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Sprint confirms 'One Up' early phone upgrade program

As CNET previously reported, Sprint is following in the path of its fellow wireless carriers. Customers get a break on a service plan in exchange for the monthly payments for their device.

Screenshot taken by Roger Cheng/CNET

Sprint on Friday confirmed its own early-upgrade program, "One Up," that will allow customers to pay in monthly installments and change their phones once a year.

The program comes with an introductory offer of a $15 discount on its Unlimited, My Way, and All-In plans, one of which must be selected for One Up. The company noted that for a limited time, there would be no money down on the device. CNET previously reported that Sprint was preparing to offering the program.

Sprint is the last of the four major carriers to offer the program, which eschews contracts and makes consumers pay for their own devices in monthly installments. Customers can trade in their phone once a year for a new device, and continue to make monthly payments on the upgrade phone. One Up also works with tablets.

Under the plan, a subscriber could get an unlimited talk, text, and data plan for as low as $65 a month -- a better deal than what T-Mobile offers (its comparable plan starts at $70 a month). New customers, or existing customers who have owned their phone for at least 12 months, are eligible. Customers who are eligible for an upgrade can sign up, but don't have to trade their phone back in.

Like T-Mobile, Sprint is cutting a break on the service plan in exchange for the monthly payments for the device. Verizon Wireless and AT&T both offer early-upgrade and no-contract monthly installment plans, but still require customers to pay the full price for service. That's led to critics to note that the big two's plans aren't a particularly good deal.

Alongside the new plans, Sprint has had to battle the perception that its network lagged behind those of its rivals -- even smaller T-Mobile. For a brief period, T-Mobile had pulled ahead in its 4G LTE rollout, and while Sprint has made some progress, the company continues to be slow with its deployment in the bigger markets.

Sprint is launching the plan on the debut day for Apple's new iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C. The phones went up for preorder earlier on Friday, and the inventory already seems fairly limited.

The carriers are expected to have limited supplies of the gold and silver iPhone 5S, while there is expected to be a higher supply if the more affordable, plastic iPhone 5C.