Blog Post

AT&T-owned AIO Wireless launches pre-paid and BYOD service, but no LTE

Stay on Top of Emerging Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

You likely haven’t heard of AIO Wireless yet, but AT&T(s t) hopes you will soon. Launching Thursday in three cities, AIO Wireless is a pre-paid and BYOD, or bring your own device, service provider and is a subsidiary of AT&T. The pre-paid nationwide service is now available in Houston, Tampa and Orlando with expectations of opening stores in various U.S. markets over the next year. AT&T still has its own branded GoPhone pre-paid service.

I took a quick look at the new AIO Wireless (pronounced “A-O”) website and the plans remind me a bit of T-Mobile’s(s tmus) new Simple Choice offerings. There are just a few choices, and each advertises unlimited talk, text and data, although some of that data is at “high speed” while some is not. AIO will reduce or throttle speeds once you reach the limit for your specific plan.

AIO WirelessFor $40 a month, 250 MB of data is served at high speed while $55 each month bumps the fast data capacity to 2 GB. A $70 plan boost the fast data cap to 7 GB. You can pay $15 for a tablet to get on the data network but only get 250 MB of high speed service. The press release mentions “4G download speeds of up to 4Mbs”, so the company isn’t offering LTE. Adding an additional gigabyte of fast data service or international calling is available for $10 a month.

Handset choices are as expected for a pre-paid provider, ranging from $30 feature phones to $50 low-end smartphones all the way up to various iPhone (s aapl) models, both at reduced (refurbished) prices to $649.99 for a new iPhone 5. You can also check to see if your own device is supported — I’d be surprised if an AT&T-compatible phone weren’t — but if you have an LTE radio in it, it won’t be used.

It seems that the two largest U.S. carriers, AT&T and Verizon(s vz)(s vod), are following suit when it comes to their expensive investments in LTE network upgrades: Keep the fastest services for those on contract. This helps recoup the investment faster by nudging high speed data users to generally more expensive monthly plans that practically guarantee an income stream for two years.

14 Responses to “AT&T-owned AIO Wireless launches pre-paid and BYOD service, but no LTE”

  1. rossen p.

    there are a couple of significant points missing that I had to dig for:

    * the $40 plan is for feature phones only. no smartphones.
    * the $40 plan is limited to 4 Mbps, lower than what their HSPA+ network offers.

    to me, that was the most interesting plan but those two items kill any interest I may have had. AT&T remains the most noncompetitive when it comes to prepaid/BYOD.

    • EricWang

      I agree with rossen p.

      AIO Wireless is not competitive at all. T-Mobile Prepaid’s $30 plan (100 min, unlimited text & data with first 5G high speed) is still the best bargain. AIO’s up to 4Mbps HSPA+ speed is kind of a joke. My phone has always been over 12Mbps (sometimes over 20Mbps) on T-mobile.

    • John, you’re right that Straight Talk exists, but AT&T doesn’t own it; it simply sells the service at whole sale prices to Straight Talk. Just clarifying the “AT&T also has a less expensive….” phrase.

      • Vernon Dozier

        StraightTalk is a good option, However, as Kevin pointed out, they sell AT&T. To complicate things, they also sell T-Mobile service under the same brand. The only difference is the color of the SIM card, in the package. You may have to unlock a device if a WalMart employee sells you the wrong SIM card.

      • John Kneeland

        Kevin, as far as I can tell, Straight Talk now only sells T-Mobile-based SIMs and service. I don’t know whether it was Straight Talk or AT&T that terminated their agreement, but this does give AIO a competitive advantage over Straight Talk in areas where AT&T’s network coverage is notably superior to T-Mobile’s (which I found to be the case in San Francisco).

    • Vernon Dozier

      The thing is, that it will be LTE, and not LTE Advanced, which is what T-Mobile is deploying, across its entire prepaid offering.

      LTE-Advanced allows your phone to download from multiple antennas simeoutaneously. This beefs up the speed.

      Recently T-Mobile had an ad that said they have 50,000 towers, and AT&T, in an article in the Wallstreet Journal, disclosed they had 10,000 towers. More towers means faster speeds, when you can download from more than one tower at a time.

      AT&T will probably have to build more towers if they plan to compete, and offer unlimited service.

        • Vernon Dozier

          Not according to my neighbor who is an engineer at NSN networks. They deploy the hardware, and likely won’t issue a release until it’s ready for market.

          • Kevin Fitchard

            Hi Vernon,

            NSN’s hardware will be able to support upgrades to LTE-Advanced features, as will the Ericsson hardware that T-Mo uses, more so than the other carriers because their infrastructure is newer. But being ready for an upgrade sometime in the future isn’t the same thing is having an LTE advanced network today.

            T-Mo’s network at some future date will be able to support carrier aggregation, but T-Mo doesn’t yet have a second carrier to aggregate. The network may very well be able to support the upgrade to 4×4 MIMO, but it doesn’t today. Nor are there any 4×4 MIMO devices that could actually connect to it. It may be able to support E-ICIC in the future, but until its deploys small cells it’s a pointless conceit.

            No one is dissing T-Mo’s network here. It’s definitely cutting edge. But there’s been a lot of technology inflation in this industry (something T-Mo is historically notorious for). There are dozens of other specs in the LTE-Advanced spec, which will take many years to implement. But if T-Mo is trying to label it’s network as LTE-Advanced today, then I’m afraid it’s misleading people.