EE is allowing Orange and T-Mobile customers to exit their current contracts and upgrade to the latest 4G smartphone for as little as £49, under its 'Swap' service, launching on 17 September 2013. It's the latest strike in the ongoing 4G war between EE, Vodafone, and O2.
Swap allows customers already on an 18-month or 24-month contract with EE, Orange or T-Mobile to trade-in their current smartphone and get a brand new 4G smartphone - but there is a catch.
First, customers must pay a one-off swap fee, starting at £49. Moreover, they must then re-sign a new 24-month contract.
The one-off fee is directly related to the 24-month plan they choose. For example, people choosing the most expensive plan (£51 a month for 20GB data, unlimited UK calls and texts) pay £49 to swap; while someone swapping to the cheapest plan (£36 a month for 1.5GB data, unlimited UK calls and texts) pays £249.
Customers can choose from any phone in the EE 4G range, including iPhone 5 and Samsung S4 Mini. But in order to upgrade their phone, customers must have an eligible device to swap - one that is in good working order, with "no significant dents, scratches, or cracks on the screen."
Pippa Dunn, chief consumer marketing officer at EE, said: "With smartphone innovation moving at a relentless pace, we realise that some customers want to move to the latest handset at the earliest possible opportunity. That's why we've introduced Swap to sit alongside our existing upgrade."
Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at uSwitch.com, said the early upgrade scheme could make keeping up with the 4G revolution simpler and easier for many.
"Being able to move into the mobile fast lane for a one-off fee could be the offer many consumers need to make the switch," he said. "And with the smartphone market evolving at a breakneck pace, many mobile lovers may start to get itchy feet when they're tied into a lengthy contracts.
"Buying your way out of a contract has never been easy or cheap, but this scheme keeps things straightforward, and for those looking at moving to a higher-end 4G plan, relatively affordable.
"However, tying the one-off fee into the tariff type could prove to be a blessing and a curse. Customers looking to move just six months into a 24-month contract will be the winners, whereas those in sight of the finish line may feel hard done by."
4G mobile data services allow consumers to download data up to five times faster than on the 3G network. This makes it far easier to download and stream music and videos easily while on the move – a standard definition movie should take just 10 to 15 minutes to download.
EE launched 4G in the UK in October 2012 and charges from £26 a month for a two-year 4G contract or from £21 a month for a Sim-only plan. Both O2 and Vodafone have priced their 4G services at a similar level, but have been offering added perks such as free music content and free Sky Sports channels.