[Tello?] Roll Your Own Phone Plan

Category: Mobile

Competition among phone service carriers is getting red-hot. That’s good for us consumers, as it drives prices lower and erodes the anachronistic tyranny of years-long contracts that effectively enslave us to carriers. The latest 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 very own 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, Cricket, 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, Sprint, and T-mobile (although I give T-mobile credit for being less hidebound than the others). Sprint, the smallest of the four giants, is most active in partnering with MVNOs to boost its customer base,

So Tello is able to offer nationwide coverage even though the firm is too young to have a Wikipedia entry. In fact, there's a drone maker, and a soccer player named Tello that may have better name recognition at this point. Sprint does not have the best network in terms of speed - some areas are still covered by only 3G service - but in major metro areas it’s quite satisfactory.

Tello Mobile Phone plans

No contract is required with Tello; all plans are prepaid. There’s no activation or early termination fee. Just roll you own plan, get a price, and quit whenever you like.

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.

Check out other MVNOs I've covered here: Ting, Consumer Cellular, Project Fi, and Republic Wireless. You may also be interested in comparing your current plan to a prepaid model -- See Prepaid Wireless Phones: A Good Deal?

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,” which tells me they’re using software bots in place of live humans for at least initial contacts, and probably much more.

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 even ships your phones for free!

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 $9/month for 1 GB 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. Play around with Tello’s plan calculator to see the many possibilities.

I don't know if Tello’s business model will prove profitable in the long run, but it sure looks like it will save consumers a lot of money. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[Tello?] Roll Your Own Phone Plan"

Posted by:

Louise Smith
26 Mar 2018

How do you know what the coverage will be with these MVNO's? If you live in a big city, it may not matter. But if you live out in the sticks - - or between hills, or in a place where one main cell carrier has locked up coverage - - it can make a BIG difference.

Posted by:

26 Mar 2018


The LINK does not appear to be working, takes me to 404 Page not Found


Good point.

When we moved to our new home, asking our new neighbors what cell service they used was a good conversation opener (as our own service had become very spotty).

We also asked all our friends who visited what service they used and was it working well in our new home.

This was a great help in determining what company we needed to use.

Posted by:

Frank Marlo
26 Mar 2018

Each of big 4 have data and voice coverage maps that go to street level. Enter you address. Most MVNOs also have maps or you can use the big 4 “prepaid” maps. Maps not perfect but will give idea.

Posted by:

26 Mar 2018

The concern I have (based on personal perception) is that when a main carrier such as T-Mobile off-loads surplus GSM bandwidth to MVNO carriers such as WalMart Family Mobile or Consumer Cellular, the MVNO gets short-changed in signal strength and customer reception is weaker than what the main carrier provides it's direct customers. I have no way to prove this, but my experience leads to this conclusion.

Posted by:

26 Mar 2018

I've been with Ting for a few years now. I spend a lot of time out of country but I pay to keep my number active. It costs $6 a month for that. Well worth not having to hassle with changing my number all the time. I like that I don't have to prepay. I get a bill online and have it set up for autopay. My bills while stateside usually run from $10-20. I'm carried on Sprint and one bene to it is their partnership with a service that sells used Sprint phones (as well as others). They also send out utube videos to describe new phones and services. It's a great company.

Posted by:

26 Mar 2018

It’s nice that some people have this choice, but not everyone does. In rural WV, each carrier’s cell tower placement makes a difference in the quality of signal received. Sprint tends to only follow freeways. If you live away from a freeway, you don’t have a strong Sprint signal. Here, we always choose our cell carrier by the coverage and signal strength each provides, and they are far from being equal.

Posted by:

26 Mar 2018

Is anyone else having a problem with the LINK to Tello, or is it just me?

I get:

404 Page not found

Posted by:

26 Mar 2018

Tello's Plan Calculator must be working, as I get a panel which says: Your current location: CANADA Tello.com provides service to US Based Customers only. Shopping in the United States? Continue
So It knows by the ISP providers address in Canada, which is true, as that is where I am.

Posted by:

26 Mar 2018

Henry, thank you for expressing your logical concern making me think it was my SoCal location and/or that it was a half-dozen years ago that made TracFone on Samsung hardware the best mobile phone (no internet) experience I've ever had, with consistently strong connections and 0 dropped calls, that may have been T-Mobile service like this T-Mobile MVNO link shows: https://cellphonesignalbooster.us/list-of-t-mobile-mvnos/

After that, AT&T, followed by Verizon from West to East Coast on a military favorite expected to continue indefinitely--the Samsung "Convoy" flip-phone (no internet)--though Verizon stopped selling a more advance flip-phone with keyboard.

To others' comments re "Location Location," here's a Sprint MVNO comparison link including map: https://bestmvno.com/compare/sprint-mvnos/

Thank you, Bob and commenters on MVNOs.

Posted by:

Great Artiste
26 Mar 2018

Tried to check if my unlocked Verizon Samsung Galaxy S4 was compatible, they do use CDMA (Verizon uses), but on Sprint (which is absolutely a horrible network IMO and from my experience a few years ago.) Also, MVNOs don't get the priority data speeds on the host networks and are the 1st to get throttled when traffic is high. You get what you pay for.

Soooo.... nope, my phone won't work. I won't buy one of their cheap phones just to get their inferior service.

Posted by:

26 Mar 2018

Prior to signing up with Project fi and buying a Pixel and paying for the phone on an installment plan, I was a TING customer. Analyzing my usage, I decided that I could save a few dollars by switching to Project fi. Things that I like about Project fi are 1. Paying $20 for unlimited talk and text, 2. Paying a penny a megabyte for data. Previously on Project fi, I would pay $10 in advance for a gigabyte and then receive a credit for any unused data, i.e., in reality paying only one cent per megabyte. The latest change to the plan now only charges one cent per megabyte of used data – after the fact (I’m billed for what I have used.). 3. Data charging maxes out at $60 with additional data usage being free, so the biggest bill in any month can be no more than $60 plus $20 or $80 (less taxes). 4. Having the phone seamlessly switch to the strongest signal from among three carriers – T-Mobile, Sprint or U.S. Cellular. 4. Automatically using WiFi when that signal is strongest, saving on data charges. 5. Usage is automatically extended to 135 foreign countries and territories without any action required and with no additional fees. I haven't used this feature.

What’s not to like with Project fi? Well, only two things from my prospective. 1. The automatic switching to WiFi isn’t universal, in my experience. At home, with my being only two feet away from my router, my phone will still try to use a very weak cell phone signal rather than my WiFi. I turn on “airplane” mode to force using my router signal. It might be different with what Project fi calls “trusted” WiFi sites. I don’t use my phone that much so I can’t say how well it works at those locations. 2. Because Project fi requires certain hardware setups, only certain Android phones are compatible. My Samsung III wouldn’t work. The Pixel phone is a big improvement so I’m really not complaining.

Posted by:

John Silberman
26 Mar 2018

Tello is a Sprint MVNO that requires a CDMA phone. I would have jumped all over this deal if it supported a GSM MVNO.

Posted by:

26 Mar 2018

Years ago, MVNO's might have been known as "Shared Users Networks" if cell phones had been as common then as they are now. Still, like the shared users, MVNO's buy/lease/rent circuits from major networks. As a former Network Engineering Supervisor for a shared user company out of Arizona (long-gone but their parent company was PacifiCorp and they are still around) I can tell you that AT&T and others kept the newest and best circuits for their direct customers and we usually received the older circuits for our customers. I do hope this is not the case with MVNO's but I am guessing it might be so.

Posted by:

Jo L. Will
27 Mar 2018

I've used Tello for 11 months now, and could'nt be more pleased. My wife and I have iphone 5S's. We're on their pay only for what you use plan: penny per text, 2 cents/mb. 3 cents/min. So far I'm averaging $5.37/mo, my wife $2.13/mo. That includes the small amount of taxes added when you "top off" (add money) to your account. Show me something cheaper than that!

Posted by:

27 Mar 2018

Hello Bob:

I just inquired with Tello customer service to confirm that national roaming is NOT included with any of their plans.

While Tello's pricing and custom plan options are compelling - most people will want to use their cell phones when away from their home base. As the old saying goes: "the devil is in the details"!

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