eddieThis is long. Bear with me, because I want you to UNDERSTAND these programs. I actually talked to people, instead of skimming short PR/News blurbs.

 

Last week, T-Mobile announced their JUMP! program, in which you could, for a fee, upgrade your phone every 6 months. JUMP! is up and running.
Today, AT&T, ahem, jumped on the bandwagon and announced that starting July 26 (the same day the Nokia Lumia 1020 comes out, oddly enough) they would start up AT&T Next, their version of basically the same thing, but with a 12-month cycle.

So how do they compare? I’m not going to go through all the variables, but I have 3 same-device comparisons, with AT&T’s lesser service plan (T-Mobile basically has one plan). This is all based on personal interviews I had with a local T-Mobile sales representative and a state-level AT&T PR representative.

First, the basics of each:

T-Mobile JUMP!   AT&T Next
Trade-in after 6 months
(24 months to own outright)
Trade-in after 12 months
(20 months to own outright)
Down payment based on device No down payment.
Monthly payment based on device
(Seem to be in the $5-$20 range)
Monthly payment based on device
($15-$50 range, phones & tablets)
Requires Equipment Installment Program (EIP) Hardware cost is the program
Does not include tablets Includes tablets
Does not cover current customers’
existing devices
Does not cover current customers’
existing devices
Trade-in policy: Must be in working order,
no chips or cracks in the display. Can use
insurance built-in to the program to
fix it, then trade-in
Trade-in policy: Must turn on/off,
LCD must be intact,
free of chips & cracks that make it
unusable, nothing broken (i.e. buttons),
battery must be present

If you are a current customer with either carrier, you need to be upgrade-eligible. So if, like me, you got a Lumia 920 on launch day, you’re not upgrade eligible (except for an iPhone) until November 2014. Yeah, you may be want to think about paying that ETF. Both of the plans are for new-device purchases.

And here’s something we AT&T subscribers have to wrap our heads around: this is NOT the same contract as we’re currently used to. In fact, they’re not getting rid of that plan. If you want to plunk down the down payment and commit yourself to 2 years, you can still do that. The Next plan is a DIFFERENT contractual obligation that says you pay such-and-such a monthly fee for the hardware for 20 months, and we’ll give you the option of trading it in (in good condition) after 12 months. When that 20 months is up, the fee goes away because you’ve paid for the device, and you’re only paying the service.

Let’s look just at the hardware program costs. We’re going to compare Apples to Apples (and Samsungs to Samsungs): the iPhone 5 16G, the iPhone 5 64G, and the Samsung Galaxy S4. WE WILL NOT CONSIDER TAXES AND FEES. These are based on your location, so your final tally will vary, and be higher, but these are the base numbers.

iPhone 5 16G
On T-Mobile, you’ll pay a down payment of $146.99, and EIP of $21/month, and a JUMP! fee of $10/month. So over 6 months, at which time you’ll be eligible for something new with your trade-in, you’ll pay $146.99 + ($21*6) + ($10*6) = $146.99 + $126 +$60 = $332.99. To make this a more even comparison, let’s say that you trade in your device for something with the same down payment and monthly EIP. That means that over 12 months, you’ll have paid $665.98. (Now, if you don’t trade in your device, and continue with it, you’re still on the hook for the EIP and the JUMP! fee, but you won’t have another down payment, so you will have paid $515.00 over 12 months.)

On AT&T, you’ll pay no down payment, and your monthly fee will be $32.50. So at 6 months you’ll have shelled out $32.50*6 = $195. But you need to do this another 6 months before you can trade in your device, so you’ll pay $390 over the year.

iPhone 5 64G
On T-Mobile, you’re down payment will be $344.99, your EIP is $21, and the JUMP! fee is $10. so over 6 months you’ll pay $344.99 + ($21*6) + (10*6) = $344.99 + $126 +$60 = $530.99. Again, assuming you’re good with the same numbers in 6 months, $530.99*2 = $1061.98. Don’t trade in, $1061.98-$344.99 = $716.99.

On AT&T, your monthly fee is $42.50. So at the end of 12 months you’ve paid out $42.50*12 = $510.

Samsung Galaxy S4
Starting with T-Mobile again, the down payment is $149.99, the EIP is $20, and the JUMP! fee is $10. So over 6 months, you’re paying $149.99 + ($20*6) + ($10*6) = $149.99 + $120 + $60 = $329.99. Trade it in and pay the same price, $329.99*2 = $659.98 over 12 months. Don’t trade it in, $509.99 over 12 months.

On AT&T, the monthly fee for the S4 is $32. After 12 months, you’ve invested $32*12 = $384.

So looking at hardware alone, it would seem that AT&T is cleaning T-Mobile’s clock.  But it’s actually fairly close. If you look at T-Mobile, you’re paying a down payment and then the rest of the FULL PRICE is divided over 24 months. With AT&T, the full payment is divided, with no down payment, over 20 months. You’re paying the same amount, just over different time periods. If you are the type of person who would like to trade in for a new device every 6 or 12 months, this is great for you. If you tend to keep your device, or as I do pass it down to family, it’s less so, and the 2-year contract may actually be better for you (or paying outright, if you can), because on T-Mobile you’ll be saving the $10 JUMP! fee, and on AT&T you’ll simply pay the one-time subsidized price, and commit yourself to 24 months (okay, less for iPhones).
Want me to prove it? Okay, the iPhone 5 16G. T-Mobile: $146.99 down + $21*24 = $650.99.  AT&T: $32.50*20 = $650.  iPhone 5 64G. T-Mobile: $344.99 + ($21*24) = $848.99. AT&T: $42.50*20 = $850. Samsung Galaxy S4. T-Mobile: $149.99 + ($20*24) = $629.99. AT&T: $32*20 = $640. You’ve just paid out full price, except add $10 for every month you’re on T-Mobile.

But we don’t PAY hardware alone, do we?  Here’s where there is the volatility: T-Mobile has one plan, with some add-ons, AT&T has several plans, with lots of add-ons. I’m going to try to keep this as feature-even as possible.

Here we go. Again, all fees are monthly, and not counting local taxes and fees.

T-Mobile:  T-Mobile has one base: $50. This covers unlimited talk, text, and data – with a caveat: you get 500MB of high-speed data – after that, you’re on Edge. You can up your high-speed data to 2G for an extra $10, or go truly unlimited for $20 over the base. We’ll say that you have one line, and you want 2G of data, so your plan would be $60.

AT&T: Their lowest plan has 450 minutes, 5000 nights and weekends, and no texting, no data. It runs $39.99. (We’ll also assume that you have no discounts. For example, my employer gets me an 18% discount on AT&T. I’m also going to assume you do NOT have a lower grandfathered plan.) To make this even, texting will cost you an additional $20, and a 3G data plan another $30. Insurance is separate, and is $6.99. So your monthly carrier charges have a baseline of $96.98.  Wow.

Over 12 months, because we’re looking at making things even here, T-Mobile’s carrier charges will base you $720.  AT&T chokes you for $1163.76.

So let’s add these up, and see what your final bill could really look like after 12 months:

iPhone 5 16G
T-Mobile $665.98 + $720.00 = $1385.98 (assuming you’ve traded in & same costs)
$515.00 + $720.00 = $1235.00 (if you didn’t trade in)
AT&T: $390 .00 + $1163.76 = $1553.76
iPhone 5 64G
T-Mobile $1061.98 + $720.00 = $1781.98 (assuming you’ve traded in & same costs)
$716.99 + $720.00 = $1436.99 (if you didn’t trade in)
AT&T $510.00 + $1163.76 = $1673.76
Samsung Galaxy S4
T-Mobile $659.98 + $720.00 = $1379.98 (assuming you’ve traded in & same costs)
$509.99 + $720.00 = $1229.99 (if you didn’t trade in)
AT&T $384.00 + $1163.76 = $1547.76

So overall, you’re paying a premium to AT&T. Can you adjust this? Absolutely. 300MB on data is $10 less, killing messaging will save you another $20, bringing your carrier charges to $66.98 per month, saving you $360.00 over 12 months. Is it worth it? You’ll have to answer that for yourself.

Remember the chart at the top of the article? AT&T’s Next plan INCLUDES tablets. According to the rep, here are the tablets available, and some examples of the monthly-over-20-months cost: iPad Mini 16G ($23/month), iPad Mini 32G, iPad Mini 64G, iPad 128G ($46/month), iPad 2 16G w/WiFi ($26.50/month), Asus Vivio, Samsung ATIV, Samsung Galaxy Note ($25/month), Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, Kindle Fire HD, Lenovo Idea.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Wow! Great in-depth look at the different options for early upgrades. I know you said these were figured off of the base plans. I’ll probably look up the cost of 3 or 5 GBs of LTE data on T-Mobile to get closer to the more common plans on AT&T. I wasn’t aware that T-Mobile throttled after 500MBs.
    Great article!!

  2. Thanks! The T-Mo rep gave me literature, and it only lists 500MB that comes with the $50 plan, 2G for $10, and unlim for $20. Nothing about 3 or 5, so that may be old, or regional.

  3. Says T-Mobile
    “AT&T has separated the cost of the phone and the rate plan,but they forgot to pass on the monthly service plan savings to the customer. Instead,customers are paying the same high monthly service bill, but with no device subsidy. That means customers in this program will essentially pay for their phone twice!”

    {Edited for readability – no spaces between many words}

  4. @JR The problem here seems to be the word “subsidy.” AT&T is saying that their rate is their rate. With the “subsidy” plan, you’re paying a partial of the whole, and saying “I commit to staying with AT&T for 24 months,” with AT&T saying, “We’ll absorb the rest of the cost of the device in exchange for a guaranteed revenue stream.”
    What T-Mo, others, and myself had been interpreting “subsidy” as was “You’ll pay a portion of the cost, then we’ll just roll the rest into the rate plan.” AT&T is saying that’s incorrect. This is why, they say, even if you BYOD, or pay for a device outright, you are paying the same service rate as those on the “subsidy” (really, should call it 2-year contract) plan.

    Like politics, it’s semantics. T-Mo is trying to use their definition to their advantage, and AT&T is trying to use theirs.

  5. And yes, I brought that up with the AT&T person. That’s how she explained it to me. I’ll refrain from saying if I like it or not.

  6. And as far as T-Mo’s claims about paying it twice, I disproved that math in the article. It’s simply FUD on T-Mo’s part. What, you don’t think American companies lie, cheat, & steal to stay ahead??

  7. With AT&T and Next, you are paying for the phone “twice”. Unless AT&T has been giving their phones away for years, a percentage of your monthly bill, $15 to $20, has gone towards the pay down on your subsidized phone. Now they want you to pay another $30+ per month in pay down costs. Where you used to “own” you phone after 24 months on a plan, now you need to pay an additional $600+ ($30 x 20) for the same privilege. But yeah, you can get a new phone after 12 months, if there is one available that interests you.

  8. “Unless AT&T has been giving their phones away for years,”

    That’s exactly what the AT&T person was trying to say: that they’ve been absorbing the prices of the phones, in exchange for a guaranteed revenue stream, so their claim is that they haven’t been rolling that into the rate. It’s up to us to believe that or not. Since they have NOT discounted BYOD or out-right purchased phones’ carrier rates, I find it makes more sense. To me, anyway. But maybe it also says that their rates are inflated across the board.

  9. My device is almost 3 yrs old. I paid $300 for the phone. Technically I have been eligible for an upgrade for more than a year. For the last year my bill is the same as it was for the first 2 yrs.
    I am losing money by not upgrading my device.
    Peace

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