It's a perk wireless customers have come to expect: Sign up for a two-year service contract, and get a new smartphone at a deeply discounted price or sometimes even free.
But the reign of cellphone subsidies could be ending as customers demand more flexible mobile plans, forcing wireless carriers to look for alternatives to the long-standing practice.
AT&T Inc. hinted this month that it was considering doing away with phone subsidies. Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said subsidizing a smartphone every two years was an expensive undertaking that he didn't think the company could afford.
Subsidies were originally intended to lure people onto a company's wireless...