AT&T rolls out the ‘new’ contract-free Cricket

The wireless giant folds Aio Wireless into Leap’s Cricket to create a “new” prepaid Cricket on 4G LTE.

Lynn La/CNET

AT&T has doubled down in the no-contract 4G LTE wireless arena.

Now that the company has completed its $1.2 billion acquisition of Leap Wireless, AT&T announced Wednesday that it is merging Aio Wireless into Leap's Cricket prepaid brand. This "new" Cricket is slated to give US users contract-free wireless on 4G LTE.

"Today is more than a milestone in the industry, it's a signal to consumers to get ready for a smart wireless service option without an annual contract," President of new Cricket Jennifer Van Buskirk said in a statement. "We're fired up to help people across the country take advantage of our fast nationwide 4G LTE network, affordable pricing plans and cool devices everyone will love."

This merger means existing Cricket customers will see some changes in the future. Once the integration of Aio Wireless and Leap's Cricket is complete, users will have to get new phones and plans. But, for the time being, they can keep their same plan, phone, and phone number. As for Aio Wireless customers, nothing will change except the brand name.

AT&T won approval from the Federal Communications Commission to acquire Leap Wireless in March. The wireless giant agreed to pay $15 a share in cash for Leap's wireless network, which covers about 96 million people in 35 states. While the FCC initially had concerns about the deal's impact on competition, it said those concerns were mitigated by AT&T's plans to deploy LTE service on used Leap spectrum.

Over the past year, AT&T has devoted increasing time and resources in the prepaid wireless world -- putting itself in direct competition with T-Mobile's MetroPCS and Sprint's Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has suggested that the new prepaid Cricket line will have an aggressive pricing front and flexibility when it comes to service offerings.

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