AT&T's revamped Cricket will take on T-Mobile's MetroPCS with Aio-like look, rate plans

ATLANTA--Just two months after AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) completed its $1.2 billion acquisition of Leap Wireless' Cricket-branded prepaid service, the company is introducing a revamped Cricket service with a new tagline, price plans and store design.

Click here for a slideshow of Cricket's new retail stores.

Speaking to a group of reporters at a Cricket concept store in an Atlanta suburb Thursday, Jennifer Van Buskirk, president of Cricket Wireless and formerly the head of AT&T's prepaid brand, Aio Wireless, said that the company is taking its legacy Cricket service and revamping it to give customers a better network, more affordable pricing, greater handset selection and a "friendlier" retail experience. "We want to offer [customers] a brand they can be proud of," she said.

The new Cricket will still cater to the price conscious consumer, a market that is becoming more and more competitive. Cricket executives clearly have their eye on T-Mobile's MetroPCS as the key competitor in this space and mentioned that company frequently when talking about the competitive landscape.

As previously rumored, Cricket's new rate plans will feature the following price points, which executives said includes all taxes and fees:

  • $40 per month basic plan that offers 500 MB of data, before throttling;
  • $50 per month smartphone plan that includes international texting and 2.5 GB of data, before throttling; and
  •  $60 Pro plan that that offers international texting and 5 GB of data, before throttling.

In addition, Cricket will drop the price of the monthly plans by $5 to $35, $45 and $55 if the customer selects the autopay option.  Cricket also is offering customers who make 12 on-time payments in a year a $50 device credit, or reward, that can be used to upgrade to a new phone.

The company also is giving customers discounted monthly rates when they combine wireless lines within the same family or group of friends. These group plans let customers purchase four lines for $100 and they can mix and match both the Smart and the Pro plans.

The "new and improved" Cricket will also feature a new retail look with an open and simple design and bright green signage. Displays feature smartphones grouped by operating system with accessories hanging below. Also notable is a "Kids Play" area that Cricket executives hope will appeal to their clientele.

In fact, the company is so bullish on its new, friendlier image that it has a new tagline that builds off that theme: "Something to Smile About."

If the new Cricket feels familiar, that's likely because it closely resembles Aio Wireless, AT&T's prepaid brand that launched last year in about 27 markets in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas and Washington. AT&T is in the process of converting its Aio stores into Cricket stores. In addition, Cricket plans to open new retail outlets in markets where the Cricket brand has not existed before. According to Van Buskirk, Cricket has 3,000 retail stores now, which includes existing Cricket retail outlets, dealer stores and converted A­­io stores.

Key to AT&T's revamped Cricket brand is its emphasis on the service using AT&T's network. Cheryl Choy, Cricket's vice president of network, said that the company will keep the CDMA network in place for at least a year, but she's confident former Cricket subscribers will migrate to the GSM network quickly once they see the better coverage it offers.

On the device front, Cricket plans to offer a wide variety of smartphones, starting at around $50. However, the company will also sell high-end smartphones including Apple's iPhone 5c and 5s. AT&T also plans to refurbish the phones that AT&T customers trade in through AT&T's Next handset upgrade program and resell those used phones to Cricket customers, thereby allowing it to offer cheaper phones to Cricket customers. According to Andy Smoak, head of product at Cricket, the refurbished phone model makes it very economical for Cricket customers to purchase "gently" used but state-of-the-art smartphones.

Interestingly, Smoak said Cricket has no plans to offer a tablet at this time and has halted the sale of the ZTE Velox tablet previously sold by Aio. The AT&T prepaid brand sold the device coupled with a $15 per month plan for 250 MB.

Related Articles:
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AT&T's takeover of Leap leaves U.S. Cellular, other regional carriers with uncertain future
Analysts: AT&T to roll out new Cricket prepaid strategy at the end of Q2
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Correction, May 18, 2014:  Price plan rates were corrected to reflect the pricing without the autopay option. With autopay, the price plans drop by $5 per month.