When my contract with Sprint came to a close, it became clear to me that I wanted to try something new for a change. However, I realized that my options were quite limited with the 4 main carriers in the US whose ads I’ve grown used to seeing.
This was when the concept of MVNOs came onto my radar: for those who don’t know what an MVNO is, it’s an abbreviation for a Mobile Virtual Network Operator.
At its core, an MVNO is a cell phone carrier that doesn’t own the entirety of network coverage like the 4 main companies do, but instead purchases small amounts of territory through significantly lower rates. This then allows them to sell it to consumers at whichever price they want, making it a new way to have cell phone service for those who are wary of purchasing from bigger brands.
Because MVNOs are typically much smaller companies with non-comparable advertising budgets to the bigger corporations, their biggest competition is typically with each other. And, since there are over 300 MVNOs currently operating in the US right now, the rates are becoming increasingly more competitive, something that is a great opportunity for consumers who are looking to have significantly cheaper phone bills.
MVNOs allow you to have the same (if not identical) service to that of larger brands without the contractual obligations that typically make your service with more notable companies feel restricted.
The main advantage of MVNOs for people who are on the lookout for a new phone plan is the ability to not overpay for things that you aren’t going to use in the first place. This definitely became a huge problem for me as I started to realize I didn’t need the unlimited plan I used to have with Sprint. Sure, I use a good amount of data on my Smartphone, but not nearly enough to justify the price that I was paying for Sprint when compared with friends of mine who do use enough data for that to be a bargain.
Ultimately, though, MVNOs come down to flexibility. If you want to stop your plan when leaving the country for a few months, you just don’t have to pay until you return. Many of the best phone service providers even let the minutes roll over, ensuring that not only are you paying a fraction of what you used to pay, but the service you’re getting is truly flexible.
This is where Tello comes in—as an MVNO, Tello is a relatively new service (since 2014) that purports itself to be a true change for the world of MVNOs. It is owned by KeepCalling, a telecommunications company from the UK that also has set up shop in the US.
Some of the benefits that Tello uses to distinguish itself from the rest of the MVNO market are: 4G coverage nationwide, flexibility with their plans, free tethering away, and no phone-specific plans.
Right from the get-go, though, it’s clear that the service is very intuitive. Tello has their “Build Your Own Plan” widget that lets potential customers design their own plan to see how much it will cost them for a monthly, pay-as-you-go contract.
For those who are more interested in simply signing on with a preexisting plan, Tello also offers a decent variety of “ready-made deals” ranging from $10/month for 500MB data/200 minutes/Unlimited text to $39/month for 10GB data/Unlimited minutes/Unlimited text.
Unlike other MVNOs, Tello unfortunately does not cover necessarily everywhere in the US. However, they do provide a helpful map of their 3G network so you can understand exactly where they are able to reach before you commit to a purchase.
Because I live on the east coast, it was clear that I should at least give Tello a try to see if I like the service. So, that’s just what I did.
My Thoughts on Tello
Hands-down the biggest advantage for me of being on Tello is the flexibility. As somebody who doesn’t use my Smartphone that much, I was able to pay only $14 per month to have 1GB of data and unlimited texting/calling. This was a huge plus for me, as previously I would frequently think that the amount I was paying for my phone bill didn’t feel accurate for how much I was actually using.
I have only been using the service for a month, but even knowing that I’m not locked into a contract puts my mind at ease. For example, if I want to go out of the country for a month or longer, I can simply leave my phone idle and not have to worry about paying for the bill while I’m away.
I found that their coverage was also good for what I was paying, since it was pretty robust on the east coast. The only negative side for me was that there would then be almost no coverage when I visited the west coast, but I didn’t mind too much.
When the service is good, though, it is good. Something I was worried about when trying out Tello was that because of its status as an MVNO, the service I would be getting would be second-rate. This could not have been more false, as I was delighted to find that the service I was getting was pretty strong.
In terms of data, it was a similar story; the nationwide 4G network that Tello boasts is pretty fast and allows you to surf the web at lightning speed in areas that have coverage. My phone is typically on wifi at work, so I didn’t take full advantage of this, but noticed it heavily when traveling on the subway or using my phone in public over the weekends.
The data that they give you isn’t necessarily the most, though. For about $14 per month I had 1GB which was certainly sustainable, but I did feel like there was an upper limit at some point. At the end of the month I ran out of data and was subjected to Tello’s throttled 64 kbps speed which is actually half as slow as competing MVNOs, so that was a bit discouraging. This made the limit of the wifi feel real and almost inaccessible unlike other services I’ve used in which I’m able to
On my last pay-as-you-go phone plan I was paying about $10 for 1.5GB, so that feels a bit cheap on the part of Tello. Given that the same amount with Tello would get you only 500MB of data, a third of the other network, that could be deterring for some.
However, the service for telephone calls is better on Tello than it was on the previous pay-as-you-go provider I had. So, depending on which is more important to you (data or calls/texting), you might find your needs swaying you a certain way.
Something that users without unlimited talking plans will notice immediately is that Tello, unlike over MVNOs, doesn’t have rollover minutes. However, there is a way that you can have your minutes roll over regardless, but you need to be using the “Build Your Own Plan” model. To do this, change your plan on the last day of the month to the next highest option (i.e. if you had 100 for talking last month, choose 200). Then the minutes will roll over to the following month, after which you can switch back to 100 at the end of the month. Continue doing this to save your minutes if you’d like, ad infinitum.
For me, though, I didn’t need to necessarily do this with my month of Tello. I was on an unlimited talking plan, so it was a non-issue for me.
One of the most relieving things to know, though, about Tello’s service is that it actually uses the same network as Sprint. This means that I can enjoy the same coverage I got from Spring for only a fraction of the price I was once paying, which I think is really, really convenient.
A downside about Tello (and most MVNOs in general) is that there are no phone/data bundles that you can get. So, if you want to get a new phone, you’ll have to pay full price to get it. If you’re somebody who needs to get a new phone, then I might suggest looking into a different MVNO that has the best cell phone deals you can utilize. There are plenty of Verizon wireless deals that will meet this need. However, if you have a phone already and are not in the market for a new one, this is irrelevant.
That being said, though, there are some phones you can find through Tello that offer discounts—it’s not just the same thing as the phone being free and coming with a certain amount of minutes like other MVNOs do.
All in all, I’m very happy with how Tello has given me an alternative to my Sprint contract that not only gets the same exact coverage as them, but does it for a fraction of the price. The downsides only really come when you stretch the limits of your service (i.e. going over your data limit and experiencing the slow crawl of the throttled data), but if you’re the type of person who is able to control and regulate their usage, this is likely no problem for you.
The amount of data the service gives you is not as much worth the money as other services, period. However, if you don’t need as much data and are simply looking for a cheap plan, then Tello is the plan for you.
That being said, there are also other services that give more data but don’t give unlimited calling and texting, so it all depends on what your priorities are.
At the end of the day, I’m happy with my Tello plan and am relieved to have found a service that is affordable and flexible!
Getting tired of the cost and limiting contracts of postpaid plans? Time to consider switching to Tello. But first, get to know more about this alternative mobile service with our FAQs below.
Know more about Tello and its benefits against traditional postpaid subscriptions
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How does Tello work?
Tello is a prepaid phone network service that runs using Sprint’s network in the US. Once you get an account from Tello, you’ll be able to use it anywhere there is Sprint coverage.
How to use Tello?
You will need to get a Tello account and sim card. Then, after choosing or creating your prepaid plan, you can use it like a regular phone network.
What network is Tello on?
Tello runs on Sprint, which is among the four biggest network carriers in the US. However, it cannot run on places where Sprint use roaming services to get signal.
Is Tello VOIP?
No. Unlike other prepaid networks, Tello offers a full cell service connection to its customers. Subscribers, however, can still make calls over wifi through Tello’s mobile app.
Where to buy Tello sim card?
Tello sells its own CDMA sim card for use of its customers. However, there are also a lot third party resellers that sell CDMA sim cards which can be used with Tello.
Where to buy Tello?
Tello implements a subscription service model so aside from an optional sim card or phone, you won’t need to buy anything. You can subscribe to its service by creating an online account.
What phones work with Tello?
All phones that have previously been used with Spring will work on Tello. Also, phones that work on the CDMA network will also work on Tello. For a full list, go to Tello’s website.
Is Tello any good?
If you do not want to be tethered to expensive postpaid plans that have long-term contracts, then Tello is a good option. It offers you the ability to customize your prepaid plan according to your needs and budget. Also read our Freedompop review for a comparable option.
How long does Tello take to activate a line?
The good thing about Tello is a lot of its processes does not take too long to be availed. Once you have followed the steps for activation, it can take as little as 30 minutes to have your line active.
How do I find my Tello account number?
Once you create an account with Tello, you can just login to their website to check on your account details, including your account number.
Does Tello support GSM?
Unfortunately, no. Tello only runs on CDMA network, so the phone that you have to use with Tello must support CDMA as well.
Can I use a Straight Talk phone for Tello?
Technically, yes. Although they are competitors, they both run on CDMA network, so if you bought a phone from Straight Talk and decided to switch to Tello, you can theoretically use the same phone by following the activation steps. The same applies to Textnow phones.
Can a Boost mobile phone be used on Tello?
Yes. Boost mobile is actually part of the Sprint company and uses the same cellular network. As Tello also uses Sprint networks, phones bought through Boost should work with Tello as well.
Does Tello have Hawaii numbers?
Tello, being a mobile service, does not offer mobile numbers that can only be used on specific states such as Hawaii. Your prepaid Tello number can be used in any US state for as long as there is Sprint cellular coverage.
Which is better, Tello or Republic Wireless?
Depends on your needs. Republic Wireless does run on more networks than Tello, which can result in better coverage. But Tello offers more affordable and more customizable plans.
How much does Tello charge for a sim card?
Tello offers relatively affordable rates for its sim card. You can buy one for $9.99, but the rate might slightly differ if you choose to get it from a reseller.
Can my Tello work in Mexico with roaming?
Unfortunately, no. Tello does not support roaming services, and cannot be used in areas where there is no cellular service from the Sprint network. But you can call Mexico or China using your regular call minutes allocation.
Who sells Tello phones?
Aside from subscription plans, Tello does sell phone online which can be used in its network. Most of these phones are cheaper as they have been refurbished.
Does Sprint sell Tello cards?
Sprint does not sell Tello-branded sim cards. However, since any Sprint-enabled sim card can run on Tello, you can just buy from Sprint and have it activated later with Tello.
How long does it take for Tello to process an order?
If you’re ordering a phone from Tello, it usually takes 3-4 business days for your handset to be delivered to you. But for creating a free account, I can take just a few minutes.
How to activate Tello?
If you want to use your own phone for Tello, you need to activate it first before you can start using the service. To do this, login to your Tello account and follow the steps for your specific phone type (Android, iOS, etc.)
Can I backup text messages on Tello?
Yes. As with any other prepaid or postpaid plan, you can backup your text messages locally on your phone or online through a storage service.
How to put review for Tello service?
There are a couple of platforms where you can post a review about Tello. You can do it on Tello’s own website, or on third party websites such as TrustPilot, Better Business Bureau, and many others.
Which is better Tello or mintmobile?
This will depend on your needs and the type of phone you plan to use, because Tello only works with CDMA phones, while mintmobile uses GSM phones.
Can I use Tello sim in Sprint phone?
Yes you can. In fact, it is recommended if you plan on using your own phone with Tello, because Tello actually runs on Sprint’s network.
Can you stream movies on Tello service?
This all depends on the amount of data you’re allowed in your plan. In the meantime if you do have enough data then we wrote a review to help you pick Netflix or Hulu. If you use wifi service then it will save your data and likely be faster. The other option is to get mobile hotspot unlimited data included in your plan.
Know what phones work or do not work with Tello, and how to configure your phone to work with the service
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Does the Moto G5 Plus work with Tello?
Yes it does. Moto G5 plus is included in the list of phones on Tello’s website that works with the service.
Can you use Tello with an iPad?
Yes you can. Tello works with iPads, even with ones that were not purchased through Sprint. You can use iPads from AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and those purchased from Apple Stores.
How to set up Xiaomi for Tello?
First, you need to verify whether your handset will work with Tello. If it’s verified, then you can follow the steps to activate Tello on Android devices, which are carrier reset, profile update, and PRL update.
Will Windows phone work on Tello?
Depends. Windows phones vary in terms of network access, as some are GSM-only and some also support CDMA. You will need to have it verified by Tello first if its eligible.
Can you use Huawei Mate with Tello?
It will have to depend on the exact model number and phone IMEI. Have it checked first by Tello’s compatibility checker to be sure before using it on Tello’s network.
Is Tello compatible with iPhone?
Yes it is. In fact, iPhones are among the types of phones that Tello offers as part of its prepaid plans. You can even get it at lower prices because Tello usually sells refurbished units.
Is Google phone compatible with Tello?
Yes it is. Google Phones like the Nexus and Pixel models are included in the roster of phones that work with Tello’s network.
Read on to know more about the technical details that come with a Tello subscription
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Can Tello work with 4G?
Yes it does. In fact, anywhere that Sprint has a cellular service (except roaming) Tello can work there too.
Can I port my number to Tello?
Yes you can. You have a number of options to keep your old number when you subscribe to Tello, depending on your current provider. If you’re already with Sprint, it is actually mandatory to keep your number.
Can I receive calls with Tello's wifi app?
No. You can use Tello’s app to make calls over wife and this is especially useful since Tello only works within the US (although you can make calls to Mexico and China as well). Unfortunately, it does not support receiving calls.
Can I add multiple lines on Tello app?
Not yet. As of the moment, Tello does not support multiple lines within a single account. You will have to create separate accounts for each subscription.
Does Tello have wifi calling?
Yes, but only through its mobile app. Tello does not support wifi calling through its cellular network, unfortunately.
Which sim card should I get for Tello?
Tello can provide you with its own sim card if you do not have one already. But if you do have one, it is highly recommended to have Sprint sim so there’s less steps to be taken.
What towers does Tello use?
Tello runs on the same network of towers used by Sprint. This means you have good coverage in most parts of the country, except in areas that are more remote.
Do you get unlimited 2g data with Tello?
Yes. Once you go over the 3G or LTE data caps of your chosen plan, your internet speeds will be throttled to 64 kbps, which you can use in unlimited fashion. Check out the unlimited talk text and data plans we reviewed.
Know the ins and outs of the various plans available with Tello
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How to change plans on Tello?
It is very easy to change plans on Tello. All you have to do is either logon to your account via their website or use the mobile app. The chosen plan will be activated immediately.
Does Tello have a yearly plan?
No. All plans from Tello can be acquired from month to month. They can be changed or retained monthly as well.
Can Tello have more than one phone on a plan?
Unfortunately, having two phones on a single plan is still not supported by Tello as of the moment. You can only use a single phone, whether from Tello or your existing unit, with a single Tello account.
How to check balance of Tello?
Checking your Tello balance is easy. You can do it in three ways. You can call 611 from your Tello device and select 2, login to your account on the Tello website, or use the Tello app.
Does Tello have "bring your own phone" plans?
Yes it does. You can use your existing phones and sim cards with Tello, provided that they run on CDMA networks and have been verified to work with Tello.
How to cancel Tello account?
One of the advantages of Tello is that you can cancel your account anytime. You’ll just need to login to your account via Tello’s website or Tello’s app.
Does Tello pay as you go have an expiration date?
Yes it does. If you don’t use Tello’s pay-as-you-go feature, the credits for it will expire automatically after three months.
Do Tello minutes roll over?
Yes it does. If you change to a new plan, any remaining unused minutes will rollover to the new plan, allowing you to maximize your balance and credits if you satisfy specific requirements for roll over.
Jordan's work focuses on helping people reach their financial goals so they can spend more time with family and friends and less time worrying about their budget. After finishing college with a degree in Accounting and Communication, he realized that these are the most important things in life and that people shouldn’t miss out because of money.