining customers.

The fight broke out last year, when T-Mobile upended the traditional wireless model by eliminating contracts in what it calls an “uncarrier” approach: Customers buy their own phones and pay lower monthly bills. Shortly afterward T-Mobile unrolled Jump, which lets customers upgrade their phones twice every 12 months for the same price as a new customer.

AT&T’s Next and Verizon’s Edge came out shortly afterward. The two programs work similarly: Instead of paying a lower price for a device under a two-year contract, Next and Edge split the full retail price of the phone into monthly payments that are added to customers’ cheaper service bills.

The earlier upgrade to AT&T Next applies to customers who signed up for a two-year contract on or before January 18.

AT&T spokeswoman Emily Edmonds denied that the shorter Next timeline is a response to Verizon’s move.

“The answer is no,” Edmonds said. “This is business as usual for us.”

Julianne Pepitone is a senior technology writer for NBC News Digital. Previously she was a staff writer at CNNMoney, where she covered large tech companies including Apple and Google, as well as the intersection of tech and media. Follow Julianne on Twitter at @julpepitone or email her at julianne.pepitone@nbcuni.com.

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