AT&T's Aio aims to be a nationwide prepaid brand, on par with MetroPCS

AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) Aio Wireless prepaid brand is starting off small, but has big ambitions; the company wants to be a major nationwide prepaid brand on the same level as T-Mobile US' (NYSE:TMUS) MetroPCS brand.

Aio is now offering service nationwide via its website, after launching in select markets earlier this year. Additionally, the business counts more than 230 stores so far in Texas, Florida and Atlanta, which are operated by independent dealers.

The nationwide drive is also colliding with AT&T's planned purchase of Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP). Leap shareholders will vote on the del on Oct. 24 and AT&T has said it expects regulatory approval in the first half of 2014. AT&T has said it plans to keep Leap's no-contract Cricket brand and offer Cricket customers access to AT&T's network.

"Leap will turbocharge our move into no-contract service," Aio President Jennifer Van Buskirk told the Dallas Morning News. She said exactly how Leap would integrate into AT&T/Aio hasn't been decided.

The Aio brand is separate from AT&T's GoPhone prepaid brand and offers a wider range of devices and pricing options. Aio's plans range from $40 for per month for unlimited voice, texting and 250 MB of high-speed data (speeds throttled after the threshold) up to $70 per month for unlimited voice, texting and 7 GB of high-speed data. In June AT&T added LTE service to the brand's offerings.

When asked if Aio had the potential to eventually become as large as MetroPCS, Van Buskirk said: "Yes. Definitely." Aio launched service in May but only began expanding nationwide in the past few weeks.

"Our mission is to become a big, nationwide player as fast as we can," Van Buskirk said. She said so far Aio has signed up customers in 49 states and Washington, D.C., and that some have switched from AT&T's postpaid business but not as many as anticipated. She declined to provide details or subscriber figures.

Aio's push seems designed to put more pressure on T-Mobile, which has moved aggressively in the prepaid market this year, especially since closing its merger with MetroPCS in May. T-Mobile is now juggling three brands: The main T-Mobile brand with its no-contract "Simple Choice" plans, the Metro brand, and the GoSmart Mobile brand, another prepaid offering T-Mobile launched shortly before it completed its acquisition of MetroPCS.

In late July T-Mobile said it expanded the MetroPCS footprint by 50 million POPs. T-Mobile plans to continue to expand the MetroPCS footprint in the coming quarters.

For more:
- see this Dallas Morning News article
- see this Dallas Business Journal article

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