Aio Wireless Hits the Ground Running

Last week, I met with Aio Wireless, a subsidiary of AT&T. As an industry analyst for almost 30 years, I have met with my share of companies — new and old, growing and struggling. They all want to put on a good front so I’ll say nice things about them. Each has its own special set of opportunities and challenges, and that’s the case with Aio Wireless. However, Aio seems to have four key strengths.

Aio Wireless is among the rare set of startups that seem to have their ducks in a row. It just started doing business a few months ago, so it’s a brand spanking new company.

Whenever you look at a new company, chaos is always in the air — and Aio was no exception. When I stopped by, it was rapidly expanding into the office building next door. Young, energetic growth was bubbling in the air.

Aio just went national within the last few weeks. Previously, it had services in a select group of cities. That was smart, since it could iron out the rough edges before the national rollout. As it begins its nationwide expansion, it is offering services to any customer in any state in the U.S. Customers can order a phone and service online or at new stores in a growing number of cities.

A rapid rollout can present it’s own set of challenges. I always see hiccups during this period. So far, Aio seems to be handling this pressure well.

4 Strengths

Aio is a prepaid wireless carrier. The prepaid market is a rapidly growing force in the marketplace, with several competitors vying for dominance. T-Mobile USA offers a prepaid option, as do Tracfone, Straight Talk and others. Major carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and others also offer a variety of prepaid plans at their own stores under different brand names.

Typically, prepaid carriers don’t offer top-of-the-line handsets. However, Aio Wireless seems to break that mold. One of its key strengths is that it sells a variety of top devices from four manufacturers — Apple, Samsung, Nokia and ZTE — and it offers some of the newest and hottest from each. However, Aio is not overloaded with choices. There are roughly a dozen different devices, mostly smartphones.

Another key strength is that Aio offers three simple plans to choose from. The only difference is the amount of wireless data. Talk about simple. The average customer’s needs will be met by the lower- or middle-priced plan, both of which include taxes in their pricing. So the price you see is the price you pay. Period. I like that.

The third key has to do with the quality and reliability of the Aio network. Because it uses AT&T’s network, that base is covered as well. Aio Wireless is a completely entrepreneurial firm that just happens to be a wholly owned subsidiary of AT&T. Imagine that.

Aio’s fourth key is its president, Jennifer Van Buskirk. She was a 12-year AT&T veteran with an idea and a vision. She brought it to AT&T, and they got behind it.

Nimble and Quick

So Aio Wireless is owned and supported by one of the largest and most successful companies in the wireless space — and in fact, the world — while at the same time it’s a hot new entrepreneurial startup. Not too shabby, right?

That said, the whole company is completely under the direction and control of Van Buskirk, who has herself transformed from a corporate type to an entrepreneur.

Aio’s launch was one of the most rapid, entrepreneurial rollouts I have seen in the wireless space. While you would have thought anything tied to an industry giant like AT&T would take longer and be slower moving, Aio appears to move at light speed, and that’s exactly what a startup needs.

With Van Buskirk leading the company, AT&T as a network and financial partner, and a great handset lineup, this bootstrapping entrepreneurial company seems to have some unique strengths indeed.

The prepaid market and wireless in general continue to grow and change. Aio Wireless has a unique opportunity to capture a slice of that pie.

I’m looking forward to following this new company as it faces successes and challenges in the prepaid sector. The wireless industry grows and changes, and new companies, ideas and technologies take the place of older ones. It will be interesting to watch what happens next. Stay tuned.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a technology industry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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