AT&T follows Verizon, lengthens device upgrade period to two years

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It would appear that AT&T iPhone users will have to wait a bit longer to upgrade to their next handsets, as the carrier announced on Sunday that it will be extending its hardware upgrade cycle to a length of two years.

Beginning June 9, AT&T customers with contracts ending on or after March 1, 2014 will have their upgrade qualification time extended to 24 months, the carrier said on its official blog. Prior to the policy shift, customers were eligible for an upgrade after only 20 months.

Previously, Engadget reported on the switch, citing a leaked memo provided by an anoymous source.

The shift, which applies to all devices sold by the telecom, will also affect all new AT&T customers. However, the new upgrade period will not affect Corporate Responsible Users with contractual upgrade terms.

AT&T notes the policy change will bring upgrade cycles in alignment with its two-year long contract terms. Verizon, AT&T's chief rival, made a similar decision early in April, noting that doing so was in keeping with the way consumers buy devices.

"In alignment with the terms of the contract," Verizon said in a statement at the time, "customers on a two-year agreement will be eligible for an upgrade at 24 months vs. today's early upgrade eligibility at 20 months."

It seems AT&T is following Verizon's lead, as the two carriers' policies will take effect over the same time frame. Verizon is making the change for contracts starting in January of 2014, while AT&T's shift is scheduled to follow just two months later.

Consumer desire for the latest and most advanced mobile devices is what draws them to the larger carriers, but those devices are expensive. Consumers typically do not want to pay the full cost of an iPhone or similar device up front, so carriers offer subsidies which they must recoup over the life of a contract. Competition in the wireless segment is increasing, though, and the carriers are now more interested in making sure that their customers stay with them as long as possible.

Apple's iPhone is AT&T's best-selling smartphone and has been for some time. The carrier sold 4.8 million iPhones in the March quarter. In that same quarter, AT&T added 296,000 new contract subscribers, though most of those were new tablet customers, and lost 69,000 phone customers.