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AT&T gives credit for old BlackBerrys

AT&T Wireless tempts owners of some older Research In Motion devices with up to $200 in credit when they upgrade to new device models and its GSM/GPRS network service.

AT&T Wireless is hoping to lure BlackBerry users into upgrading their devices and subscribing to its next-generation cellular service. The Redmond, Wash.-based carrier on Thursday launched a buy-back and leasing program offering up to $200 in credit to BlackBerry users who upgrade to a new device and sign up for its Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) cellular network. Owners of Research In Motion's older BlackBerry devices--the 850, 857, 950, or 957 models--can use the credit toward buying or leasing a BlackBerry 6710 or 6210 device from AT&T Wireless when they sign up for its GSM/GPRS service plan.

The amount of credit given depends on the device the company buys back and service plan a customer chooses. Those who sign up for both voice and data plans receive a higher credit.

Older BlackBerry devices run on the slower Mobitex wireless network. AT&T wants entice subscribers of that network to its next-generation 2.5G network, which provides voice and data services, international roaming, and the ability to send and receive messages and browse the Web.

"By providing customers with the flexibility of purchasing or leasing, coupled with a trade-in credit for their older devices, customers can now easily migrate from their less-robust, proprietary BlackBerry service to GSM/GPRS," Andre Dahan, president of AT&T Wireless Mobile Multimedia Services said in a statement.

The point of the program is clearly to drive adoption of AT&T Wireless' network, according to analyst Jason Tsai of equity research firm ThinkEquity Partners.

"AT&T Wireless is footing the bill for the conversion from Mobitex to GPRS," he said. "This is a positive for RIM because it will drive incremental revenue from hardware."

Tsai added that RIM receives better revenue per user from AT&T Wireless than Cingular, which maintains a Mobitex network, because of more favorable contract terms.

For AT&T, the deal also means better revenue opportunities on a per-subscriber basis. "By selling a BlackBerry with voice and data capabilities, a carrier is increasing their revenue by at least $35," Tsai estimated.

Devices can be leased for 24, 30 or 36 months for between $10 and $36.25 per month, depending on the terms of the contract.

AT&T Wireless had 21.1 million subscribers of its wireless services as of March 31. The trade-in program will end Sept. 30.