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AT&T's decision to revise upgrade policy leave Sprint the only holdout

by Ken Hyers | Jun 10, 2013

AT&T announced June 09, 2013 that it would revise its handset upgrade policy, extending the duration before consumers can upgrade a phone at the lowest subsidized price from 20 to 24 months. The move brings AT&T’s upgrade policy in-line with Verizon Wireless, which made a similar move in April 2013, and aligns upgrades with its standard two-year contracts for postpaid customers.

AT&T’s decision to revise its upgrade practices comes in the face of continued high equipment costs, in particular due to its generous subsidies for Apple’s iPhone, which according to our Country Share Tracker (CST) service accounted for 60% of handsets sold in Q12013 by AT&T. By adjusting its upgrade policy, AT&T gains an additional four months in which to recoup the cost of previous subsidies. The move to revise subsidized upgrade policies by both AT&T and Verizon in the first half of 2013 is in contrast to that of T-Mobile, which has ended handset subsidies in favor of a payment plan which lets consumers pay off the cost of their handset over the course of their contract.

With three of the big-four US operators having made significant changes to their handset subsidy policies over the last few months, all eyes will be on Sprint to see if it changes its own upgrade policy, which still allows customers to upgrade their handsets after 20 months. If Sprint decides to follow the lead of Verizon and AT&T this year, it will likely make the move in early Q3, prior to the next major wave of new handset purchases by consumers that will come in the back-to-school season starting mid-August.

Strategy Analytics provides detailed breakdowns of vendors handset share for each of the big 4 Tier I US operators on a quarterly basis in its USA Handset Vendor Marketshare by Operator report, published in its Handset Country Share Tracker service.  The report provides detailed share and analysis across 16 vendors on a quarterly basis, and is a critical tool for operators, handset vendors, and distributors who follow the US operator and handset market.

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