Frequent Wireless Upgrade Plans Require Customers to Choose Carefully

NEWS ANALYSIS: Not happy waiting for two years to upgrade your wireless device to the latest and greatest? Now three of the big four wireless operators offer new plans that allow frequent upgrades.

Perhaps you remember how things were with wireless carriers back in the mists of time when every company had a two-year contract and cell phones were paid for by subsidies to your plan? You know—back in January 2013. Since then there's been an upheaval in the way wireless companies sell their plans and their phones.

This happened because many users didn't want to wait for two years before they could buy another phone and they didn't want to pay the early termination fees that the phone companies demanded if they got new phone before the two years were up. First, T-Mobile announced that it was doing away with contracts that subsidized phones and instead started selling unlocked phones at a discount. You could buy those phones on an installment plan.

Then T-Mobile introduced Jump, which allowed customers to trade in their phones and upgrade any time they wanted. But, of course, nothing is ever that easy. There are rules with T-Mobile's plan, and we'll talk about those in a minute.

A few days after T-Mobile announced its Jump program, AT&T announced Next. The idea was similar to the plan T-Mobile has, but you can't upgrade your phones as often. A few days after AT&T rolled out Next, Verizon Wireless announced Edge, which is similar to Jump and Next. We haven't heard from Sprint yet, likely because that company has been involved with other things, including fending off a hostile takeover and selling itself to SoftBank.

Since then all three companies have been conducting an advertising war, each one claiming that the other two aren't offering as good a deal as their own. No surprise here. The reality is that each plan has its good points and weak points, and no one plan is right for everyone. The confusion was compounded when T-Mobile took some heat for insisting that it be paid for the phones that customers bought, even if they terminated their T-Mobile contract.

But in fact all three of these frequent-upgrade plans require that you pay for your phones. Again, this is no surprise. These wireless carriers are in the business of selling phones and providing network connectivity for profit, so of course you have to pay for what you agreed to buy.

T-Mobile's plan was the first to be announced and went live on July 14. With T-Mobile's Jump plan you are required to pay $10 per month for the device protection plan, which includes the right to upgrade, but also includes handset protection insurance.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...