Better late than never, Sprint is finally getting ready to enter the smartphone upgrade wars that T-Mobile launched this summer. But does Sprint's program differ from what its three main rivals are already offering?
Sprint is calling its early upgrade program, "One Up." Scheduled to launch on Sept. 20, it will work much the same way as competing programs. Of course, Sprint is positioning One Up as less expensive than the rest, claiming its Unlimited, My Way customers will save $220 each versus T-Mobile in the first year, more than $500 versus AT&T and nearly $600 more than wireless customers who opt for Verizon.
We turned to Jeff Kagan, a wireless analyst in Atlanta, to get his take on Sprint's entry into the smartphone upgrade wars. He told us he has been wondering when the United States' third-largest carrier would dive in.
"The wireless industry continues to grow and change. Keeping up with customer demands and competitive offerings is key," he said. "This is good news for Sprint customers who want to upgrade their devices once a year instead of once every two years."
Comparing Plan Details
Sprint's choice of names for its program is interesting, considering this stage of the carrier wars officially started when AT&T one-upped T-Mobile, the company it couldn't buy. T-Mobile debuted Jump in July, which charges consumers $10 a month for the freedom to upgrade their phones as often as twice a year after six months of service.
AT&T responded with Next, which rolled out on July 26. Customers pay monthly installments for the devices they select. After 12 payments, they can trade them in and upgrade to brand new devices or they can keep using the devices they have. After 20 monthly payments, the devices belong to the consumers free and clear. And there's no penalty for paying off the installment plan early.
Verizon followed up within days, offering Edge. Choose the phone you want and sign up for a month-to-month service plan. The full retail price of the phone will be divided over 24 months. You'll pay the first month at the time of purchase.
Sprint's plan works like this: A customer can choose a phone with no down payment and chip away at the cost in 24 monthly installments. If the customer leaves Sprint before his payment plan is up, he owes the balance. A customer can upgrade to a new phone by trading in his device once a year.
Keeping an Eye on Sprint
"I am sure this would have happened without the merger, but with SoftBank support, going forward I think we can expect more markets, more quickly," Kagan said. "Sprint has been turning up in market after market forever, just like AT&T and Verizon. It's just that they have been slower. So this is not unusual."
As Kagan sees it, the question is whether or not Sprint will pick up any momentum with market moves now that it has SoftBank backing. He's betting the answer is yes but like other analysts he's still waiting and watching.
"So congratulations, Sprint. We have our eyes on you hoping your pace of upgrading your network will pick up now that SoftBank is behind you," Kagan said. "Sprint should focus on the SoftBank angle to get as much leverage from the deal as possible. Let's see if they do that."