AT&T Upgrade Eligibility Questions Raised Ahead of Next iPhone

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Leaked photo of next generation iPhone

MobileCrunch speculates on some changes they've seen in the upgrade eligibility dates on AT&T's wireless site. One of their readers claimed that their upgrade eligibility date recently moved up from 11/21 to 6/21. Of course, the speculation leads them down various theories, though we suspect they are reading too much into it.

Upgrade eligibility has been a hot topic whenever Apple introduces a new iPhone, so it's no surprise that customers are already looking ahead in anticipation of a new iPhone release. Like most wireless carriers, AT&T subsidizes the cost of the iPhone when customers sign up for a 2 year contract. Because of this up-front discount, customers are expected to stay with the contract or alternatively pay an early termination fee. The "upgrade eligibility" date is simply the date that the customer is released from this obligation, and will again qualify for a new subsidized phone without penalty.

Last year, AT&T explained what factors go into determining how long before a customer becomes eligible again.

Importantly, we want our customers to better understand our wireless device upgrade program. Like most U.S. carriers, we offer a variety of phones that we sell below our actual cost when customers agree to sign service agreements. In general, the more a customer spends with us, the quicker they become eligible for a price break on a new device. For example, iPhone customers who spend more than $99 a month per line with us generally are eligible for an upgrade between 12 and 18 months into their contract.

So those who are paying the higher monthly plans will become eligible earlier. The earliest that AT&T offers iPhone 3GS customers a chance to upgrade without penalty is June 21, 2010. The significance of this date is simply that it is 12 months (to the business day) following the launch day of the iPhone 3GS.

Current eligibility dates are listed in your wireless AT&T account, though we caution getting too worried about it at this time. Last year, AT&T modified the eligibility dates at the last minute to accommodate more customers.

Apple is widely expected to announce the next iPhone at WWDC 2010 in June.

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