So AT&T's Next plans, with their $0 down and phone trade-in/upgrade after a year, are nifty for customers who always want the latest and greatest. They're also a valuable tool for enticing new customers away from the likes of Verizon and the ever-advancing T-Mobile. But what about AT&T customers who are stuck in a contract? Ma Bell hasn't forgotten about you: starting today, at least some AT&T contract customers can switch to a Next plan with no penalty.

The only conditions are that you must be a contracted customer in good standing, and you must be at least six months into a contract. If you meet those qualifications, you can start a Next plan today - no early termination fee, no upgrade fee, just a tax payment when you get your new phone and the usual interest-free surcharge on your monthly bill. (If you recently started a contract, you'll be eligible for this deal once you reach the 6-month mark.) For Next, the cost of the unsubsidized phone is spread out over 20 months. Customers are eligible to trade in a Next phone and begin paying for a new one after a year. AT&T is encouraging switchers to jump on their new Mobile Share Value Plans, which will offset some or all of the staggered monthly charge.

It's basically the corporate equivalent of this:

Like every other major mobile service provider, AT&T is looking for ways to retain its current customers and lure in new ones. The promise of new hardware could easily be seen as a hedge against T-Mobile's new offer to pay off early termination fees from other carriers. See the intro to the press release below - "Loyalty pays with AT&T," in case you didn't get the message. And once a customer has committed to the new Next plan, one year until a new phone seems a lot more palatable than two. Sprint is trying new tricks as well (see the "Framily" plan with its possibility for lower rates), while Verizon... well, Verizon just keeps on doin' its thing.

Loyalty pays with AT&T.* Available now, existing customers on 2-year service agreements** can upgrade to the hottest new smartphone for $0 down with AT&T Next. At the same time, they can move to our new Mobile Share Value plans and start realizing significant monthly rate plan savings, featuring unlimited voice and text, and the ability to add smartphone lines to a data plan for $25 more per line per month, all while enjoying the nation’s most reliable 4G LTE network***

AT&T customers on a two-year agreement as of January 18, 2014 are eligible to upgrade to AT&T NextSM six months into their contract. To check their eligibility, customers can dial *NEW# and begin to take advantage of this early upgrade opportunity in AT&T retail stores, and online at www.att.com.

“We want our customers to have the best smartphones, on a high quality, blazing fast and reliable network, all at a great value,” said David Christopher, chief marketing officer, AT&T Mobility.  “It’s a win-win – customers get the latest devices with $0 down on the nation’s most reliable 4G LTE network with significant savings on their monthly bill when they sign-up for our Mobile Share Value plans.”

* AT&T products and services are provided or offered by subsidiaries and affiliates of AT&T Inc. under the AT&T brand and not by AT&T Inc.

** For existing consumer and select small business customers currently on a 2-year agreement.  All customers on a 2-year agreement as of January 18, 2014 will be eligible to upgrade once they have completed their first 6 months of service. Customers who sign up for a 2-year agreement after January 19, 2014 will benefit from new, shorter upgrade timeframe of 20 months. Individual account details vary. Customers can check eligibility by dialing *NEW#.

*** Savings compares Mobile Share Value plan w/ smartphone w/ no annual contract (or on an AT&T Nextsminstallment agmt) to one on a 2-yr agmt.  Additional monthly charge per additional device, AT&T Next installmentsm charges, & for additional data. Other fees & restrictions apply. Plans w/ smartphone start at $45/mo. w. 300 MB data. Subject to change.  Reliability claim based on data transfer completion rates on nationwide 4G LTE networks.  4G LTE not available everywhere.