mobile devicesJust days after T-Mobile launched a program enabling customers to upgrade their wireless devices more frequently, AT&T today announced a similar plan. But details of the two companies’ plans vary considerably.

AT&T’s offering, dubbed AT&T Next, enables customers to upgrade their smartphones or tablets as frequently as once every 12 months.

Technology doesn’t wait; why should you?” asks the narrator of an explanatory video on AT&T’s website.

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Under AT&T’s plan customers do not make a down payment on their device. Instead the cost of the device is spread over 20 equal monthly payments. There are no financing charges.

If people want to upgrade after 12 months, they essentially reset the clock, beginning again with paying off the device over a new 20-month period. Their monthly payment decreases if they do not upgrade for 21 months or more.

T-Mobile’s plan, dubbed JUMP!, enables customers to upgrade more frequently. But according to information on the company’s website, customers do make an initial down payment. If you do the math, T-Mobile, like AT&T, does not have a financing fee. Instead, customers pay the balance of the cost of the device over a 24-month period.

If the customer upgrades after six months, the T-Mobile website indicates he or she would make a new down payment and continue to pay for the remainder over the next 24 months – unless he or she upgrades again, in which case there would be another down payment and the counter would be re-set again for a new 24-month period.

Here’s a comparison chart:

AT&T Next / T-Mobile JUMP! Compared

Down payment Financing Fee Monthly Payments Frequency of upgrades
AT&T Next No No 20 12 months
T-Mobile JUMP! Yes No 24 6 months

The upshot is that neither plan appears superior to the other. An end user’s choice will depend on his or her personal needs and preferences, including how frequently he or she wants to upgrade, whether he or she has the money for a down payment, what device he or she wants, etc.

It is interesting to ponder whether AT&T had something like this in the works prior to T-Mobile’s announcement or whether it was thrown together in response to T-Mobile. All wireless carriers have been re-evaluating their business models in an increasingly competitive wireless market so AT&T may have previously explored the potential impact of various types of pricing plans, enabling it to put an offering in place quickly in response to T-Mobile’s move.

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