T-Mobile slams AT&T, Verizon's 'deceptive' early upgrade plans

T-Mobile says its Jump program is materially different than early upgrade programs its larger rivals offer and it wants to educate the customer.

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sievert. Sarah Tew/CNET

In the latest wireless war of words, T-Mobile appears to be having the most fun.

In an advertisement debuting on Tuesday, T-Mobile takes a juicy quote from technology news site The Verge and runs with it. The quote, "AT&T's reaction to T-Mobile's transparency is to be more deceptive than ever," touches off a cheeky follow-up line from the company.

"We wouldn't call it deceptive, exactly. Calculating, sneaky, underhanded, maybe, but not deceptive," reads the ad (see below).

The advertisement is the most direct response yet to the early upgrade programs unveiled by AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Those plans came a week after T-Mobile offered up its own early upgrade program, called Jump. With all of the options providing customers the ability to change to a new phone, T-Mobile wanted to make it clear that there was a financial difference between its plan and what its larger competitors offer.

"What we're doing is materially different than these so-called upgrade programs," T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sievert told CNET on Monday.

Verizon Wireless and AT&T declined to comment.

The ad is also part of a broader advertising war that's been brewing. T-Mobile has become increasingly sharp and pointed with its attacks, but AT&T got into the mix last week when it claimed the nation's "most reliable network," a title long held by Verizon. Verizon offered up its response on Monday, a more subtle note touting its track record and investment in its networks.

T-Mobile, meanwhile, has been anything but subtle, particularly on the early upgrade issue.

"We feel strongly that these programs they've introduced borderline on the deceptive," Sievert said.

Sievert mocked AT&T and Verizon calling their early upgrade programs "a breakthrough," when it really only takes more money away from customers. T-Mobile argues that AT&T and Verizon's respective upgrade plans, Next and Edge, essentially charge customers twice for a phone. The customer first pays for the entire cost of the device, and then pays for a pricier service plan normally associated with a subsidized phone.

Before T-Mobile introduced Jump and switched to a no-contract offering, it cut the price of its service plan.

"We taking a big financial risk to give customers a breakthrough benefit," Sievert said.

T-Mobile has been far more aggressive in pursuing customers as the last-place national carrier. The company still battles the perception that its network and service is inferior, something it has tried to change with its more colorful promotional efforts.

Updated at 6:53 p.m. PT: to include a response from Verizon and AT&T.

Here's the ad: