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AT&T jumps on early upgrade bandwagon, but only for existing customers

Customers who were on an AT&T contract as of Jan. 18 or before are eligible to upgrade their device through AT&T Next after only six months.

Josh Lowensohn/CNET

AT&T is hopping on the early upgrade bandwagon too, but there's a catch.

The Dallas telecommunications provider said on Monday that customers who were on a two-year agreement on or before Jan. 18 are eligible to move to AT&T Next, which would allow them to upgrade to a new phone. The customers, however, aren't able to move to AT&T Next until after six months into their contract. Customers who signed up for a two-year agreement on Jan. 19 and after, meanwhile, will have to wait 20 months before upgrading through AT&T Next.

It's the latest move by a carrier to shake things up when it comes to contracts and early upgrades. Verizon Wireless said on Sunday that it would reduce the time before an upgrade to 30 days from six months, but required customers to have paid off at least half of their current phone. Today, Verizon introduced a cheaper $60 option for its Share Everything plan.

The moves are likely in reaction to some of the announcements T-Mobile has made, most recently its offer to pay off the early termination fees of whole families willing to switch carriers. T-Mobile also released early subscriber data for the fourth quarter, suggesting it took customers away from its rivals.

That AT&T's new offer is only eligible to existing customers suggest the carrier is keen on protecting its current customer base. The carrier is attempting to move customers into AT&T Next and its Mobile Share Value plans, which would keep them with the carrier. With such a restriction on new customers signing up for a two-year contract, the carrier is likely pushing new customers toward AT&T Next and Mobile Share Value plan as well.