Picture: Julie Jacobson, File

Pretoria - If you have ever had a cellphone contract, you are probably familiar with the concept of an “early upgrade” – it’s punted as a means of getting your hands on a new phone a few months earlier than you would have.

A winner of a deal, surely?

Well, yes, as long as you understand your contractual obligations, which many don’t – if my own inbox is anything to go by.

You signed a 24-month contract initially, and you are liable to pay your cellular provider that agreed subscription amount for the full 24 months, regardless.

So if you take up the offer to “upgrade” one, two or three months before that so-called “initial period” is up – because you really, really want that new phone – bear in mind that those few months remaining on your initial contract do not fall way.

Instead they get added to your new contract, which makes it not a 24-month contract, but a 25, 26 or perhaps a 27-month one.

Upgrade early again two years down the line, and you could then be unwittingly signing up for a 30-month contract, and chances are you’ll discover this only when you try to cancel what you think is a 24-month contract.

Linda Southey’s experience is a typical one.

She has had an MTN cellphone contract since 2000.

“Every two years I upgrade my phone, choosing a different package.

“This year – because I am now a pensioner and a lot poorer – I asked to be given the cheapest package from the end of February, when my current contract expires. To my amazement, I was told that I have to stay on my current package until the end of June, which is the month I signed my original contract.

“Maybe we did different maths in my day, but that comes to two years and four months and I did not sign a contract for that amount of time.

“The salesman said that MTN had done me a favour by upgrading my phone three months earlier.”

She was offered a cheaper monthly package immediately, but only if she signed another two-year contract.

Thoroughly confused, Southey wrote to Consumer Watch.

“Please let me know whether a two-year contract is a two-year contract or whether it can be extended.”

The answer lies in those “early upgrades”, and those extra months which get added on to your new contract – and unless you read the fine print, you won’t know it until you cancel instead of “upgrading”. - Pretoria News