Verizon offers 5G phones to get customers off old network

Wireless phone company Verizon announced this week a phone upgrade program that will allow new and existing customers to trade in their old devices for a new one that is compatible with the company’s 5G network.

The move is intended to compete against rival T-Mobile, which offered its own 5G phone upgrade incentive earlier this year, while also moving customers off Verizon’s older 3G CDMA network that is expected to be shut down in late 2022.

Starting immediately, Verizon customers with an eligible unlimited data plan can trade in their old phones — whether they’re working or not — in exchange for a new Apple iPhone 12 Mini or Samsung Galaxy S21 5G device.

New customers who sign up for an eligible unlimited data plan can also take advantage of the offer when they trade in a phone, with Verizon offering an additional $300 payment in the form of a virtual prepaid Mastercard to help customers cover the cost of switching from a rival service.

The incentive is being offered to consumer and business customers alike, Verizon said. The new phones will essentially be free for customers who are willing to stick with Verizon for a while: The cost of the iPhone 12 Mini or Samsung Galaxy S21 5G will be covered in the form of bill credits that will be applied to a customer’s account over the course of 24 months.

Those promotional credits will lapse if a customer decides to downgrade to an ineligible phone plan or leave Verizon for another carrier within the 24-month period, which essentially creates a contract between the customer and Verizon.

In addition to the free phones, Verizon is touting other benefits for customers of its unlimited data plans, including extended free trials to streaming services Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, Hulu, Discovery Plus and Apple Music. Those trials range from six months to one year, though some of Verizon’s plans will cover the cost of Disney’s streaming services indefinitely.

Plans also include extended free trials to subscription gaming services Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass.

Verizon’s cheapest unlimited plan, called “Start,” costs $70 a month with enrollment in automatic payments and paper-free billing. The company offers three other unlimited tiers with various perks at a cost of between $80 a month and $90 a month with those same conditions.

Taxes and fees are extra on all plans, though the cost of its plans is reduced if customers agree to bundle more than one line of service (for example, adding five lines or more brings the cost of Verizon’s cheapest plan down to $30 per month, per line).

Verizon launched the first 5G network in the United States several years ago when it brought a variant of the service, called Ultra Wideband, to a handful of major metropolitan areas. That technology relies on millimeter wave spectrum that offers fast download speeds, but it has been stymied in part by the relatively short range from Verizon’s transmitters to its customers.

For this reason, Verizon’s closest rival, T-Mobile, has seen better adoption and generated more praise for its 5G wireless network, which was launched shortly after Verizon’s and uses low-band and mid-band spectrum that offers decent download speeds with a larger coverage area. T-Mobile was also one of the first to offer a 5G phone upgrade program, which Verizon is now emulating.

Earlier this year, Verizon agreed to spend nearly $53 billion to procure spectrum licenses through the FCC’s C-Band auction. That spectrum, Verizon says, will allow it to increase its low-band and mid-band 5G network by 120 percent in the coming months; for customers, it means Verizon will soon be able to catch up to T-Mobile and may be able to reclaim its title as the largest, most-dependable network.

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