Tello Review: A Look at This New No-Fee Cell Phone Provider

Before I tell you more about Tello – I need to tell-o you about something called a mobile virtual network operator (or MVNO). You may have heard this term before OR know what it is. But for those new to it, it could help you save more on your monthly cell phone bill.

To start, a MVNO is:

a wireless communications services provider that does not own the wireless network infrastructure over which it provides services to its customers. An MVNO enters into a business agreement with a mobile network operator to obtain bulk access to network services at wholesale rates, then sets retail prices independently.

Currently, there are about 300 MVNO’s in the US and over 1,200 worldwide. These guys are smaller players in the market – paying license rights to use the big network’s “lines.” (Think, AT&T, Sprint, ie.). According to Wikipedia, 1 in 10 cell phone user utilizes a MVNO provider.

Some of the better known MVNO’s in the States are, Republic Wireless, Ting, Boost Mobile, Consumer Cellular. Because they are merely “renting” their space on the network – they can pass along the savings to their customers.

Pros and cons of a MVNO

It’s important to note the positive and negatives pertaining to a mobile virtual network operator.

pros

  • No contract
  • Same native towers, but very few MNVO’s have roaming
  • Few or no taxes/fees (administrative fee, etc)
  • Cheaper
  • Same features as postpaid (411, voicemail, call forwarding, etc.)
  • Many of the same phones on postpaid networks

cons

  • No subsidy (pay full-price for a phone)
  • Don’t have retail locations if you need in-person customer service
  • Higher ping times on mobile data (higher latency means less priority through the data network)
  • Some MVNO’s have a limited selection of phones

In my experience with a MVNO, the pros definitely outweigh the cons – especially by way of cost, flexibility and customer service.




Introduction to Tello

All this leads me to introducing you to another new player in the MVNO market, Tello (You have to admit they have a cool name). When the Tello folks contacted us to help get the word out and also take a look at their offering – we were thrilled. I personally love passing on any news to readers that might help them save more money or lower their existing cell phone bill.

So, let’s take a look at Tello. Here’s what they have to say about themselves:

Tello.com is a telecom provider newly launched on the US market with a strategy focused on low rates, no hidden fees, customizable plans, prepaid services with no contract commitments and great customer care. The company behind Tello is present on the UK market since 2014 serving customers through its Tello.co.uk website. Both Tello.com & Tello.co.uk were designed by KeepCalling, a global telecommunications company registered in 2002 in USA. Presently, KeepCalling has been listed by Inc 5000 as one of the fastest growing companies in the USA for 5 consecutive years. 

What differentiates Tello from other MVNO players?

  • Nationwide 4G LTE coverage
  • Flexible plans
  • Transparency
  • No predefined phone-plan combos
  • Tether away for free
  • No ring time charges

One of the things I really like about Tello is their “Build Your Own Plan” offering. Basically YOU choose how you want to set up your plan NOT the provider.

build your own cell phone plan
Tello’s BYOP is great for those looking into flexibility

Of course, they do have pre-defined plans for those who don’t want to think too much OR don’t know quite what they need:
predefined cell plans

Before you decide to sign-up with Tello, you’ll want to be sure that the coverage is good in your area. They have a handy coverage map on their site  and you can plug in your home address to see if the 3G or 4G will be sufficient in your ‘hood.

A look at Tello's 3G coverage
A look at Tello’s 3G coverage

Customers can bring their own phone, any eligible unlocked CDMA device, or they can buy a new phone directly from Tello, with prices ranging from $66 to $380. I think this is a great feature, because many MVNO’s do not offer this alternative.

What’s to lose?

Unless you have a lot of money lying around, travel every week OR have a sweet deal on a family plan – switching to a MVNO like Tello is a no-brainer. I’ve been with an MVNO provider for almost two years now – and I won’t go back.

Before I was paying at least $35-50/mo. for my individual portion on a family plan – but now I pay less than $15 every month. This more than meets my needs.

Are you on an MVNO? What are your thoughts?

You may also want to look into other MVNO providers as well, like Ting and Republic Wireless.

The preceding was brought to you by Tello. All thoughts and opinions expressed are our own.

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17 comments

    • Sarah Mathews says:

      Ting is terrible if you use data. They consider 1 gig of data “Large”. My coworkers laugh at me when I say I use that little. I generally use 1.5 which pushes me into the XL bracket for them which is 20$ all by itself, just to use facebook, no streaming of anything. I use <100 min a month and around 1000 texts, my bill is usually about 65 (6$ of that is a second not smart phone). Ting is only cheap is you don't really use data. Adding a second phone is really cheap with Ting, only 6$ per phone.

  1. Barbara Hejazi says:

    Hi, I’ve signed up with Tello with a new factory unlocked iPhone 5s and they have activated it but still I have no service. I have had many conversations with them and their techs, advised me to stop by a full service Sprint store after giving me a username and password to set my APN. Sprint guys tried but could not help. I just go back and forth. I’ve paid for this month plus the month for my old carrier. After I was able to get service with Tello, I’d get them to port the number over. Well here I sit, still trying. I just can’t be rude to service folks, sometimes they just can’t help ya. I’ve been trolling the internet and trying a lot of the ideas given but without success.
    I can’t say whether or not Tello is going to be a good choice.

  2. Michelle says:

    Dear Barbara,

    I just talked to our Tech Support team and they’ll look further into this case right away. Also, our Customer Service team will contact you again to perform some troubleshooting steps.

    I am sure will manage to sort it out and to help you use the service.

    We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and we appreciate your patience.

    Michelle on behalf of Tello.com

  3. Suedoe says:

    I just signed up for Tello today after years of up/down “service” from a struggling MVNO (STIMobile and its iterations).

    My number has still not ported (only been a few hours), but I must say NO ONE, ANYWHERE, OF ANY BUSINESS TYPE, has been as good on communications. They helped me during the struggles to wriggle free of my previous provider (which wouldn’t answer my emails or phone calls).

    With 3 cent per minute talk and no daily or monthly “keep alive” charge (do have to pay taxes on time bought, about 20%), nothing else even comes CLOSE to providing me with the emergency service (only) that I need.

    Hats off to them (so far)!

  4. Bryan says:

    I needed a work line that wouldn’t charge me an arm and a leg for light usage. I’ve been using Tello for about 4 months, and I absolutely love it. I like the fact that you could pick your plan every month based on your anticipated usage, and that the data gets throttled and not completely turned off. Typically I go back and forth between 100-200min a month, and 200MB of data. I typically go through the data within the first couple days, but then it’s throttled which is still good enough to get texts and email which is mainly what I use that phone for.

  5. Kirsten says:

    I use my phone for navigation (googlemaps) and sometimes I’m in remote places, mostly east coast. The service map on Tello is just purple (coverage) and white (no coverage?). There’s a lot of white. I’m currently with sprint, and Tello says they use sprint towers – but Sprint seems to have service in areas that are ‘white’ in the Tello map. Before I switch to Tello, I’d like to know if I’ll be able to access google-maps or a navigation app when I’m remote.

    • Michelle says:

      Dear Kirsten,

      We (Tello) do use Sprint for coverage, and if the Sprint map shows coverage for a certain area, then you should get it too if you join Tello.

      However, there is a big difference between 3G and 4G coverage. It’e easier to get 3G coverage, although it’s a little slower. The easiest, safest way to check is to contact our Customer Service team (24/7 by phone & email) and provide them the ZIP code(s) where you usually travel.

      Hope I answered your questions. If not, I do encourage you to contact my colleagues: http://tello.com/contact, they’re friendly & helpful.

      Michelle,
      on behalf of the Tello.com team

      • Kirsten says:

        COVERAGE: I compared the Sprint coverage map with the Tello coverage map. The difference is that Sprint has free ‘ROAMING’ in areas where it does not have tower/coverage. I called your customer service rep to confirm this, and she told me that Tello does not have roaming, so in areas that are white on the service map, there is NO coverage. There are a LOT of white areas, as soon as I get off any major highway, which is where I would really need navigation. She said I could download an app which I can use in WIFI to make calls in non-covered areas. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help me with navigation as I would not have wifi. I wish Tello met my needs, but navigation and calls in remote areas is important to me. I don’t need it often, but when I do, I need it to work. Thanks for your help. When you have better coverage or offer roaming, I would absolutely be interested in switching. Cheers!

    • Darrell says:

      If you use Ting you have the option of signing up for Sprint or T-Mobile network coverage. Pick the one that provides the better coverage for you. Same price for either one.

    • Aaron says:

      Hi AR. If you need unlimited data and roaming – I am not sure I’d select Tello. Tello has plans up to 5GB data / month but nothing unlimited and no roaming. 5GB is a lot of data – but I might look elsewhere for something more robust if you are a heavy user / traveler. Of course, you can always get unlimited data when on WiFi. EDIT: Tello has informed us they may be adding national roaming in the near future. (9/21/16)

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