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T-Mobile's new 5G initiative turns old tiered data plans into unlimited

The carrier is getting rid of shared data buckets and adding a new promo to get people to upgrade to 5G phones.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Have an old tiered or a shared data plan on Sprint or T-Mobile? It's about to become an unlimited plan. As part of its Un-carrier Next event on Wednesday T-Mobile announced that a new initiative it calls the "Great Unlimited Trade-Up." 

The premise of the new offer is simple: Put more people on unlimited plans even if they currently pay for shared or tiered data that only includes a certain amount of gigabytes of data in a month. 

Read more: T-Mobile announces widespread launch of consumer Home Internet service

Available starting April 18 and running through the rest of the year, the carrier will be automatically switching those on older T-Mobile or Sprint tiered data plans into new Magenta Essentials unlimited plans. The carrier says pricing will not go up as part of the switch, with the only difference being you now no longer have to worry about running over your monthly allotment of high-speed data.

As with before, access to T-Mobile's growing 5G network is included with the plans. The carrier says that those switching from a tiered data plan on Verizon or AT&T will be able to switch to T-Mobile and get this deal at a rate that is "the same or better" than what they are paying for limited data buckets.  

The lowest of its three unlimited plans, Magenta Essentials normally runs $60 per month for one line (with AutoPay discount), $90 per month for two lines or $105 per month for four lines. Unlike T-Mobile's step-up Magenta and Magenta Max offerings, Essentials lacks features such as free Netflix, free international data roaming and the bundling of taxes and fees into the list price. 

While the data is unlimited on 4G LTE or 5G, T-Mobile notes that it might slow speeds in busy areas "during congestion" if you've used over 50GB in a month. By comparison, those on regular Magenta plans see their data slow in busy areas if they've passed 100GB in a month. 

Hotspot data is included with normal Essentials plans and is similarly unlimited, but only at 3G speeds. As part of this switch, T-Mobile tells CNET that those on limited plans who are upgraded to Essentials will have a "bucket of high-speed hotspot data that's equal or better to their current limited bucket."

New 5G phone trade-in programs

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T-Mobile is giving away Samsung's Galaxy A32 as part of its new promotion. 

Samsung

Like Verizon, T-Mobile is also looking to move people from 4G LTE phones to newer 5G devices. 

Beyond the plan upgrade, the nation's second-largest carrier is rolling out a new promotion that will allow new customers as well as existing T-Mobile or Sprint users to trade in any old phone and get Samsung's new A32 5G for free. 

Whereas a recent Verizon promotion solicited broken smartphones for a discount on a 5G upgrade, T-Mobile is looking for any older phones so long as they are in working condition, power on and don't have cracked screens or water damage. This includes not just older smartphones like BlackBerrys, Palms or old iPhones but also flip phones, Sidekicks and even "whatever that suitcase phone was called" for the free phone. 

Like with Verizon's deal, the phone won't be free upfront but will instead have the $282 total cost dished out in bill credits over 24 months to keep you tied to T-Mobile. You also will be on the hook for the sales tax and, if you leave T-Mobile early, you will need to pay off the remaining balance. 

The Samsung A32 5G deal runs from April 18 through the end of the year. 

In addition to the free Galaxy off, T-Mobile is also launching a new trade-in deal for those interested in a new iPhone. 

The deal, which runs from April 18 to May 1, will give a free iPhone 12 to those trading in an iPhone 11 or half off an iPhone with the trade-in of "most older iPhones." T-Mobile says the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max would also be available as part of this promotion, but declined to provide a list of which "older iPhones" would qualify for the discount. 

Those looking for Apple's iPhone 12 Mini will be able to get half off the price of a new device with the trade-in of any older iPhone, dating all the way back to the original iPhone from 2007. 

As with the Galaxy deal the iPhone you are trading in needs to be in "working condition" and the cost will be doled out over 24 monthly bill credits. You remain on the hook for the sales tax and will need to pay off the balance if you decide to leave the carrier. 

Unlike some older wireless promotions, however, you don't need to switch a line to the carrier or add a new one to get the deal.