Update

The empire strikes first: AT&T will pay T-Mo customers (just T-Mo customers) to switch

at&t

Over the past month, T-Mobile’s tweetery CEO, John Legere has taunted @ATT with vague threats to “transform the wireless industry” via a new chapter in the company’s “Uncarrier” strategy to be unveiled at next week’s CES expo.

Rumors are that T-Mo will announce a new program in which the company will attempt to lure other carriers’ customers by paying them cash to cover the early termination fees when they jump over to Team Magenta.

Well, AT&T—long the victim of Legere’s public social media ridicule—has launched a limited preemptive first strike.

Friday, AT&T announced a new promotion that will give T-Mobile customers—and just T-Mobile customers—a $200 credit to switch over to AT&T’s no-contract Mobile Share Value plan, plus up to an additional $250 credit to trade-in their smartphone.

tmo att

From AT&T’s PR release:

T-Mobile customers can receive an additional $200 credit per line when they transfer their wireless service to AT&T and choose an AT&T Next plan, buy a device at full retail price or activate a device they currently own.

The $200 credit can be applied to a future AT&T wireless bill, while trading in an old smartphone will get customers an “AT&T Promotion Card,” which customers can use towards “the purchase of AT&T products and services.”

AT&T’s volley prompted a response from the never-reticent Legere, who put out a statement Friday calling the credit “a desperate move by AT&T on the heels of what must have been a terrible Q4 and holiday for them.”

“I'm flattered that we have made them so uncomfortable,” Legere continued, adding that mobile customers would wait until CES next week “to hear what pain points we are eliminating next.”

The empire stirs

While T-Mobile is still a distant fourth among nationwide carriers, Legere and company have proven to be a persistent thorn in AT&T’s side that the company can no longer ignore.

To its credit, T-Mobile has indeed shaken the wireless industry up with its multi-part Uncarrier strategy. Over the past year, the company has introduced contract-free unsubsidized phones, early trade-up plans (even as other carriers have been extending their trade-in period), and free international data and texting.

The moves have proven successful for T-Mo and prompted the other carriers to scramble to offer similar amenities in their wake. And all the while, Legere has been entertainingly public in his antagonizing of the competition—particularly AT&T.

While a large public corporation like AT&T is surely able to brush off 140-character barbs, it is interesting that the company felt the need to launch a preemptive first strike in this instance. Perhaps they sense something stirring in the market ether?

Knowledgeable consumers don’t have strong brand allegiance to their carriers—indeed, the companies proven themselves to be money-ravenous jerks. If jumping ship becomes a simplified process and the competition offers a comparable product at a fare price, there may be little reason for customers not to move around as they see fit.

Whatever the reason for AT&T’s moves, it’s oddly refreshing to watch as two huge multibillion-dollar telecommunication companies engage in a large public beef. It’s also weird to think thatin the not-so-distant past the two companies came thiiiis close to merging.

How things change.

Updated at 4:17 p.m. PT with a comment from T-Moible’s John Legere.

This story, "The empire strikes first: AT&T will pay T-Mo customers (just T-Mo customers) to switch " was originally published by TechHive.

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