Hello, Tello? Roll Your Own Phone Plan

Category: Telephony

Competition among mobile phone service providers is getting more intense. That’s good for consumers, as it drives prices lower and erodes the anachronistic tyranny of long-term contracts that effectively enslave us to entrenched carriers. On the flipside, one example of free enterprise at its finest is Tello. Let's take a look at how it works...

Hello, Tello!

Tello is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) that lets you build your own phone plan starting from just $5 per month. You might not be familiar with the acronym, but surely you've heard of other MVNOs, such as Tracfone, Consumer Cellular, Ting, and Republic Wireless. Simply put, MVNOs buy telecom services from the large nationwide carriers at "wholesale" prices and resell it under their own brand. Want to learn how Tello works, and how to make it work for you? Keep reading...

A MVNO like Tello does not own any carrier equipment; no cell towers, no data centers, no cables, etc. Instead, Tello buys network capacity from Sprint, and resells minutes, messages, and data to consumers. The MVNO business model enables startups like Tello to try their innovative ideas in a marketplace dominated by giant, old, hidebound corporations like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile/Sprint.

Tello offers coast-to-coast wireless coverage in the USA on the Sprint network, which recently merged with T-Mobile. The 4G LTE network allows high quality calls (national and international), video streaming, and fast data connections.

Tello Mobile Phone plans

No contract is required with Tello; all plans are prepaid. There’s no activation or early termination fee. Just roll your own plan, get a price, and change or quit whenever you like. Tethering is permitted to share data with your other devices. Tello also has a referral program. Use your link to refer friends and if they place an order, you both get 10 Tello Dollars.

A plan includes calls to anywhere in the US, Canada, Mexico & China (an interesting addition). Other countries can be called or texted on a pay-as-you-go basis. You can use Paypal, Visa, Amex, Discover or Mastercard to pay your monthly and ad hoc charges.

To avoid the cost and headaches of call centers, Tello does all of its customer service online. That’s a red flag to some people, but having dealt with agents whose English left much to be desired, I am rather fond of online customer service. Tello claims that its Customer Service team will “answer in less than five seconds”.

Less Restrictions, More Value

Tello has eliminated several onerous restrictions often imposed by the big carriers. No longer are the most desirable phones tied to the most expensive plans. You can change phones whenever you wish without sticking to a carrier’s upgrade schedule or paying a penalty for “early” upgrades. Tello has a "bring your own phone" option and sells a variety of both low-end and popular phones with free shipping.

There are no restrictions on tethering - that is, using your phone as a mini-hotspot to let several devices connect to the Internet through it. The devices can be yours or anyone else’s.

“Ring-time charges” are out with Tello. Billable time begins when a conversation begins on a call; you don’t pay for 30 seconds or more of ringing before your friend answers or the call goes to voicemail.

Tello plans start as low as $5/month for 500 MB of data, with no calling minutes or text messages. I don’t know of another carrier who sells data-only plans like this one. You can put together a plan that exactly fits your mix of voice, text, and data usage, and change it any time you want. For example, a combination of 4 GB of data and unlimited text/talk is just $19/month. Play around with Tello’s plan calculator to see the many possibilities. Family plans are also available.

When Tello launched in 2016, I wasn't sure if their business model would prove profitable in the long run, but it looks like things are going well, and Tello is saving consumers money as well. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Hello, Tello? Roll Your Own Phone Plan"

Posted by:

Robert T Deloyd
10 Jul 2020

I switched to Tello because I wasn't using any data and mostly used my WIFI at home. I only need voice and maybe a few texts when I'm on the road away from my car that has its own WIFI so my plan is way under $10 a month.

Posted by:

10 Jul 2020

Wow,this MVNO concept sound good for someone who doesn't want a full-time provider with the restrictions.Great for someone who does a lot of traveling or someone whose finances are not steady.

Posted by:

10 Jul 2020

I use a company built on a similar model in the UK and pay next-to-nothing month by month. The next change I would like to see is a similar network that is carrier-independent — enabling connections where any one of the carriers has poor coverage by seamlessly switching to another carrier. I'm sure this would be possible, and as the majority of calls would be where all carriers have a strong presence, they could easily switch calls to whichever network best suits their business in these areas.

Posted by:

Jean Warren
10 Jul 2020

I have used Tello for a couple of years and have saved a lot of money. I have relatives living in Canada, and Canadian calls & texts are free. I only pay for what I use -- no monthly fee, and have found their online service to be GREAT!

Posted by:

10 Jul 2020

I have been on Verizon for many years because it has the best reception where I live. I was sharing a "family plan" with my kids which includes one Teenager who uses a lot of data and my son-in-law who uses data when they travel (RV) for TV - - I do not think I have ever used 1 GB unless travelling and using maps a LOT.
I recently switched to Total Wireless - - an MVO that uses the Verizon network. Saving about $50/mo and no loss of service!!!!

Posted by:

Art F
10 Jul 2020

I've been with Tello for a year and a half and love it!! A great money-saver for me is one that Bob didn't mention: their Pay-As-You-Go option, which is an alternative to those roll-your-own plans he talks about with monthly fees. Under Pay-As-You-Go, there are NO monthly fees. You just pay for what you use, at a rate of one cent per minute for domestic calls, one cent per text, and 2 cents per MB for data charges. The data charges, for me the biggest component, can be minimized by using wifi instead of their network when available. (Turn off "cellular data" under "data usage" and leave it that way except when you need it for navigation or whatever.) As a minimal cell phone user (I use my home land line, mostly), I've actually been averaging less than a dollar per month. This seems unbelievable, but I swear I am not exaggerating!

Posted by:

John S
10 Jul 2020

Will these MVNO's let you port your phone number to them?

Posted by:

B.A. Brown
10 Jul 2020

I switched to Tello sometime ago because you recommended it. At first I was delighted at the service and the Customer Reps were really good. I live in a rural area and the service from the cell tower is not always good but with Tello it was great for quite a while but after a couple of storms, became very spotty. Complaints got it fixed promptly...until they didn't. TMobile has thumbed it's nose at net neutrality for years and now that it owns Sprint the service is so bad I got a plan with another provider for my main hotspot and just kept Tello on a reduced plan for a backup. Even so, when I used up all my high speed data I was supposed to be able to continue my hotspot with the lower speed data. Instead my hotspot was disabled completely until my plan renewed and even then I could not get the high speed data I was entitled to...only 3G. Very disappointed.

Posted by:

John T
10 Jul 2020

Sad thing to me is they teamed with Sprint! So that stops me there.

Posted by:

The Baroness
11 Jul 2020

Hi Bob, I was in Telephony for many years from the get-go on January 1, 1984. MVNO is the same service as "shared use networks" from the 80's and 90's and into the 2000's. My main jobs were in engineering and operations management, and in my experience the circuits purchased/leased and used by MVNO's are usually older ones the seller won't use because they cannot handle the heat and traffic of today's demands. (Think USB 2 and USB 3. MVNO = USB 2.) Even when I was with what was then the second largest telecom company on Earth (MCI), MVNO's got the less efficient, older circuits. Just my experience and opinion. . .

Posted by:

11 Jul 2020

I have been using Tracfone for years. Every 3 months I buy a 60 minute card for about $21 and my phone triples minutes, texts, and data. I’m a light user so for $7 per month I get everything I need plus decent telephone customer service.

Posted by:

11 Jul 2020

Sprint calls get dropped in my neighborhood. I need to keep looking.

Posted by:

Dan S
12 Jul 2020

Right on Linedancer PLUS data, phone, and texts ROLL OVER to the next month. So easy with auto pay(with discount) every 3 months. Plus keep your phone, phone #, w/Verizon ---how can you beat this? Will say Art F, Tello Pay-as-you-go looks good...but Sprint :-(

Posted by:

12 Jul 2020

Actually $5 per month is way more than we're paying with Tello. I've been with them for 39 months so far. I'm 20 days away from a year of service costing me only $21.29, which was my last recharge (deposit) on 8-2-19. My wife is using even less- our bill for both runs about $5.66/mo average. We bought our iphone SE's on ebay a year ago for $100 each- pristine condition. I think it's called Tello's Pay As You Go- we pay a penny per minute or text, and 2 cents per mb of data. (That comes out of your deposit bank). Watch that data! Of course imessages and data over Wifi is free. NOBODY is cheaper than Tello!

Posted by:

13 Jul 2020

You lost me at Sprint...Sprint drops calls in our area!

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