Aio Wireless first launched in May as a prepaid sub-brand of AT&T, and now the carrier has announced plans to expand its service to all of the U.S. beginning in mid-September. Originally exclusive to Houston, Orlando and Tampa, Aio Wireless offers a variety of contract-free voice and data plans, and has apparently proved itself successful.
An Aio Basic plan costs $40 per month with 250MB of high-speed 4G LTE data. The next level up, the Aio Smart plan, costs $55 per month for 2GB of data, while a $70 Aio Pro plan includes 7GB. All of these plans include unlimited voice, text and data.
MORE: Top 10 Smartphones
Comparatively, MetroPCS plans start at $40 per month with 500MB of 4G data, moving up to $50 for 2.5GB of 4G and $60 for unlimited 4G, a feature Aio currently lacks. T-Mobile's prepaid plans cost $50 per month with 500MB of 4G, $60 for 2.5GB, and $70 for unlimited 4G. Boost Mobile starts at $50 per month with 2.5GB of 4G LTE data, with a shrinking payment system that shaves $5 per month every time six payments are made on-time. Meanwhile, Virgin Mobile offers Beyond Talk plans starting at $35 per month for 300 minutes and unlimited messaging and 4G data (throttled to 3G speeds after 2.5GB). For $45 per month, you can get 1200 minutes with unlimited data and messaging, or $55 per month will get you unlimited talk time with unlimited messages and data on Virgin Mobile.
Aio currently offers its service on smartphones, feature phones and tablets such as the $199 iPhone 4, $129 Samsung Galaxy Amp and $49.99 ZTE Prelude. The carrier also offers the $649 iPhone 5, which neither T-Mobile prepaid or MetroPCS currently carry. New customers also can activate Aio with an existing unlocked phone, or trade-in an old phone for an Aio-ready device. According to a press release, customers who sign up for Aio online or in stores, by Sept. 29, will get a third month of free service.
More than 30 percent of all U.S. smartphones are sold prepaid (up from 22 percent a year ago), according to a recent study by the NPD Group, which may be one reason AT&T is pushing the service national. However, this isn't AT&T's first prepaid endeavor. The carrier's long-standing GoPhone service currently offers plans ranging from $25 per month for 250 minutes and no data to $60 a month for 2GB of data. In contrast, Aio Wireless appears as a fully-independent brand with 4G LTE data and a wider range of high-end phones. Aio might not offer as much data for your money as MetroPCS, but it's one of the few carriers to offer customers a prepaid iPhone 5.
You can tell that AT&T is directly targeting T-Mobile , because the Aio home page urges consumers to "Say Goodbye to T-Mobile" and say "Hello to Aio,." The brand's familiar magenta-and-white color scheme also caused a lawsuit with the competing carrier. No matter the outcome of the suit, it's clear that AT&T is seeking a place at the top of the prepaid phone market.