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.

Plans starting at $5/mo at Tello

Get 15% off any new monthly plan with code 15OFFAFF. Offer ends soon.

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?

Plans starting at $5/mo at Tello

Update 1/30/17: Since switching to Tello full-time, I have been paying $11.69/mo. ($10 base rate for unlimited text, 100 min. calling and 200 mb data + $1.69 in taxes). It’s been more than I need given that I utilize WiFi much of the time.

Update 5/4/17: To celebrate their one-year birthday, Tello is offering new customers 90% off their first month phone plan of $10 or more when signing up for their service with promo code “BDAY”! Offer is valid from 5/4/17-5/10/17. If you are a current customer of Tello, enter promo code “1BDAY” for 25% off a changed/new/renewed plan of $15 or more between 5/5/17-5/8/17.

Update 6/23/17: Get 70% off for any plan worth $10 or more by using the code: 2HOT between 23-30 June (EDT). The 70% off is only for your first month.

Update 7/18/17: Add a cell phone plan with mixed minutes, texts & data of $10 or more in any combination (that means you can even get a plan with text or minutes only, and still enjoy the free data offering) with code: 1DATAMIX and get any data option free of charge, from 200MB to 5GB. First month only / for new users only.

NEW 7/24/2017: Get 50% off any new monthly plan with code CJ50OFF. Limited time only.

Update 8/18/2017: Get 15% off any new plan with code 15OFFAFF. Offer ends soon.

Update 10/19/2017: Tello just announced they are lowering their rates on all of their plans effective today. Every plan will include unlimited texts, no matter the minutes/data combo customers chose.

Here are some examples of their new lower rates:
unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 500 MB –> $26 old, new $19
unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB –> $29 old, new $22
unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 2GB –> $39 old, new $29
unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 3GB –> $49 old, new $35

Update 12/4/2017: Tello again announced they are dropping prices on their plans. Here are the updated changes:

unlimited text & talk, 1GB –> $22 old, new $19
unlimited text & talk, 2GB –> $29 old, new $25
unlimited text & talk, 3GB –> $35 old, new $29

Comparison of other MVNOs

MVNONetwork UsedPlan Price
(Min. available)
Mexico & Canada Included in PlanCustomer ServicePlan Friendliness
(Ability to uprade / downgrade at will)
Free Tethering
BoostSprint$35 (Unlimited / 3GB data)$5 extraFair1 month noticeNo
Consumer CellularAT&T, T-Mobile$15 (250 min / no data) AARP members can get 15% discount.International direct dialGoodAnytime-
CricketAT&T$25 (Talk / Text Plan)Smart / Pro Plans onlyFair2x per billing cycleNo
Republic WirelessSprint, T-Mobile$15 (Unlimited talk / text)NoFair (Most CS logged to community)2x per billing cycleYes
TelloSprint$5 (100 min / Text)Yes (texts and MMS only)GoodAnytimeYes
TingSprint, T-Mobile$15 (100 min / MB / text. Plans based on what you use). Offers $25 upon signupYesGoodNoNo
TwigbySprint, Verizon$9 (Text + 200min + WiFi only)NoGoodYesYes

The preceding was brought to you by Tello. All thoughts and opinions expressed are our own. TTG may earn a small commission on plans purchased via this post at no cost to you.

Tello Mobile

Varies
Tello Mobile
8.6

Ease of use

9.0/10

Reliability

9.0/10

Customer Service

9.5/10

Performance

7.5/10

Features

8.0/10

Pros

  • Low cost
  • Unlimited text / data while on WiFi
  • App available
  • Build your own plan
  • BYOP

Cons

  • No roaming
  • No international service
  • Piggybacks off big providers

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53 comments

    • Lieschen Orerreh says:

      yes and they have bad Reception that use up my data plan by constant loading and just had 1 to 2 bars even i go outside. i will never get tello again bc I accept I made a mistake by sending text message wherein I did not close the plan but I accept it was a mistake I thought I used my other cellphone but Tello send me 2 0r 3 times warning in a day for 5 consecutive days and retaliated if they will sen me again the messages i will report them to the media as a harassment to a senior. They don’t say that they put tax to the plan…Bad Marketing.. I took now Metro PCS and even have internet access in my laptop for $60. unlimited inclusive no Taxes added

      • Robert says:

        In my opinion Ting is not a great option. $16 for a month with 92 minutes of talk and 3mb of Dtat. Breakdown, $3 Talk, $3 Data, $6 Line charge, Taxes. This is for a “Back-Up” phone I keep.

    • 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)

  6. A Mac says:

    Ring Plus is awful. They just cancelled me after 3 months by cancelling my plan. I lost my upfront money, and to choose another plan I had to pay $23. So I paid $9 plus tax for 3 months of service. Lousy if you are looking for a low use phone. Ring plus might work if you are a high user – but they cancel their plans and change them and keep your auto top up you paid up front. And if you look at their current plans there really is only one free one – but you pay the auto top up when you sign up. And the plan can be cancelled whenever they feel like and they keep your $

  7. Cath says:

    If you have an extra phone, use it. I bought a phone from them i know it’s refurbished, but didn’t know it was that bad that you cant even hear the other party unless you turn on the speaker. Called them up, they asked me rto return the phone and they will replaced it after 15 days, from the time they received my shipment. Its been 21 days no updates or whatever. You have to call them
    Again and again. And they will
    Just tell you they don’t have any updates too from the dept that’s checking the units. So it means you have to wait until they probably feel like giving updates. But im still charge with monthly service even without a phone. Yeah they have cheap rates and cheap phones too. So be careful when you buy a unit from them.

    • Michelle says:

      Hey Cath,

      We apologize for the inconvenience and we are very sorry you received a device not 100% functional.
      We know it may seem a long time, but our return policy stipulates a 15 business day deadline, which actually means 21 standard days. Plus, we just heard back from our phone provider and it seems the phone you returned was received and today we’ll ship you a new one.

      Moreover, you don’t have to worry about the billing. We know there were several days when you weren’t able to use the service and, based on our standard procedure, we will extend the 30 day plan period. This way, you will be able to use the balance for the same period of time and you will be charged later on.

      We apologize again if the 15 business day period seem a bit long and we hope you’ll continue using our service.

      Michelle,
      On behalf of Tello.com

  8. Robert says:

    Just switched from RingPlus to Tello because I got an email from RingPlus letting me know Sprint intends to evict them from the network. Ends up being a little more, but at least I don’t have to deal with idiotic plan names.

    • Aaron says:

      Hi Robert. Welcome to Tello – I think you’ll like them. Excellent customer service and very customizeable plans that fit almost any need.

  9. Helen says:

    How much do I have to pay in order to set up a “pay as you go” account? Any top up money is needed? Say I have to pay $5. I will keep using this money till the balance becomes low. Then, I will need to deposit more money, right?

    • maria dima says:

      Yes, you need to add more money and the credit in your account can be used for 6 months. I strongly recommend getting a plan and customizing it to your needs – add minutes, texts, data

  10. Helen says:

    I am currently with Ringplus. How long does it take to port in my phone#? Do you charge a fee to port in a number? Thanks.

    • maria dima says:

      The porting process usually takes about 2 business days, but due to the high volume of port in requests, it may take longer than usual.
      There is no porting fee at Tello!

  11. Alison says:

    It used to be that you could walk into any big box store and buy a brand new sprint prepaid or Boost mobile phone which I did and used it with Ring Plus but I seem to remember that that was stopped by Sprint at some point. I’m moving to Tello now and do you know if I can still do that, I thought I might as well get a new phone at the same time. if not I can uses my existing Rig Plus phone.
    thanks

  12. Aurelio says:

    We began to port out our R+ number on Feb 4th to Tello before coming across this write up. Any way to still qualify for the 30% offer?

  13. Christian says:

    I signed up for service with the small Sprint MVNO Twigby. They have better prices than Tello and you can roam on Verizons network

    • Aaron says:

      Thanks for the comment Christian. Haven’t heard of them. From checking them out, their options seem somewhat limited and the prices to Tello’s are comparable.

  14. Ashley says:

    Hello,

    I am purchasing three LG gizmopal II smart watches for my toddlers and wondered if I can use them with Tello. They are unlocked/contract free devices from Verizon. Also, can I purchase a data plan for a tablet or is this service for cell phones only?

    Thank you

  15. Les says:

    I don’t know which is worse Tello or Straight talk between them they managed to lose my advertised phone number while trying to port my phone number from Straight talk to Tello. I don’t think either company knew what they were doing during the 4 day fiasco. Finally I went to TPO the phones provider and had them activate it at a minimal price and plan to bounce to Boost mobile this month, $35 for 3 Gigs and unlimited talk and text. Enough with both these companies for hiring such incompetent morons.

    • Aaron says:

      Hey Les. Thanks for sharing your experience with Tello. I know they can have their hiccups especially when porting numbers – but their customer service usually tries to get to the bottom of it / or lets you know what they can / cannot do.

  16. lgt says:

    Hi,
    Does anybody know if with Tello you can change plans or actually cancel the plan for a few months? I spend three/four months abroad and I would prefer not to have any phone plan in the USA if not here. Just wondering how much flexibility one has with Tello to change to another cheaper plan when not using the phone or even not having any plan and getting a new one upon my return. Also, does the sim card expire after a certain time?
    Thanks.
    Best,

    • Aaron says:

      Hi LGT. You could probably go about this by using the pay-as-you-go plans. The only catch here is that if you don’t use up the plan minutes / data / what-not within 6 months, the credits expire. You could also just purchase a plan and go month-by-month as this is how they do their billing and then sign-up again when you return. There are no “activation” fees. You can upgrade / downgrade plans at will too. As for the sim card, don’t believe there are any expirations associated with them.

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