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AT&T CEO vows to 'shake up' no-contract wireless with Cricket

AT&T's head honcho teases lower priced plans and different offers in the pre-paid arena.

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
2 min read
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson at Mobile World Congress 2013
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson at Mobile World Congress 2013 Stephen Shankland/CNET

AT&T believes the acquisition of Leap Wireless and the Cricket brand will give it a shot in the arm in the pre-paid wireless arena.

At least, that's what AT&T Randall Stephenson believes. On a conference call with analysts on Tuesday, Stephenson teased big things on the no-contract front once AT&T completes its acquisition of Leap Wireless, which is expected later this quarter. Leap operates its prepaid business under the Cricket name.

"With the Cricket brand on top of AT&T, you can expect us to be disruptive in the no-contract space," Stephenson said.

Exactly how AT&T and Cricket will shake things up remains unclear, but Stephenson provided some hints.

He suggested that the Cricket line would be more aggressive on a pricing front, at least far more aggressive than AT&T. The Cricket brand allows AT&T to play around with the pricing and service offering without affecting the core brand.

"There's some flexibility to do some things that are different with a different brand," he said.

Another question is how this affects its existing prepaid businesses, including GoPhone and Aio Wireless, which launched just a few months ago.

AT&T, meanwhile, isn't the only carrier to get aggressive on prepaid. T-Mobile has its own MetroPCS prepaid arm, while Sprint has long pursued prepaid customers through Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. Leap, meanwhile, was on a downward slide when AT&T scooped it up, so there will likely be a lot of work to turn that business around.

The company reported it lost 32,000 prepaid customers in the fourth quarter, but blamed it on a decline in tablet activity.