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AT&T Forced to Slash Prices In Face of T-Mobile’s Price War

Phillip Dampier February 3, 2014 AT&T, Competition, T-Mobile, Video, Wireless Broadband No Comments
AT&T has returned fire in a price war with T-Mobile designed to retain its customers and attract new ones.

AT&T has returned fire in a price war with T-Mobile designed to keep its customers and attract new ones.

AT&T Mobility has cut $40-100 a month off the price of plans targeting some of its most lucrative customers — families with multiple phone sharing a lot of data.

Under its newest offer announced Saturday, a family with four smartphones sharing a 10GB data allowance will see their bill cut from $200 to $160 a month effectively immediately. Any family plan customer with 10GB or higher usage allowances will also see their bill cut by $40-100 a month.

The price cut comes in response to fierce competition from T-Mobile, which has repeatedly bashed AT&T in its advertising campaigns. Now a customer with three smartphones will find AT&T’s new plan price just $5 more than what T-Mobile charges, although T-Mobile’s offer includes unlimited data.

“This is about being competitive,” said David Christopher, chief marketing officer for AT&T Mobility. “We feel we have the best network and the best value in the marketplace,” Christopher said.

AT&T is also offering a $100 bill credit for each new line added or for activating each new tablet, mobile hotspot, or AT&T’s wireless home phone service until March 31.

The contrast in pricing between AT&T, hounded by T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, which has largely ignored the price war, is striking. Verizon Wireless charges up to $125 more a month for its family plans with identical data allowances and features.

att-plan-comparison

The new offer requires no contract, and phones must be purchased at full price either up front or in installments. Existing, on-contract customers with subsidized phones will pay more.

AT&T has also stepped up customer retention efforts, handing out hundreds of dollars in service credits to some threatening to leave for T-Mobile.

Customers are receiving an average of $55 a month in service credits over the next year by tweeting complaints to AT&T’s social media team: @ATTCustomerCare and @ATT

Those on family share plans with several lines of service complaining that AT&T is charging too much and are planning to switch to T-Mobile are being offered discounts such as $70 a month in service credits for the first six months and $40 a month for the next six months after speaking to an AT&T representative arranged through Twitter.

Customers get a less charitable response in AT&T stores where some employees have dared customers to switch to T-Mobile claiming they will be unhappy with the slow data service and coverage areas. In short, no service credits or retention offers are available from in-store representatives. Customers must appeal to AT&T’s social media team to get a discount.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT New Mobile Share Value Plan for Families 2-1-14.mp4

AT&T explains the new pricing for their Family Share plans. (1:27)

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AT&T’s Promotion Backfires; T-Mobile Exploits It In Press Release With Fake AT&T Quotes

Phillip Dampier January 29, 2014 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, T-Mobile, Wireless Broadband No Comments

att tmo war

A new promotion from AT&T that matches T-Mobile’s offer to pay any early termination fees incurred from switching carriers has backfired, to T-Mobile’s amusement.

In full-page newspaper ads appearing this week, T-Mobile says AT&T just made switching to T-Mobile risk-free, because if customers don’t like T-Mobile’s service, AT&T will foot the bill to switch them back:

T-Mobile recently announced they would pay early termination fees if customers broke up with AT&T and traded in their device for a new one at T-Mobile.

Now AT&T has made that offer essentially risk free. Because if anyone isn’t happy with T-Mobile, AT&T will pay to switch them back. Who says AT&T doesn’t have heart.

The bad news for AT&T though, is once people switch to T-Mobile and experience the fastest nationwide 4G LTE network in the country, lower service costs and fewer restrictions, they won’t switch back. But let’s not think about that. Let’s just thank AT&T for being so darned nice.

Not satisfied with that missile shot across AT&T’s bow, T-Mobile also issued a press release titled “Americans Everywhere Celebrating As AT&T Dismantles Death Star,” that includes fabricated quotes from AT&T’s executives:

BELLEVUE, WA — Jan. 28, 2014 —T-Mobile US, Inc. (NYSE: TMUS) today announced that pretty much everyone at the company is overcome with emotion and still kind of processing the decision by now-ex-rival AT&T to leave the dark side, step into the light, and join hands in supporting the Un-carrier consumer revolution.

“Call it an awakening,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, “but I felt it was time to really stir things up and put the customer first for a change. And by “customer” I’m referring to our former customers who switch to T-Mobile, because our current customers don’t really qualify.” De la Vega said that the new T-Mobile switching offer was custom designed to entice its millions of contract customers to go ahead and give T-Mobile a try. “If for any reason you don’t love T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network, which is now faster than ours[i], we’ll actually pay you up to $450 to come back to AT&T, I kid you not.”

Ok, De La Vega didn’t actually say that, but he might as well have. Thanks to AT&T’s apparent change-of-heart and incredibly generous $450 T-Mobile customer buy-back campaign, insane numbers of its very own customers and even families of AT&T employees are enjoying a risk-free, zero-cost opportunity to switch to the Un-carrier. If customers making the switch are not completely satisfied with T-Mobile and its state-of-the-art nationwide 4G LTE network (now fastest in the U.S.), AT&T will cover the costs for customers switching back to their own slower network, up to $450 with trade-in. Details of the new AT&T offer can be found at att.com/att/switcherpromo.

“Wow. I mean … wow,” breathed John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile. “I guess we all have moments of doubt. You know? Like, can the darkness ever be defeated? But that they’ve singled us out in this way is just so affirming. I guess we must be doing something right. I mean, if AT&T can change, it feels like anything’s possible.

“It’s kind of like that scene where Darth Vader’s lying there and Luke helps take off his helmet,” Legere continued, “and you see that, okay, sure, Darth Vader’s pretty ugly, but he’s human after all.” [....]

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T-Mobile Introduces Do-It-Yourself ‘Break-Up Letter’ Service for Your Existing Carrier

Phillip Dampier January 21, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, T-Mobile, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment

T-Mobile is helping customers end their bad relationship with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, or one of a dozen smaller wireless phone companies with a do-it-yourself break-up letter customers can generate and send to their current carrier.

“Breaking up is hard to do, so we’ll help you dump your old carrier – right now,” says the T-Mobile Facebook page. “No messy goodbyes, shouting matches or drama here.”

You can cut ties by clicking various phrases most applicable to your feelings and generate a letter that might look something like this:

break up letter

 

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Before Being Lured Away from T-Mobile With Promises of $450 from AT&T, Read the Fine Print

switchAT&T is offering T-Mobile customers — and only T-Mobile customers — up to $450 to switch their wireless service to AT&T, but is the switch actually worth it? A close inspection of AT&T’s fine print suggests some customers might want to think twice.

According to AT&T, beginning Jan. 3, under the limited-time offer, T-Mobile customers who switch to AT&T can trade-in their current smartphone for a promotion card of up to $250, which can be used toward AT&T products and services.  Trade-in values will vary based on make, model and age of the smartphone, but many of the latest and most popular smartphones will qualify for a value of $250.  T-Mobile customers can receive an extra $200 credit per line when they transfer their wireless service to AT&T and choose an AT&T Next plan, buy a device at full retail price or activate a device they currently own. The “Next” plan offers customers a chance to upgrade to a new device every year under an installment plan that divides the retail price of the phone over 20 months.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN The Most Dangeous Man in Wireless 1-8-14.flv

The Wall Street Journal’s ‘Digits’ explores the open marketing warfare between AT&T and T-Mobile. (3:34)

Although $450 sounds like an outstanding deal, some Wall Street analysts that usually panic when a company seems to be giving away the store, are still sleeping well at night.

“It’s not as great an offer as it appears on the surface,” Michael Hodel, equity analyst at Morningstar tells MarketWatch. “The fine print is critical.”

  1. Not every smartphone will qualify for the $250 “promotional card.” Only the latest model smartphones showing no signs of wear and tear are going to earn full value. Customers with older feature or basic phones will not qualify for anything at all. Customers may be able to get just as much selling their old phone themselves.
  2. AT&T is not offering a cash rebate. The value of the “promotional card” and the $200 ‘switch from T-Mobile’ bonus can only be spent on AT&T products and services. The promotional card will help defray the cost of buying a new smartphone from AT&T (which may not have the best price) and the $200 bonus will appear as a credit on a future AT&T bill.
  3. By accepting the $200 bonus, customers give up any device subsidies, an important distinction if you want an Apple iPhone. AT&T’s device subsidy on this phone is higher than $200.
  4. AT&T has tighter credit standards than T-Mobile. Customers with spotty credit may be asked to put down a deposit with AT&T before the company will take your business.
Legere

Legere

AT&T argues its offer will benefit T-Mobile customers by giving them access to the larger coverage area of AT&T’s wireless network and more widespread 4G service. But AT&T customers pay higher prices for access to that network. A T-Mobile customer is more likely to be sensitive to the price of the service — one of the strongest marketing points T-Mobile has in its favor. Most customers unhappy with T-Mobile’s less robust coverage tend to cancel service at the end of their contract (or earlier) and switch to either AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

According to an October report from MoffettNathanson Research, a typical T-Mobile family with 3-5 lines on a single account usually save around $50 a month off AT&T’s prices. That represents $600 a year in savings.

T-Mobile’s scrappy and aggressive marketing has had an impact, particularly on AT&T. Just a few years earlier AT&T tried to buyout T-Mobile in a consolidation move rejected by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. After the merger collapsed, incoming T-Mobile CEO John Legere has long forgotten whatever niceties existed between the two companies when they were trying to join forces. Legere has been on the attack against both AT&T and Verizon Wireless all year, and the effort is clearly beginning to pay off as T-Mobile adds customers.

Last year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Legere called AT&T’s network “crap” on stage. So when Legere crashed AT&T’s party at this year’s CES convention, still sporting his pink T-Mobile t-shirt, AT&T’s security guards threw him out.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN The Most Dangeous Man in Wireless 1-8-14.flv

CNN calls T-Mobile’s John Legere the most dangerous man in wireless, for exposing “disgusting” AT&T and Verizon’s over 90% gross margin on their wireless services and their consumer unfriendly business practices. (2:41)

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AT&T, Verizon Wireless Resist “Kill Switch” for Stolen, Lost Smartphones

Klobuchar

Klobuchar

After months of fruitless discussions with cell phone carriers, the U.S. Senate is moving closer towards legislation that would stop phone companies from blocking “kill switch” technology that could disable lost or stolen phones, discouraging would-be thieves.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) sent letters this week to Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile asking the carriers to do more to protect customers from phone theft.

Klobuchar is concerned wireless companies may be blocking cell phone manufacturers from enabling anti-theft technology customers could activate to disable missing phones and prevent unauthorized access or reactivation without the customer’s consent.

“Mobile devices aren’t just telephones anymore – increasingly people’s livelihoods depend on them,” Klobuchar said. “That’s why we need to do more to crack down on criminals who are stealing and reselling these devices, costing consumers billions every year. The wireless industry needs to step up to the plate and address these thefts, and make sure consumers have the most advanced security technology at their fingertips.”

The technology is already widely available internationally and has dramatically reduced smartphone theft by eliminating most of the resale value of the expensive devices, which are rendered useless once the phone is disabled.

Apple has contractual control over its products unlike most cell phone manufacturers.

Apple has contractual control over its products unlike most cell phone manufacturers.

But American carriers have so far refused permission to allow manufacturers like Samsung to introduce the feature in North America. Apple has successfully introduced a “kill switch” on many of its latest devices thanks to favorable contractual language that limits outside interference with the software Apple develops for its wireless devices. Other manufacturers are generally required to bow to carrier demands.

“I think that this is motivated by profit,” San Francisco district attorney George Gascon told CNN. Gascon reported he had seen e-mails from carriers that rebuffed Samsung’s efforts to introduce the technology in the American market.

Companies like AT&T claim that a “kill switch” feature could be exploited by hackers and make restoring service extremely difficult. But manufacturers and proponents of kill switch technology dismiss that argument, claiming the process is easily reversible once a customer enters a correct name and password. Critics believe carriers are motivated by the potential loss of millions from the sale of insurance plans, replacement phones, and the increased revenue earned from the reactivation of stolen phones.

With more than 1.6 million smartphones stolen or lost annually, carriers sell more than $800 million of replacement phones worth at least $500 each. Wireless phone companies also profit selling insurance plans priced at $7 or more monthly that offer free or discounted, typically refurbished cell phone replacements. Most customers never use the insurance plans, earning providers an extra $84 a year in revenue per customer.

Without kill switch technology and other theft prevention measures, the incentive to steal valuable smartphones continues to increase. As the price of sophisticated smartphones continues to increase, they are a prime target in street crime incidents. In San Francisco, 67% of robberies are related to mobile devices, according to the police department. Ten percent of phone owners have had a phone stolen, according to a Harris poll.

For now, the industry has only agreed to develop a voluntary database of phones reported lost or stolen. But participating carriers are largely American, allowing crooks to bypass the list by exporting phones overseas where they are quickly reactivated.

Klobuchar wants carriers to go on the record about kill switch technology, and her letter requested a formal response to three questions:

  • Whether companies received offers from handset manufacturers to install “kill switch” technology;
  • Have companies introduced the technology and, if not, why not;
  • How companies will introduce such technology in the future.
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Kill Switch Smartphones 11-20-13.flv

CNN reports American cell phone companies aren’t interested in allowing customers to remotely disable their lost or stolen cell phones. (0:43)

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T-Mobile Needs More of the Public’s Airwaves; Reportedly Seeks Deal With Verizon to Get Some

tmobile“Use it or lose it” is the policy under which the Federal Communications Commission licenses scarce, publicly owned airwaves, but in practice companies warehousing unused spectrum can sell it off and make a handsome profit.

Reuters today reports T-Mobile USA is exploring a spectrum buy from its rival Verizon Wireless to bolster wireless data services to effectively compete against Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.

A source told Reuters the deal is in the early stages and could involve the purchase of Verizon’s unused “A” Block 700MHz spectrum, ideal for long distance and indoor reception. Verizon chief financial officer Fran Shammo earlier said the company was not going to sell its unused spectrum at “fire sale” prices and recently rejected an offer deemed to be too low. One analyst estimated the value of Verizon’s excess “A” spectrum to be as high as $3 billion.

They are coming.

T-Mobile, owned by Deutsche Telekom, told investors on Nov. 12 it was launching an equity offering to raise money for spectrum deals with a private, unnamed party. T-Mobile raised $1.8 billion through a sale of its common stock last week and offered $2 billion in bonds on Nov. 18 with the expected aim of funding future spectrum purchases.

Verizon acquired the spectrum in 2008, part of a broader auction that sold off frequencies formerly used by UHF TV channels 52-69. The “A” block is considered less desirable because of adjacent interference concerns in areas where a television station operates on Ch. 51. Those stations may not be there for long. The FCC is proposing to auction off UHF channels 31-51 to wireless companies in the future, reducing UHF TV to channels 14-30. Verizon’s “A” block licenses do not blanket the entire country, but can cover a number of major cities. Verizon Wireless deployed its LTE 4G network on its “C” block.

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Keeping Providers Honest: FCC to Announce New Crowdsourced Mobile Broadband Speed Test

fcc_appAre you getting the mobile broadband speeds your provider advertises for its whiz-bang 4G network? How do you know which carrier really delivers?

The Federal Communications Commission is hoping you can help them find out with a free Android app to be unveiled on Thursday.

The FCC has successfully used volunteer crowdsourcing before to keep wired Internet Service Providers honest through its “TestMyISP” speed measurement project for home broadband connections. When the first results were announced, an embarrassingly bad rating for Cablevision forced the cable company to quickly beef up its broadband infrastructure to match the speeds it promised customers.

Now the FCC’s new chairman Tom Wheeler hopes a similar effort will help the federal agency understand whether the promises wireless carriers make to customers are actually being kept.

With wireless broadband gaining in prominence, the FCC wants to do a better job monitoring a service most Americans use in some form while on-the-go. If providers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless are caught dramatically underperforming in coverage and speed, the agency may take that into account as part of its mission of regulatory oversight.

Consumers will also benefit from having an unbiased source that can offer regular analyses on the speed and performance of each carrier — useful information to have before being locked into a two-year contract.

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are among the carriers agreeing to take part in the speed test project.

The FCC Speed Test app will initially be available for Android smartphones. There are no details about the release date of an Apple iOS version of the app, but the FCC’s Mobile Broadband Speed Test home page shows links (not yet active) for both versions of the app.

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Verizon and AT&T’s ‘Early Upgrade’ Trojan Horses: Flimflam – Pay Twice for Your New Phone

trojan horses

Now what: AT&T Next and Verizon Edge

Wireless carriers know that the average relationship between a smartphone and its owner is becoming shorter every day. Sometimes the relationship is over when a customer drops or loses their phone and needs a replacement. Others simply covet the next best thing. When a large enough contingent of customers is willing to open their wallets and let their money fall out, what’s a poor wireless company to do? Ignore the pile of twenties falling to the floor? Not on your life.

AT&T last month announced it was dumping its 20-month early upgrade offer, following Verizon (again) which announced it was pulling the rug out on a similar plan in April. ‘Customers should wait a full 24 months before expecting a new subsidized phone,’ said both companies.

Then came scrappy T-Mobile, the company AT&T originally wanted to put out of business. TMO decided to apply some European competitive logic in the U.S. market. No more two-year contracts with nasty termination fees, declared CEO John Legere. But no more “phone subsidy” either. In return for the end of contracts, customers should expect to pay retail price for their smartphone, but at least they can finance it through T-Mobile and have the somewhat affordable monthly installments added to their bill.

Now, in a remarkable about-face for Verizon Wireless and AT&T, the features and promotions diet imposed on customers that has eroded discounts, ended early upgrades, and slapped on early termination fees and opaque junk bill charges might be coming to an end. Early upgrades are back… for a price.

It is the first step in a major shift away from the North American wireless business model which traditionally offers customers cheap devices at massive discounts known as “device subsidies.” Since the early days of cell phones, wireless companies in the U.S. and Canada typically grant customers up to $350 off their phone purchase in return for a 24 month contract (until recently, 36 months in Canada). But wireless providers don’t just give away free money. Carriers get back every penny of this subsidy over the life of a cell phone contract by setting their plan rates artificially high.

T-Mobile isn’t giving away the store either, but at least everything is on sale. By jettisoning the subsidy, T-Mobile’s plan rates are dramatically lower than those offered by its competitors. That is no surprise because TMO no longer has to worry about recouping device subsidies.

When a customer walks into a T-Mobile store, they can buy the latest iPhone for $650 or agree to finance it at the retail price through the carrier. They can even buy it somewhere else. But T-Mobile’s new Jump plan also offers customers a chance to “jump” to a newer phone every 6-9 months with its trade-in program. For avid phone upgraders, the end effect is like leasing your phone. You will always have a device newer than the next guy, and you will always be paying a monthly fee for the phone itself. That looks a lot more attractive than trying to wait 24 months with AT&T or Verizon or frequently buying a new phone for north of $500 and trying to recoup part of the cost by selling your old phone on eBay or Craigslist.

Wall Street would normally punish carriers that do anything to shorten the 24-month traditional upgrade cycle because investors generally hate the whole concept of the phone subsidy. It costs companies liquidity to tie up money fronting that $350 discount and waiting up to two years to get the money back. But since T-Mobile can immediately book the full purchase price of a phone for accounting purposes and does not need to show the amount of money dedicated towards phone subsidies, analysts are not pummeling the stock into the ground.

As Stop the Cap! has written for more than a year, the wireless Golden Calf Wall Street really wants to worship is a cell phone plan priced artificially high to recover a subsidy providers no longer give. That’s a plan only Ma Bell and its shareholders could love. But nobody thought AT&T and Verizon Wireless could get away with it.

Silly people.

Introducing The Wireless Trojan Horses: AT&T Next from AT&T and VZ Edge from Verizon

yay att

Yay!: No more expensive subsidies and extra free money

AT&T yesterday introduced AT&T Next — the company’s response to T-Mobile’s Jump with AT&T’s usual gouging touch.

The highlights of the plan include:

  • No membership, activation or upgrade fees;
  • Buying a new phone under AT&T Next does not require a down payment, any finance charges, or early payoff penalty;
  • Customers can trade-in for an upgrade after one year or keep the device for 20 months and own it.

VZ Edge is still a rumor, but leaked promotional material indicates it is nearly identical to AT&T Next, with some important exceptions:

  • VZ Edge appears to be an extension of Verizon’s existing 12-month financing plan, limited to two devices at a time with a combined financed balance not to exceed $1,000;
  • First payment due at time of purchase with a recurring finance charge of $2 for each month there is a remaining balance;
  • No upgrade fees, no contracts, no pre-payment/payoff penalty;
  • Customer qualifies for their next upgrade after 50 percent of their current phone’s retail price is paid;

The leaked document does not include details about the disposition of your device when beginning an upgrade. Presumably, Verizon will accept it for trade-in or the customer can pay the remaining balance off immediately and own it.

What sets Verizon and AT&T far apart from T-Mobile are the prices of their service plans. Both AT&T and Verizon are effectively ending their subsidy program for those participating in these early upgrade plans. Customers must purchase (or finance) their next device at the regular retail price, which will range between $500-650 for most top-of-the-line smartphones.

Bunco

But neither Verizon or AT&T are lowering their service plan pricing, which was specifically designed to recoup a subsidy they are no longer providing. T-Mobile has appropriately lowered their plan pricing because the company no longer needs to win back that $350 subsidy they might have given you for the newest Apple iPhone or Galaxy device. That means you are effectively paying AT&T and Verizon twice for the same phone. It’s Wall Street’s dream come true: kill the subsidy and keep the money still being charged to recoup it. That amounts to as much as $29 a month out of your bank account and into theirs.

For now, only those itching for fast upgrades will get the pinch, at least until AT&T and Verizon decide this is the new and improved way to sell phones to everyone without a two-year contract. Now if we can only get AT&T and Verizon to rescind the contract taken out on our wallets….

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T-Mobile Set to Unveil Phone ‘Leasing’; Upgrade Whenever You Want

[Image: The Verge]

[Image: The Verge]

T-Mobile is expected to announce a new phone plan/club today called “Jump” that will allow customers to upgrade to the latest smartphones when they like, at a “new customer” price.

Details remain sketchy, but The Verge and TMONews report the new plan will continue T-Mobile’s efforts to break free from the traditional 24-month upgrade cycle for phones offered by other carriers.

Although new by North American standards, providing an “equipment plan” is not unprecedented in Europe. O2 offers a “Refresh” plan specifically targeting likely early upgraders who want the latest devices and do not want to wait through a two-year upgrade cycle.

In North America, customers buy the phone at a subsidized price and then pay back that discount subsidy over the life of the traditional two-year contract (through artificially higher cell phone plan rates).

When one buys a phone on the O2 Refresh plan in Europe, the customer signs up for a 24-month equipment plan which covers both the cost of the phone, the Refresh feature and an airtime plan which covers everything else.

Customers who want to upgrade early simply pay off the remaining balance on their equipment plan (at a rate lower than the usual penalty fee) and upgrade the device at a discounted, new customer price.

T-Mobile has done away with the two-year contract most North Americans are familiar with, so the Jump plan will be different from O2′s Refresh Plan.

The Verge suggests T-Mobile will introduce a type of lease-to-own financing with Jump.

Customers will presumably pay a monthly fee to join the Jump “club” offering early upgrades. When a customer wants a newer phone, they might pay the same upfront fee a new customer would, but instead of being forced to pay off the full remaining balance due on their old phone, they would return it to T-Mobile and start a new financing arrangement for their next phone. If a customer keeps the phone until it is paid off, the customer would presumably own it.

CNET reports customers will also be provided with handset insurance, important if T-Mobile intends to keep an ownership interest in the phone until it is returned or paid off.

The details are forthcoming, but such a “lease-to-own” arrangement would still leave plenty of room for T-Mobile to recoup their costs, depending on how much they charge for the “upgrade anytime” feature.

The downside is that some customers may decide it is easier to pay off the remaining owed balance on a traditional T-Mobile financing contract and sell the phone to a third-party instead of sending it back to T-Mobile.

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