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Trade in your AT&T iPhone when you switch to Verizon

by Phil Hornshaw

The pre-order start date for current Verizon customers is only a few days away, and Verizon (VZ) and Apple (AAPL) -- along with AT&T (T) -- seem to be getting their troops rallied to prepare for it.

Verizon has sent out emails stating that pre-orders for the iPhone on its network for existing customers will start at 3 a.m. Eastern time on Feb. 3. MacRumors is reporting that Verizon is telling customers to have their accounts registered and updated at myaccount.verizonwireless.com by Feb. 3.

To encourage AT&T customers to make the switch, Verizon’s official buyback and recycling partner, e-Cycle, is offering to buy back iPhones. According to Mashable, e-Cycle will be on-hand at MacWorld 2011 this weekend in San Francisco, buying back AT&T iPhones on the spot. If you can’t get over to San Francisco right now, there’s an online buyback option.

The buyback offers can be substantial. My 16GB iPhone 4 -- which has no technical issues and hasn’t been dropped in a toilet or anything -- netted an offer of $280, which would cover the cost of a CDMA iPhone 4 from Verizon ($199) and probably my first month’s bill and activation fees. The credits e-Cycle is offering are as follows: $60 for iPhone 2G - 16GB; $105 for iPhone 3G - 16GB; $130 for iPhone 3GS 16GB; $160 for iPhone 3GS 32GB; $280 for iPhone 4 16GB; $360 for iPhone 4 32GB.

I should mention that before you go selling your perfectly good, working iPhone to e-Cycle (broken or damaged phones are another matter and will mean different offers), you might want to run it through eBay (EBAY) first, where prices are basically all over the place, both below and above e-Cycle’s offers.

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The carrot of unlimited data

Here’s something else to think about if you’re considering a switch to Verizon -- the company is attempting to get customers to buy the iPhone 4 today by offering that unlimited data plan we’ve been hearing about, but that’s not permanent, according to PC World.

Much like what AT&T has done with its unlimited data plan, Verizon is letting customers who get an iPhone 4 now onto the unlimited plan for $30 a month. That’s guaranteed for two years at least, but it sounds like customers who are hedging their bets and waiting to see what happens with the iPhone 5 in the summer won’t have access to the unlimited data plan.

It’s a move Verizon is making to get people to buy the iPhone 4 even though the 12-month hardware cycle Apple runs on is slightly better than half-over already.

But the move is aimed at a specific set of customers -- namely, those who could upgrade to the iPhone 4 now but are considering waiting five months instead. AT&T customers, meanwhile, aren’t necessarily the target of that campaign; those customers are either jumping ship to Verizon, or hanging on with AT&T and jumping ship with the iPhone 5. At least, that’s what Verizon seems to be banking on, and it isn’t pulling all the stops out to get people to convert (see for example: the HotSync mobile hotspot service costing the same as AT&T’s iPhone tethering).

Speaking of AT&T and unlimited data: it seems that the company is stealthily offering to let former unlimited data customers have the service back. AT&T eliminated the unlimited data tier from its service plans back in September, but allowed customers who had unlimited data already to hold onto it. But it also meant they couldn’t change their data plans, or they’d lose the unlimited option forever. Well, not quite forever, it seems.

For those customers who were grandfathered in, then switched and lost the unlimited option, apparently AT&T is giving them a chance to get it back. However, this is not being advertised or even commented on by AT&T, according to Engadget and the Associated Press.

So AT&T isn’t just sitting back and hoping that customers prefer voice and data together over the possibilities of a brand new carrier, it seems. My distinct impression of the move, however: far too little, and much, much too late.