Amid New iPhone Expectations, AT&T Tweaks Upgrade Policy

AT&T on Sunday changed its phone-upgrade policy to allow more of its customers to purchase a new iPhone sooner.

The move comes ahead of the expected unveiling of a new version of the iPhone from Apple (AAPL) on Monday. By letting existing iPhone users upgrade their device early, AT&T (T) can lock them in for another two years–which could be a crucial play given the speculation the carrier may eventually lose its exclusive agreement to sell the vaunted smartphone.

Customers typically have to go through a majority of their contract before they can again take advantage of the subsidized phone prices new customers enjoy. But AT&T adjusted its policy for some of its higher-value customers, allowing some iPhone 3GS users who purchased their device a year ago to upgrade to a new phone with the full subsidy.

Macquarie Securities analyst Philip Cusick said some users have seen their eligibility date moved from as late as November to June 21. Customers were only asked to pay an $18 upgrade fee, although in some cases the fee is waived.

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