iPhone 12 and the coming 5G carrier wars

Eli Blumenthal, CNET:

When it comes to the iPhone 12, AT&T is getting aggressive to both court new customers and keep existing ones locked in to its network. On Tuesday, the day of the latest Apple event, the nation’s third-largest wireless provider announced new deals tied to Apple’s latest device that enable both new and current customers to get the new iPhone for free.

To get the deal, new and existing customers will need to buy the device on an AT&T 30-month installment plan, subscribe to a recent AT&T Unlimited plan and trade in an iPhone 8 or later (or any device that AT&T values at $95 or more) in “working condition.” AT&T’s recent unlimited plans — called Unlimited Starter, Extra and Elite — are required to access the carrier’s 5G network, with those on older plans capped at 4G LTE.

5G is the Wild West right now. Different carriers, different experiences. And the vast amount of customers do not have a 5G phone, do not have a service plan that includes 5G data. The carrier war for these customers is just getting started.

Aggressive deals like this are even rarer at the launch of hotly anticipated new devices like the latest iPhones. Installment plans, however, are a good way to keep people tied to a network and push them toward newer plans. If you switch carriers before the 30 months are up, the discounts stop and the remaining balance owed becomes due (though currently most carriers will pay off any installment fees owed when you switch).

If you plan on buying an iPhone 12, especially one that preorders this week, might be worth your time to check with your existing carrier to see if there’s a deal for you to stay.