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ZTE jumps on lease-to-own trend for phones

ZTE is the latest phone maker letting customers pay for their device in instalments, provided they buy their phone directly from the company.

The Axon Pro from ZTE. Josh Miller/CNET

Don't call phone-maker ZTE behind the times.

The Chinese handset maker on Wednesday unveiled a lease-to-own payment plan for customers who want to spread the cost of buying an unlocked ZTE phone or other mobile device over several months. The payment plan, which extends to devices such as the well-rated Axon Pro Android phone and the ZTE Spro 2 smart projector, is expected to launch to online customers soon, although ZTE did not provide a specific date.

Leasing programs backed by smartphone makers have become more common as wireless operators move away from traditional two-year contracts and the device subsidies that come with those plans, and instead are requiring customers to pay full price for devices. Instead of signing up for a lengthy wireless contract or paying a lump sum up front for their handsets, ZTE customers can choose to pay off their phone one month at a time until they own the device outright.

The length of ZTE's lease can range from six to 24 months and is determined when customers apply for the lease through partner SmartPay Leasing. If you want to pay off your phone before your determined lease time, you can do so. If you want to upgrade your device, you can cancel your lease, return it to SmartPay Leasing, and lease a newer device.

Besides offering greater convenience, the new payment plan could land new customers for ZTE. As an online offering, the installment payment plan encourages customers to order their devices directly from ZTE's website rather than from wireless carrier partners, which include all the major wireless providers.

In addition to ZTE, other handset makers such as Huawei and Alcatel have made efforts to bypass carriers and sell directly to customers. In September, Apple introduced an iPhone Upgrade Program enables customers to get a new iPhone every year without the involvement of carriers as well. South Korean electronics giant Samsung is also reportedly planning to introduce a program that will lease its flagship Galaxy smartphones to customers in the US market.