Charter heads up-market with 'anytime' smartphone upgrades for Unlimited Plus subs

Charter also introduced a device protection plan for a flat $5 per month per device. Paired with the 'Anytime Upgrade' plan, Charter's latest moves 'can be seen as a move up market,' says one analyst.

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

April 10, 2024

4 Min Read
Charter Spectrum Mobile product featured in store
(Source: Charter Communications)

Charter's Spectrum Mobile service appears to be shifting to the premium side of the market with the launch of "anytime" device upgrades for customers on its "Unlimited Plus" plan, along with the debut of a device protection plan that fetches a flat fee of $5 per month per device.

"Taken together, Charter's moves today can be seen as a move up market," MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett explained in a research note (registration required) following Charter's announcement.

Charter said its new "Anytime Upgrade" feature is included in Spectrum Mobile's Unlimited Plus data plans for no extra cost, allowing those customers to upgrade their smartphones at any time, and as many times as they want.

By comparison, subs on Spectrum Mobile's by-the-gig or its Unlimited plan can upgrade after 50% of the device payment plan has been paid off. By-the-gig and Unlimited customers also have the option to upgrade to Unlimited Plus and be eligible for Anytime Upgrade after 30 days, the company said.

Per the fine print, trade-in devices must be "operable." If not, a trade-in device may be subject to an additional redemption fee. The other caveat is that those customers must enroll in a new device payment plan and remain on the Unlimited Plan for two billing cycles.

However, the Anytime Upgrade sidesteps early upgrade fees and "traditional" waiting periods (i.e. waiting until half of a device payment plan balance is paid off) for device upgrades, Charter noted.

Charter's Anytime Upgrade feature also applies to Spectrum Mobile Unlimited Plus customers who bring their own device (BYOD). "With the launch of Anytime Upgrade, we are providing Spectrum Mobile Unlimited Plus customers with straightforward and flexible access to the latest smartphone technology," Charter EVP of Product Danny Bowman said in a statement.

'Anytime' device upgrades a step toward handset subsidization

Moffett points out that Charter's successful BYOD strategy (along with Comcast's) has relegated US cable to the lower end of the mobile market, a portion that represents about 20% of the sector. He believes cable will inevitably head into handset subsidies to compete in mobile's premium segment.

Charter's Anytime Upgrade "takes another step in that direction," Moffett said. "It's not handset subsidization at the level of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, but it does go a long way towards bridging the gap."

Spectrum Mobile's online store features several models, including the iPhone 15 Pro Max, iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15, Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra, Galaxy S25 and Galaxy Z Fold 5 5G models, the Google Pixel 8 Pro and Pixel Fold, and the Motorola razr+.

Starting at $39.99 per month, Spectrum Mobile's Unlimited Plus plan includes unlimited talk, text and data (speeds are reduced to 1 Mbit/s down and 512 kbit/s upstream after 50 gigabytes of data usage per line per month), video streaming resolution up to 720p, no additional fees for mobile hotspot data ("full speeds" up to 10GB) and free roaming in Mexico and Canada. Charter is also offering Unlimited Plus for $25 per month per line for 12 months when customers take two mobile lines.

Charter's by-the-gig plan starts at $19.99 per month for 1GB of data (and $5 for each additional gigabyte of data), and its Unlimited plan starts at $29.99 per line, per month. Spectrum Mobile is available only to customers who also take Charter's home broadband service.

Flat device protection plan undercuts rivals

Spectrum Mobile's new repair and replacement plan, which covers broken screens, loss and theft, costs an additional $5 per month per device. The new plan makes device protection accessible to all Spectrum Mobile customers within 30 days of purchase and now includes customers in New York and those who bring their own device, Charter said.

Charter's flat-rate device protection plans appear to undercut the price of similar plans offered by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Moffett notes that the Big Three US mobile operators use tiered plans, rather than the flat plan that Charter now offers. Verizon's plans have a range of coverage levels, starting at $4.15 per month for its Extended Warranty Plan, on up to $14 to $17 per month, depending on device tier. AT&T's device insurance also runs in the $14 to $17 range per device, or $45 per month for accounts with four-device group plans. T-Mobile's insurance rates are also tiered, with basic insurance starting at $6 per month for a "Tier 1" device, rising to as much as $24 per month for a premium "Tier 6" device, Moffett points out.

"We suspect many customers may not even be aware of how much they are paying for insurance. But we fully expect that Charter will spend aggressively on advertising to let them know," Moffett said.

Charter's new Spectrum Mobile features are taking shape as the operator looks to expand its wireless customer base. Charter added 546,000 mobile lines (including 532,000 residential mobile lines) in Q4 2023, ending the year with 7.76 million.

Charter is scheduled to announce Q1 2024 results on April 26.

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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