AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon didn’t miss a beat when Samsung unveiled its Galaxy S22 series on Wednesday, each putting out their best deals on the latest from the Android camp.

The phones in the new line-up include the Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus. There’s also the S22 Ultra with a stylus, which is seen as a successor to the Galaxy Note.

The Galaxy S22 starts at $799.99 and the Galaxy S22 Plus starts at $999.99, with devices available February 27; pre-orders started on February 9. The Galaxy S22 Ultra starts with a version at $1,649.99. (Note: Some people trying to order on Samsung’s site yesterday reported problems with the checkout process; it’s unclear if that’s been fixed.)

Other than that, what’s perhaps most remarkable about the new Samsung series is it incorporates recycled ocean-bound plastic from discarded fishing nets. That’s amazing, but as Avi Greengart of Techsponential points out, the truth isn’t quite so dramatic – “reclaimed ocean-bound fishing net plastic makes up only 20% of a few parts.” However, he added: “Samsung’s overall investment in sustainable materials and packaging is significant and laudable.”

Wheeling and dealing

Given the hefty price tags on the devices, consumers are even more determined to find the very best deals. For a limited time, AT&T said customers can trade in any Note, S or Z series phone “in any condition” from any year and get $800 off one of the devices on a qualifying rate plan, making the S22 128GB phone free.

Verizon said new and existing customers can get up to $1,000 off any Samsung Galaxy S22 with select trade-in and certain 5G Unlimited plans. Not to be outdone, T-Mobile’s deals essentially make the S22 or S22 Plus available for free under certain conditions.

“The offers are pretty much in line with expectations,” said Jeff Moore, principal at Wave7 Research, adding that two things from the carrier offers really stand out: device payment plans and premium service agreements.

3 years vs. 2 years

Last week, reports surfaced that Verizon is offering a 36-month equipment instalment plan (EIP), where the customer has 36 months to pay for a new device in instalment payments. “They’re essentially matching AT&T,” which had 24- and 30-month EIPs leading up to 2021, but then started offering the three-year EIP and dropped the shorter ones, Moore said.

“Two of the top three carriers have 36-month EIPs, and there’s no alternative for Verizon. Either you take the 36-month EIP or you buy the device outright. I guess you could bring a device. But I don’t think the timing of that happening just the week before the S22 launch was coincidental,” he said

At T-Mobile, nearly all its phones are now sold on 24-month payment plans, with the exception of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G, which is at 36 months, Moore said. (Starting price on the Z Fold3: $1,799.99)

Devil in the details

A cursory review of the offers – and the fine print – makes it crystal clear: “There are so many strings and conditions attached that they’re not as valuable as they would appear,” Moore noted.  

The T-Mobile offer of $1,000 off, for example, requires a trade-in of a valuable device from recent years, such as a Galaxy S21, and requires a Magenta Max plan. “So when they say new and existing customers, sure,” but those are customers signing up for the most expensive plans.

One thing they all have in common is a desire to sell customers on the higher-end “unlimited” plans, because it’s increasingly about managing churn and increasing ARPU rather than bringing on new customers, which is a challenge given that most everyone eligible for a phone already has one.

Verizon has made no secret of its desire to get more customers to subscribe to its higher-tier unlimited plans. During Verizon’s most recent quarterly conference call, CEO Hans Vestberg said their focus on profitable volume continued to drive wireless service revenue growth of 4.7% in 2021, and in the fourth quarter, 74% of its customers subscribed to an unlimited plan compared with 71% in the third quarter of 2021. Just over one-third of its unlimited customers are on unlimited premium plans, leaving room for “continued step-up expansion,” he said.

Moore said carrier deals in general are decreasingly attached to new lines and increasingly attached to premium unlimited. “Less so for AT&T, but T-Mobile is heavily pushing Magenta Max. Verizon’s premium unlimited push is well-established by now,” he said.

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