After using Tello Mobile as our primary cell phone service for 3+ years, we wrote this Tello review covering the good and the bad.
Before I tell you more about Tello Mobile though – 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, an 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 139 MVNO's in the US and over 1,300 worldwide. These guys are smaller players in the market – paying license rights to use the big network's “lines.” (Think AT&T, Sprint, etc.). According to Wikipedia, 1 in 10 cell phone user utilizes an 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.
Get 15% off your first plan order with code 15OFFAFF. For new customers only.
Pros and cons of an MVNO
It's important to note the positive and negatives pertaining to a mobile virtual network operator.
Tello Review – Pros
- No contract
- Same native towers, but very few MNVO's have roaming
- Few or no taxes/fees (administrative fee, etc)
- Cheaper than major service providers
- Same features as postpaid (411, voicemail, call forwarding, etc.)
- Many of the same phones on postpaid networks
- Can make calls to Canada, China (new) and Mexico
Tello Review – 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
Introduction to Tello Mobile
All this leads me to introduce 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 Mobile. Here's what they have to say about themselves:
Tello 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 in the UK market since 2014 serving customers through its Tello.co.uk website. Both Tello & Tello UK were designed by KeepCalling, a global telecommunications company registered in 2002 in the 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 Mobile from other MVNO players?
- Nationwide 4G LTE coverage
- Flexible plans
- No predefined phone-plan combos
- Tether away for free
- No ring time charges
One of the things I really like about Tello is its “Build Your Own Plan” offering. Basically YOU choose how you want to set up your plan NOT the provider.
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:
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.
Tello Review Update – Three Years Later
It's been over two years now that I first got on-board with Tello Mobile. And, I have to admit, that I was a little skeptical about how it was all going to work out after being on AT&T for many years.
I was paying (about) $40/mo for my unlimited everything with AT&T and with Tello, I pay $11.34 (tax included) for 200MB, 300min, and unlimited text. Over the 28 months that I've been on board, I've saved over $800!
While the service is not perfect (no MVNO is), it definitely meets my needs and is all I need, since I can operate on WiFi much of my days (limiting my data use).
Looking back, I'm still glad that I made the switch.
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 an MVNO like Tello is a no-brainer.
Before I was paying at least $35-50/mo. for my individual portion on a family plan – but now I pay less than $12 every month.
Are you on an MVNO? What are your thoughts?
Get 15% off your first plan order with code 15OFFAFF. For new customers only.
Tello Mobile FAQs
What network is Tello on?
Tello Mobile uses Sprint for their network.
What phones work with Tello?
The following phones will work with Tello:
- Any CDMA device free of contract developed for Sprint or for other carriers
- Unlocked iPhones from 5S to SE and Nexus 5 to 6P
- Or choose from a variety of phones offered through Tello – starting at $25
Does Tello offer WiFi calling?
They do – but you need to download their app to make calls (via the My Tello app).
Is Tello's coverage good?
Since Tello is using Sprint's network, you can be assured that it is comparable. However, since they rent their space from Sprint, Tello service can (at times) experience slight delays in dialing / jumping online. But over my years of using Tello, I have not had a lot of issues jumping on calls when I need to and accessing my data. But, I rarely dial-out and often use WiFi.
Are Tello phones unlocked?
According to Tello's website, “all phones available at Tello are unlocked and free of contract.”
Can I port over my current phone number?
Yes. Once your phone is active on Tello, you need to contact their customer service. They will help you port your number.
Does Tello offer International roaming?
According to Tello: Unfortunately, we do not offer roaming services or national roaming at this time. However, while you are abroad you can call over WiFi using your account balance with our app, My Tello.
How many different phones does Tello offer for sale?
As of this update (5/1/2020), they have 23 different phones for sale – from Android to Apple, refurbished to new. Their lowest price phone is an Alcatel Cinch at $25 (refurbished) and their most expensive is an Apple iPhone at $700.
How do I know how much data I have left to use on my plan?
If you have the My Tello app installed on your device, it's very easy. Open the app, and click on “Show Balance” to see what you have available.
Update 1/30/17: Since switching to Tello full-time, I have been paying
$11.69/mo. $11.21/mo. ($10 base rate for unlimited text / talk 1GB data + $1.21 in taxes). It's been more than I need given that I utilize WiFi much of the time.
Update 5/25/2018: Tello announced their referral program for existing customers. Users can find a unique link in their dashboards they can share to refer a friend to the service and both will receive $10 Tello dollars (good for use for phone or plan purchases).
Update 6/11/2019: Tello has changed their plan pricing once again. Which means more bang for your buck! Here's how the new prices look:
- unlimited talk&text – $8/mo
- unlimited talk&text + 1GB – $10/mo
- unlimited talk&text + 2 GB – $14/mo
- unlimited talk&text + 4 GB – $19/mo
- and several new plan options.
Update 8/27/19: Tello is offering a sweetheart of a deal: a plan for new customers: unlimited talk & text plus unlimited data. After a monthly cap of 25GB 4G LTE data is reached, data will be throttled down to 2G speeds. In other words, for a limited time, they give new customers the chance to get 25GB 4GLTE data instead of 12GB for only $39/month. Wow!
Update 3/17/20: Tello launched their Spring Promo today. They are offering all new & existing customers $75 off a wide range of phones; includes certain models of Galaxy, iPhone, and Moto G7. This offer is good through March 31, 2020.
Tello Review and Comparison of Other MVNOs
|MVNO||Network Used||Plan Price|
|Calls to Mexico & Canada Included in Plan||Customer Service||Plan Friendliness|
(Ability to uprade / downgrade at will)
|Boost||Sprint||$35 (Unlimited / 3GB data)||$5 extra||Fair||1 month notice||No|
|Consumer Cellular||AT&T, T-Mobile||$15 (250 min / no data) AARP members can get 15% discount.||International direct dial||Good||Anytime||–|
|Cricket||AT&T||$25 (Unlimited Talk / Text Plan)||Smart / Pro Plans only||Fair||2x per billing cycle||No|
|Gen Mobile||Sprint||$5 (Unlimited text)||Yes (over 101 countries)||Good||Yes||Yes|
|Republic Wireless||Sprint, T-Mobile||$15 (Unlimited talk / text), + $5/GB||No||Fair (Most CS logged to community)||2x per billing cycle||Yes|
|Straight Talk Wireless||AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon||$35 (Unlimited text/talk + 2GB)||Add-on||Good||Anytime||No|
|Tello||Sprint||$5 (100 min / Unlimited text)||Yes (texts and MMS only)||Good||Anytime||Yes|
|Ting||Sprint, T-Mobile||$15 (100 min / MB / text. Plans based on what you use). Offers $50 credit upon signup||Yes||Good||Okay||Yes|
|TracFone||Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile US, Sprint Corporation, and U.S. Cellular||$14.25 for auto-renew (200 min / 500 texts / 500mb)||No||Fair||Okay||No|
|Twigby||Sprint, Verizon||$9.00 (Text + 300min + WiFi only)||Yes (and China)||Good||Yes||Yes|
|UNREAL||Sprint||$10 (Unlimited text + talk + data – up to 1GB)||No||Fair||Yes||No|
|Visible||Verizon (Visible is not considered a traditional MVNO)||$40 (unlimited talk,text and data)||No||Good||Only one plan offered||Yes|