AT&T’s Cricket discusses possibility of zero-rated wireless data for prepaid customers

Cricket produced an ad with wrestler John Cena. Image: Cricket

LAS VEGAS – AT&T’s prepaid Cricket service may offer zero-rated data at some point in the future, but the company’s president declined to offer any further comments on the topic beyond saying that “it’s something that we’re looking at.”

“Right now we have tremendous value in our rate plans, so it’s a decision that could be made, but right now it’s obviously one of those areas that we’ll continue to explore,” John Dwyer, president of AT&T’s Cricket business, told FierceWireless here during AT&T’s Developer Summit, held in conjunction with the Consumer Electronics Show. Zero-rated data is “an area that we’re looking at.”

Dwyer declined to provide any more specifics on whether Cricket would offer zero-rated data to its prepaid customers.

Cricket’s position stands in stark contrast to AT&T’s embrace of zero-rated data. AT&T first introduced its Sponsored Data service during its developer conference in 2014. Since then the company has expanded its use of the service to include zero-rating the data generated by its DirecTV Now service. AT&T also late last year introduced Stream Saver, which doesn’t zero-rate users’ video data but does shrink it down to 480p quality in order to reduce customers’ overall data usage.

Dwyer said Stream Saver isn’t available to AT&T’s Cricket customers and he wouldn’t say whether the company would bring the service to its prepaid brand.

While Cricket so far has eschewed zero-rated data, the company is not entirely ignoring the offerings from its parent company. Cricket is offering AT&T’s DirecTV Now service through its stores, a move that Dwyer said makes sense because DirecTV Now targets the same kind of price-conscious customers that Cricket does.

Cricket users “are watching video over the top. There’s an opportunity there,” Dwyer said, although he declined to provide any commentary around Cricket’s DirecTV Now sales progress.

Overall, Dwyer said that 2016 “was a good year” for Cricket. Although AT&T doesn’t specifically provide customer numbers for its Cricket business, the company has repeatedly boasted of its advancements in the prepaid space.

For his part, Dwyer said that Cricket today counts around 4,300 Cricket-branded stores in all 50 U.S. states. He added that, during the past year, the company has managed to increase the total number of its national distribution points from 9,800 to fully 14,000. Dwyer didn’t provide retail growth targets for 2017, but said the company could continue to expand its distribution footprint.

Interestingly, Dwyer added that in 2017 Cricket plans to expand its social media marketing efforts in an effort to separate its brand from the rest of the prepaid space, which includes players ranging from TracFone to Sprint’s Boost to T-Mobile’s MetroPCS. Dwyer said Cricket produced a number of viral videos in 2016 that highlighted the company’s brand, including one the company produced with WWE wrestler John Cena that has been viewed on YouTube almost 26 million times.

Video: Cricket

“I think that really differentiates us,” Dwyer said of the company’s videos and brand positioning.

Article updated Jan. 6 to clarify headline.