AT&T on Tuesday unveiled its own upgrade plan for smartphone or tablet buyers, AT&T Next, which will let them upgrade hardware once a year under certain conditions.
The carrier did hint a few days ago that a special announcement was scheduled for July 16, and now AT&T Next is official. The plan will be available to consumers starting with July 26.
Interested buyers will have to purchase a smartphone or tablet “with no down payment and agree to pay  monthly installments for the device.” After 12 payments, buyers will have the option of getting a brand new toy. They’ll have to trade-in the old model, and agree to buy the new one under similar conditions.
The carrier says that there won’t be any down payments, upgrade or activation fees with AT&T Next, and there won’t be any interest fees either. Moreover, if users won’t want to upgrade to new devices, they’ll be able to continue paying for their original device choices until they’re paid in full.
As for the per-month cost of the handset, AT&T says buyers can expect installments from $15 to $50. The current Galaxy S4 would cost $32 per month with no down payment, on top of the wireless service plan of the user.
Should users cancel their wireless service with AT&T, they’ll have to pay the remaining balance for their handsets or tablets. A new wireless contract will apparently be signed for 20 months with each new hardware purchase.
The move is most likely a direct response to T-Mobile’s JUMP upgrade plan, which will let users upgrade their handsets twice a year, as long as they’re ready to pay a monthly tax on top of their plan commitment and hardware installments.
But at the same time, AT&T Next will also compete against T-Mobile’s UNcarrier plans that let subscribers purchase new hardware without signing a new contract, although they’ll have to pay for the device in monthly installments after a down payment that varies depending on what device they choose.
Verizon is also rumored to launch a similar hardware upgrade initiative in the coming months.