Ina Fried

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AT&T’s New Aio Prepaid Brand Takes a Page From T-Mobile’s Playbook

With T-Mobile grabbing a lot of headlines for its no-contract phones, AT&T is launching a new brand of its own focused on that segment.

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Aio Wireless (pronounced Ay-Oh) is launching Thursday in three cities — Houston, Orlando and Tampa.

Plans range from $35 to $70 a month, and devices offered include smartphones from ZTE and Samsung, as well as the Nokia Lumia 620 (a Windows Phone model that previously hadn’t found its way stateside). Customers can also bring their own devices to the network.

It also has the iPhone at standard unsubsidized prices, meaning that a 16 gigabyte iPhone 5 sells for $649. At the other end of the spectrum, the ZTE Prelude, an entry-level Android device, is priced at $49.

Aio’s website has a decidedly non-corporate feel, with a woodgrain background and promises of being “simple” and “delightful” — two words not always associated with wireless carriers.

AT&T is taking another page from T-Mobile’s playbook, offering unlimited data with all its plans, but pricing the different options based on how much of that data customers want at full speed.

The heftiest plan offers a whopping 7GB of high-speed data for $70, while a 100MB plan costs $35 a month.

AT&T is not alone in establishing separate brands aimed at different segments of the market. Sprint, for example, sells prepaid service under both the Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile brands. Sprint has used both to try out different pricing and marketing tactics than it uses with its main brand.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus