AT&T is throwing a bone to existing customers eager to get their hands on a new smartphone. The carrier has announced that postpaid subscribers who were under contract as of January 18th can upgrade to a new device immediately for $0 down through AT&T Next. Upgrading early does come with one key requirement: customers must be at least six months into their current contract to be eligible for Next and its monthly installments. When the program initially launched this summer, it was only available to customers due for an upgrade or those adding a new line of service — everyone else had to wait. AT&T is now opening Next to more customers, a move it's positioning as a reward for their continued loyalty. It's also likely a move to keep customers from jumping ship to rival carriers like T-Mobile.
As for brand new subscribers (those who signed a two-year contract after January 19th), AT&T is shortening the wait for device upgrades to 20 months. The carrier has waffled on this timeframe somewhat; most recently, customers needed to go 24 months between subsidized upgrades. Before that, the wait had been 20 months. Then again, if you've signed a contract that recently, it's probably not too late to examine your options elsewhere.