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Cricket relaunches prepaid wireless service, boosted by AT&T's LTE network

AT&T is wasting no time putting its Leap Wireless acquisition to good use. Two months after the Federal Communications Commission gave thumbs up to the Leap deal, AT&T is relaunching Leap's Cricket Wireless as a nationwide band. The new Cricket merges Leap's low-cost, no-contract mobile service with AT&T's own Aio brand, which will be retired in favor of the Cricket name.

The new Cricket covers 97 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers, according to the company, with 3,000 stores nationwide.

Cricket will offer three different packages for smartphone subscribers. Depending on your data needs, Cricket offers monthly plans at $40, $50, and $60 with 500MB, 2.5GB, and 5GB of data, respectively. If you surpass your monthly data allotment, Cricket won't charge extra, but will throttle your bandwidth speeds instead.

Unlimited voice, text, and data are included in all three of Cricket's monthly plans. Anyone willing to sign up for Cricket's automatic billing will get a $5 discount on their monthly bill bringing the cost down to $35, $40, and $55.

Cricket also offers an unlimited talk and text plan for $25 per month.

The downside of a low-cost provider like Cricket is that you have to bring your own compatible phone or purchase a new one outright. Cricket is currently offering eight different smartphones on its site, including Apple's iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S, the Motorola Moto G, Nokia Lumia 520, Samsung Galaxy Express, Galaxy S4, ZTE Overture, and ZTE Prelude. Prices range from $50 to $650.

To help make it easier to swallow the cost of buying a smartphone in one go, Cricket is offering a $50 mail-in rebate with all its phones except the iPhone.

AT&T's Cricket relaunch has been a long time coming. Rumors of AT&T's aim to buy Leap first surfaced two years ago. AT&T officially announced its Leap acquisition last July and the deal gained regulatory approval in March.

With Cricket, AT&T hopes to strengthen its low-cost, no-contract mobile services. But the company isn't just targeting the likes of T-Mobile's Metro PCs and Sprint's Boost Mobile. In the relaunch announcement Cricket also targeted Sprint and T-Mobile, two of the four largest mobile carriers in the U.S. behind AT&T and Verizon. Thanks to its parent AT&T, Cricket now has more LTE coverage in the U.S. than either of its two larger competitors.

However, the existing Cricket network uses CDMA technology, which is incompatible with the wireless technology that powers AT&T's LTE network. Current subscribers won't be able to tap into the greater AT&T LTE network unless they switch to a compatible phone. The company plans to migrate all existing subscribers to new, AT&T-compatible phones within the next 18 months.

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