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Next, AT&T’s new early upgrade program, suffers from the same problem as T-Mobile’s Jump: it’s annoyingly complicated and only a small subset of customers will get any benefit from it.

The program works like this:

  • Under Next, AT&T takes the full price of a new device (say, $650 for an iPhone 5), divides it by 20 ($32.50), and adds it to the price of your monthly bill.
  • After you’ve paid this fee for a year, Next starts all over again, allowing you to trade in your current device and upgrade to a new one (you can only keep you current device after you pay it off, unsurprisingly).
  • Basically, Next has two outcomes: Either pay the full price of the phone and keep it, or wait a year and trade the device in for an upgrade.
  • Next, in a nutshell, is replacing the two-year contract with 20-month, interest-free financing.

The problem with Next (and probably even Verizon’s rumored Edge program) is that, unless you’re the most hardcore of early upgraders, these programs aren’t really the best deal. In the case with the iPhone 5, customers will end up spending nearly $400 after 12 months for a phone that will go right back to AT&T. These are rental programs more than payment plans.

With Next, the idea of owning your current device is secondary to being able to have access to all the newest ones as soon as they’re released. If you like keeping your phone around after you get a new one, these programs aren’t for you.

Still, while Next isn’t the best deal for everyone, it’s a good deal for someone — which is exactly the point. AT&T is trying to give its customers another option, which tends to be a good thing.

The bigger problem for most smartphone customers, though, will be fully grasping the numbers and rules of programs like Next. Even though this type of program is supposedly consumer-friendly, carriers are still bogging people down with dubious value propositions and the slippery language of fine print. Some things never change, I guess.

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