So what's next in wireless? If you ask AT&T, it's a program that allows customers to upgrade to a new smartphone or tablet more frequently than with a traditional two-year contract.
AT&T just announced "AT&T Next," its new upgrade option that gives subscribers the ability to snag a new piece of mobile hardware once every 12 months. When a customer signs up for AT&T Next, he or she can pick up a new phone or tablet with no down payment and opt to spread the full retail cost of that device out over 20 months. After 12 months, the customer can then trade in that phone or tablet and upgrade to a new product. If the subscriber would rather continue on with his or her existing device, he or she can continue making payments on it.
AT&T Next has no extra fees beyond the monthly installment payments for the hardware. The amount of a device's monthly payments can be determined by dividing its full price by 20, meaning that a Samsung Galaxy S 4 would be $32 per month, a 16GB iPhone 5 would be $32.50 per month, and a Nokia Lumia 1020 would be $33 per month. AT&T also notes that Next is compatible with all of its existing data plans, including a grandfathered unlimited data plan. Finally, AT&T says that customers can trade in damaged smartphones, but that it may charge a repair fee to get the device back to good condition.
It appears that the "frequent upgrader program" is a hot new trend in wireless, as T-Mobile recently introduced a similar offering known as "JUMP!," while Verizon is rumored to be prepping its own variation. Upgrading to new hardware without a subsidy isn't something that everyone can afford, and so it's good to see these programs spreading among the major U.S. carriers and giving folks the opportunity to keep up with the latest and greatest in the mobile world.
AT&T says that its Next program will launch nationwide on July 26. The new upgrade option is actually undergoing testing in Las Vegas starting, though, so any consumers that call Vegas home and want to sign up for AT&T Next early can do just that. The AT&T Next pilot program may expand to other towns ahead of its July 26 launch, so interested customers may want to start checking in with their local AT&T shop in the coming days.
In addition to its announcement of AT&T Next, AT&T today revealed that its 4G LTE network now covers 328 markets and more than 225 million people across the country. The big blue operator says that it plans to cover 300 million people with LTE service by the end of 2014, with plans to hit 90 percent of that deployment by the end of 2013.