sprintSprint today became the latest carrier to liberalize its device upgrade plan, following in the footsteps of AT&T and T-Mobile.

The move is a bit surprising coming from Sprint, considering that the company has resigned itself to losing customers until it reaches critical mass on its Network Vision network upgrade – and it suggests that the company is feeling the pain of increasingly aggressive promotions from its competitors.

Sprint’s offer, which will be available for an unspecified “limited time,” enables new customers on its Sprint Easy Pay Plan to pay for “eligible” wireless phones over a 24-month period after a down payment. They also can sell their old phone back to Sprint. Existing Easy Pay customers can upgrade their phone whenever they want but must first pay off their balance to receive a new phone.

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“We estimate that 85 to 90 percent of our customers are eligible for Easy Pay,” said a Sprint spokeswoman said in an email to Telecompetitor. “The eligibility requirements are based on good customer standing.”

Sprint’s offering is quite similar to AT&T Next and T-Mobile JUMP! device upgrade programs announced earlier this year.  Those programs also allow customers to make frequent upgrades and to pay for devices over a period of 20 to 24 months.

T-Mobile and Sprint charge a down payment, which AT&T does not. But in a high-profile speech at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, T-Mobile CEO John Legere disparaged AT&T Next, noting that the ongoing monthly service rates are higher than for equivalent T-Mobile services.

In today’s announcement Sprint steered people toward its Sprint Framily plan, which enables customers to obtain monthly service for as low as $25 by putting multiple phones on the same plan.

Sprint has been experiencing substantial customer churn since it closed down the network it acquired when it bought Nextel. The company has an ambitious plan to upgrade its network to ultimately support data rates as high as 1 Gbps and has already begun limited rollouts offering its Sprint Spark service at speeds of up to 50 Mbps.

Sprint executives last week said that when 70% of a market has been upgraded as part of its Network Vision initiative, they see a significant improvement in churn. Their comments came in a Q-and-A session at the Citi Annual Global IMT Conference in Las Vegas.

Sprint didn’t reveal the expiration date of the “limited time” for the device upgrade promotion, but it likely will occur when the company has made substantial progress on its network upgrade.

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