09
May
unnamed (1)

AT&T launched its own prepaid arm today called Aio Wireless. It's sort of like Boost is to Sprint - AT&T owns Aio, but Aio is sort of its own company - so it's easiest to think of it like an MVNO (Straight Talk, NET10, Virgin Mobile, etc.). Here's what you need to know about Aio, and how it differs from other MVNO providers using AT&T's network, like Straight Talk.

  • Aio is being rolled out on a trial basis, and for now subscribers must have a billing address in Houston, TX, or Tampa / Orlando, FL. The list of cities will grow over the next year [... if AT&T deems it a success]. Coverage, however, is nationwide, and includes the entire AT&T 3G footprint.
  • Like Straight Talk / NET10, Aio uses AT&T's 3G HSPA+ network to provide customers prepaid smartphone service. It does not utilize LTE, and it sounds like it won't any time soon. LTE is being reserved as a premium AT&T experience.
  • Unlike Straight Talk or NET10, Aio caps the maximum speed of its 3G data service at 4Mbps. By contrast, AT&T's unthrottled HSPA+ network can achieve speeds in excess of 10Mbps in ideal conditions. In congested metro areas, though, 4Mbps can be well above what you'll usually get.
  • Obviously, you can use any compatible smartphone you want.
  • Tethering is expressly forbidden by Aio's terms of service, and can result in cancellation of your service.
  • Aio also makes it pretty clear that excessive, continuous  bandwidth consumption may result in throttling, similar to Straight Talk and NET10. So, don't expect to go on too many hours-long Netflix / Hulu Plus binges over 3G.
  • There are two smartphone plans: Aio Smart and Aio Pro. The only difference between plans is the monthly data cap - both have unlimited talk and text, including MMS.
    • Aio Smart: Unlimited talk and text, 2GB of data before throttling. $55 / month.
    • Aio Pro: Unlimited talk and text, 7GB of data before throttling. $70 / month.
  • Both plans can be topped up with an extra gigabyte of regular-speed (4Mbps max) data for $10 more a month, as a one-time or recurring purchase.
  • There's a separate plan for tablets that includes 250MB of data and costs $15 / month.
  • Aio has a really nifty account management app that makes me insanely jealous as an AT&T customer.
  • Aio's mascot is a Penguin shaped like an "a".

Aio is actually a pretty attractive option if you live in an area where T-Mobile service sucks (assuming Aio comes to your area eventually), but until it rolls out on a wider basis, this is pretty clearly just a big experiment for AT&T in the prepaid space. The goal here, obviously, is to compete not just with MVNOs, but pricing at Sprint and T-Mobile. The major advantage to AIO versus T-Mobile or Sprint is, for the time being, coverage. Sprint and T-Mobile's national coverage maps are pretty sparse compared to Ma Bell's, and unless you can dig up an ever-more elusive AT&T Straight Talk SIM, getting AT&T data on the cheap is getting harder.

Is the pricing as competitive as it could be? Of course not - AT&T is positioning these plans below its regular non-shared data smartphone service rates pretty strategically, and it sounds like we may finally have an explanation for the on-the-rocks Straight Talk / NET10 relationship. Likely, AT&T wants to force the two MVNOs to either institute tougher data caps or increase prices before it'll renew its agreement with their parent company, something that's already happened at NET10.

So, it's not that Aio will undercut Straight Talk, that much is clear. But it's all too easy to put two and two together on the strained relationship AT&T has had with its two biggest MVNOs of late, and how it may strongarm consumers into Aio's profitable embrace. We'll see how it plays out in the coming year.

Aio Wireless

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • theiowakid

    So just a billing address there or all usage from there? Hmm...

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      I'm guessing just a billing address. Service is nationwide.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

    If they make tethering possible with Aio Pro, I am totally sold.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Tethering is forbidden.

    • Freak4Dell

      I'm guessing you like it due to coverage? At $70, the T-Mobile plan is a better value, since you get unlimited data vs. 7GB. Of course, if coverage is your holdback, 7GB ain't too shabby, either.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

        T-Mobile is literally not an option for me. The nearest store is about 80 miles away and coverage is virtually non-existent (think interstate-only) in this area, and not even remotely close to my house. I also do a lot of driving up and down the west coast. If it's any indicator, I get Edge connections on AT&T in several places, which usually means T-Mobile doesn't even bother with covering those areas.

  • http://twitter.com/scotteharris4 Scott

    AT&T already their own prepaid service branded under the AT&T name. I don't get he point of this.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Because this is entirely different GOPhone. GOPhone is not BYOD.

      • Freak4Dell

        Maybe not officially, but I'm fairly sure you can stick your GoPhone SIM card in any unlocked GSM phone and be perfectly fine.

        The AIO plans are better, though.

        • crystalball217

          Yes, you can stick your gophone sim into any at&t or unlocked phone and it works.

          • http://www.facebook.com/driftdeeper Guilbert Dominguez

            IMEI

    • CeluGeek

      The point is jumping on the bandwagon Sprint started rolling, one where prepaid customers are so second-class they aren't deserving of your main brand, so you create a separate brand to isolate them. Sprint has done it with Virgin Mobile and Boost, T-Mobile did it recently with Gosmart and now AT&T is jumping on that bandwagon.

      Seriously, there is no reason AT&T could not have just made these plans for their existing prepaid service. They just want to move prepaid users away from the AT&T brand which is still present in Go Phone.

  • blairh

    Isn't 4Mbps closer to 3G speeds versus HSPA+? My current grandfathered AT&T plan includes 2 GB of data. I pay $75 a month before taxes and surcharges. I could live with that Aio Smart plan but I fear those speeds are just garbage. Also will I get the same coverage as I do now? (If this goes nationwide of course.)

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      HSPA+ is not a speed, it is a technology, and it is a 3G technology. AT&T is limiting the speed of its HSPA+ network for Aio users to 4Mbps. And yes, the coverage footprint is AT&T's entire 3G network. It is literally the exact same network with a downlink speed restriction instituted.

      • blairh

        Thanks for the reply. Referring to HSPA+ as 4G really is a scumbag move by carriers then.

        I'll need to test my current download speeds in HSPA+ areas to compare. Are you going to do a mini AT&T G Pro review?

    • http://www.facebook.com/matts.lindmark.7 Matts Lindmark

      Original 3G is around 384 kbit/s. The AIO speed is pretty similar to what HSDPA 3.6 can offer and I have used speeds like that for a couple of years and it works well. I would not worry about the speed (if I want high speed because of a desire to stream HD material, US data plans is just out of the question, LTE or not.)

  • Brandon Fletcher

    Here I thought for a minute that AT&T was actually threatened by MNVOs and T-Mobile, and was planning on bringing some actual competition to the space. I can see why they don't have the balls to roll this out nationwide, it's worthless. Their smart plan is already priced higher than existing MNVOs, The pro might be interesting, IF they at least allowed HSPA+ speeds.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Again, HSPA+ is not a speed. Aio uses an HSPA+ connection for data service, there's just a 4Mbps downlink throttle. AT&T's point, obviously, is to say that you should use a regular AT&T smartphone plan if you want more speed or LTE. It certainly won't be worthless if AT&T doesn't renew its agreement with Straight Talk, and that sounds like an ever-more-likely outcome to all of this.

      • Brandon Fletcher

        Fair enough, I'm a bit new to the GSM game, didn't know HSPA+ wasn't a speed. To me, if the conscious consumer can go with T-Mobile or a T-Mobile MNVO, it's a bit of a no-brainer. This will come in handy for those who can't get decent T-Mobile coverage or speeds, but both T-Mobile and Sprint have been stepping up their network expansion and LTE availabilty, at least here in Texas. Both networks are offering competitve MNVOs, and both networks seem to be expanding their speed and coverage lately. I feel like by the time this hits mass market, it won't even be a worthwhile option.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

        Eh, LTE is not a speed either, yet we understand the usage of "LTE speeds" or 3G speeds.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

          LTE speeds are equally meaningless, considering you can have LTE speeds anywhere from 5Mbps to nearly 100Mbps. LTE and HSPA+ are connection types with theoretical maximums that rarely have anything to do with the real world speeds they reflect.

          Saying it means the speed HSPA+ is capable of is pretty useless as a descriptor, especially for AT&T, whose HSPA 21 network operates nowhere near it's theoretical max. I've never seen it go above 12Mbps, it rarely goes above 7Mbps, and most of the time it's anywhere from 2-5Mbps. I'd say about 70% of the time I'm actually using AT&T anywhere in southern California that I'm getting speeds that wouldn't actually peg Aio's 4Mbps cap, and I'm assuming you get the full 1Mbps uplink that AT&T caps all HSPA+ connections at.

          "HSPA+ speeds" is highly subjective, confuses the actual downlink speed with a technology that has a theoretical upper maximum, and is of extremely limited value in actually describing network performance.

  • Mikael Guggenheim

    I never have and never will understand all these rules you have in the US. Never heard of forbidden to use tethering or having LTE as something other than just any regular connection to the net. Premium, why? Just data moved through the air.

    • Brandon Fletcher

      Here in the US more and more land and mobile providers are trying to convince the general public that data is a rare & expensive commodity. The technology companies are pushing "cloud everything" which is completely opposite of what the providers want to allow. It's a slippery slope of BS.

      • SetiroN

        Actually mobile data IS an expensive commodity, bandwidth is finite.
        In the US you pay premium prices, but you also get premium options (which in many cases you don't really need, but that's another matter).
        Unlimited data doesn't exist at all in most European countries and to get more than the typical 1GB/month you are required to pay 3/4/5 times as much because that comes tied with more texts and minutes. You don't even always have the option, with many carriers topping up at 2GB for smartphone plans.
        So in order to get LTE and 5GB+ you end up paying prices that are not dissimilar from the US, the difference being that in the States you basically don't have lower end plans with limited minutes and text like we do in Europe, which is what lets people get by with less than 15€, making them question the hegemony of subsidized phones.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      To make money. It sucks, but the US already has more LTE than the rest of the world combined like ten times over because providers are racing to find a reason to keep plans expensive and beat out the competition. We pay too much for service, I agree, but we already have one service provider that covers >95% of the populated continental US with LTE data.

      AT&T wants people to use AT&T's more expensive smartphone plans to get LTE, they're definitely not pretending that the service is the same.

      • Dylan Patel

        I assume you mean VZW. How much is AT&T covering?

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

          AT&T I would say is at *maybe* 1/5 the coverage of VZW LTE right now, but they're actually beating them for speed in major metro markets from what I'm reading. AT&T is lagging severely on suburban / rural coverage, which is where Verizon has always excelled.

    • SetiroN

      I don't know where you live (Scandinavia probably?), but in most European countries you're asked for a premium to access the LTE network and most lower end internet options or plans don't (officially) allow tethering or VoIP.
      Also you are usually bound to less than 1GB/2GB of data, with higher end plans costing much more than the common, cheap entry level prepaid plans but also allowing you access to the LTE network and VoIP/tethering.

      Why you ask? Because carriers bought LTE spectrum for billions and invested as much for coverage, that money has to come back from somewhere. I'm happy that your country is an exception to this, but everywhere I've been you're asked for at least 10 more euros to access the LTE network either directly or by being required to get a larger amount of traffic, which are always tied with more talk time.

    • USA

      I'm Sorry Mikael, but this is the land of opportunity and greed!

      • random123

        the land of opportunity?haha what an ignorant..

    • BeliTsari

      Because, Teddy Roosevelt's dead and business writes, adjudicates and enforces all the laws that exonerates the crooks while criminalizing any attempt on our part to avoid being robbed?

  • http://www.facebook.com/matts.lindmark.7 Matts Lindmark

    In comparison to a contract, the AIO is a superior option. It is time for the basic math again and I use a Galaxy Note II as an example this time:

    AT&T Postpaid:

    $199 (Amazon) + $100 x 24 = $2599

    AIO:

    $565 + $55 x 24 (AIO Smart with 2 GB) = $1885

    Total savings: $714

    It is not the best prepaid deal of all but certainly a big saving compared to AT&T postpaid. And no, 2 GB of LTE data is downright pathetic since it is just impossible to use for high quality streaming (Netflix HD, Spotify Extreme quality etc requires a lot more of data, as an example is my Spotify playlists with Extreme that takes around 2-3 GB of my memory card).

    If anything negative would happen with my Straight Talk AT&T service, I would consider switching to AIO.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      I pretty happily pay for AT&T postpaid service for LTE, despite not being able to use it for streaming video constantly, something I rarely do on my phone anyway (except YouTube now and again).

      LTE's big advantage over HSPA+ is end-to-end latency / more efficient connection sleep. The extremely low pings make your phone seem hugely faster when completing tasks that require a data connection. My problem isn't getting 500MB of data as quickly as possible, it's getting my little packets to the server and the data I requested back to my phone as quickly as possible. LTE also doesn't have to re-connect to multiple routers every time you want to initiate a data connection, which is how HSPA+ works (using multiple HSDPA APs to provide a higher net throughput, basically). HSPA+, because of this, "sleeps" into regular HSDPA / UMTS mode when it's not actively transferring data to reduce power consumption, and has to re-connect to those APs when a data request is initiated. All of this creates a substantial end-user delay. LTE has a far more "always-on" feel.

      • http://www.facebook.com/matts.lindmark.7 Matts Lindmark

        I agree with the technological benefits of the LTE but I am not impressed by the US pricing or implementation of it. In Sweden, I have seen a lot of reports of extremely impressive speeds on the LTE networks, for example 40-80 Mbit/s. It is also important to mention that a contract including a Sony Xperia Z ($0 in store) and 5 GB of very fast LTE data is $45 on 3. Paying $100 per month for 2 GB of LTE data is just not an option and I certainly prefer to use a clean, unbranded device since I do a lot more "offline" work than Internet browsing. The AT&T HSPA+ works great on my Xperia Z.

        I am going to start using LTE when the following basic requirements are fulfilled:

        1. There is standardized LTE devices that works on both European and US networks.
        2. Because of 1, there's no need for a carrier branded device in order to get LTE compatibility.
        3. VoLTE is implemented.
        4. A basic LTE plan with unlimited talk, text and a minimum of 2 GB of LTE data isn't exceeding $45.
        5. LTE can be used with prepaid.

        Before those 5 requirements are fulfilled, LTE is completely out of the question and I will stay on HSPA+. If I would be in Sweden right now, I would use a C6603 on the 3 LTE network and use my $45 plan with 5 GB of data and be a happy camper. Since I am used to the alternative, US LTE isn't tempting at all even if LTE from a pure technical standpoint is very interesting. I just don't agree with the way it is handled by the US carriers.

  • Ilkhan

    How exactly is this supposed to convince me to switch from t-mo's 30 plan?

    • blairh

      Most people use more than 100 mins a month. If you don't, kudos.

    • Randy Nelson

      He probably does not have a girlfriend that's why 100mins is enough for him.

      • ltredbeard

        This comment is of no value. What actually probably does is use a VOIP setup.

      • http://twitter.com/Schmaltzed Schmaltzed

        I don't like talking to my significant other in public. We text when they or I are out of the house, and Skype when we're both home so we can video chat or just talk about nonsense without worrying about minutes.

      • neobourne

        no girlfriend ,, or has a wife

      • Adam Smith

        I have excess VOIP minutes from my home phone that I'm able to use via Tmobile data.

        Crystal clear, no problem, I only use my 100 minutes for incoming. If I know I'm going to be on the phone a long time, I say I'll call them back immediately.

    • Douglas Anderson

      T-Mobile has hideous service in much of the United States. I would love to switch to T-Mobile (but I could never get away with the $30 plan), but the pretty much suck where I live.

      • Adam Smith

        I agree is sucks nationally, but it's great here in Asheville NC.

        I switched from TMobile to StraightTalk with an ATT sim, but they did something in April (related to the switch to LTE in Asheville in April???) that made it impossible to get the ATT network service inside my home.

        So I switched back to Tmobile.

  • googlre10

    i m sticking with Gosmartmobile 45$ per month, 5gb in 3g speed, unlimited talk/text.

    • leoingle

      But what network is it using?

      • CeluGeek

        Gosmart Mobile is owned by T-Mobile.

  • TonyArcher

    LTE is more spectrally efficient and cheaper to offer. It's complete bs that at&t tries to sell it as anything different. This is why Sprint will let all MVNOs use the LTE network and I expect T-Mobile would follow suit.

    Although, if I were Sprint I would probably not allow MVNOs to use LTE-800.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Dellios/708169066 Matt Dellios

    I'll never understand how mobile carriers work in the U.S. Here in Aus it's possible to find a byod plan for under $20 per month with the ability to drop out any time with no extra fee. You get a massive amount of calls and texts and 2GB of data with no tethering restrictions. No LTE but there's hardly any coverage for it yet anyway so not really worth having yet...

    • pete skeet

      so you basically answered your own "I'll never understand" then... no LTE coverage

      • Adam Smith

        I get 20MBPS on Tmobile with on my Nexus 4 with no LTE.

  • sounder

    "Service isn't available yet for your area. We're always growing, so check back later."

  • Patrick Hermey

    straight talk does not use att anymore. the few att sims that are left for straighttalk are running 30 bucks or more. net10 uses t-mobile as its default. if you live in an area that has t-mobile coverage... you do not get the option for an att sim. i had to use my old ocean shores zip code of 98569 in order to get the att sim.

    • crystalball217

      Straight talk/tracfone/net 10 are all the same thing...same people who run it. I work for at&t. The above mentioned carriers are split up all over the globe. Some at&t, some verizon, some tmobile, and some sprint. But if you call any straight talk/net 10/tracfone..you are calling the same people. We call them all the time for various things and it's the same # for all. Just depends on what region of the country you live in is which 'portion' of straight talk you get.

      • Patrick Hermey

        i knew net10/tracfone was because of the apn. but you still cant get an att sim through the st site. you have to go ebay or amazon.

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  • CeluGeek

    There is one mistake in this article: "There are three smartphone plans: Aio Basic, Aio Smart and Aio Pro..."

    Aio Basic is NOT for smartphones; it's for basic/feature phones only. As a smartphone user your only options are the $55 and $70 plans.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Thanks.

    • Krlos Polanco

      I'm using basic AIO plan with my nexus 4 right now... I bought a simcard online just to test their coverage in Dumont, NJ...

      Data speed is around 3mb of download.

  • DaveinDallas

    As an ex-iPhone on ATT MVNO user (RedPocket) there are more differences.
    AiO reps were adamant that MMS pic messaging to Non-iMessage phones will work on AiO, and that visual voice mail is supported.
    Those two things are big issues for any other AT&T MVNO.
    Another BIG difference is that the $55 or $70 AiO fee is inclusive of all taxes. A T-Mobile prepaid plan adds several dollars each month for taxes and fees.
    Unless the reps are not really familiar with the service, this could be a big win for consumers who are happy with their current phones.

  • Zuerrokk

    I live in Orlando but since AT&T owns AIO I have zero interest in this Metro PCS/Boost knockoff full of limitations, caps and throttling. By the way, their commercial is very deceiving.

  • tommy9999

    I have a plan with 5 phones unlimited everything insurance on the gs4 and its only $80 a month the company tmobile

  • William Biggs

    I order a phone on the 31 . They said it would ship today and no tracking I order a phone and sim card from the on the 31 last month . They said it would be ship today and it not ship I called at 100:am on the 3rd they would email the billing dept. they would call me nothing . This I call at 1:30 pm same thing they would email billing and call me nothing I called at 6:00 pm they sayed it would ship today nothing yet . I talk to a supervise . They said would open a ticket to the billing . I would here something a few . it has been 4 hours and nothing . Every time I call then there nothing they can do until billing get back to the ticket .

  • Adam Smith

    Doesn't sound like much of a threat to Straight Talk:

    1) Pricing is worse
    2) ATT sims have recently become available again at Straight Talk, after being unavailable for many months.

    Looks like ATT was considering not allowing Straight Talk to give new Straight Talk customers access to ATT (I was actually told this by a ST rep, but don't know how reliable that info is)....

    but ATT apparently has reconsidered, deciding perhaps that this AIO is not really viable or where they want to go.

  • chris h

    Tested straight talk on nexus 4 vs Aio on an identical Nexus 4 while standing at the base of a tower getting -55 dBm on both phones. I found straight talk performed significantly better than aio. Straight talk latency was 60 ms with a speed of a little over 7 MB per sec. Aio was over 300 ms latency and capped at 4 MB per second. Think I'll stay with straight talk for now.

  • Robert

    I get 460 KB a very slow download on AIO ib the South Florida area and I'm not throttled since Im on the 7GB Pro Plan and have used a little over 2 GB this month. Upload is 9.33 MB.

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