IMPORTANT NOTE: As of January 2021, Tello now runs on T-Mobile’s network. This review was written when Tello used Sprint’s network.
If you’re looking for the absolute cheapest cell phone service plan, Tello Mobile is one of the few options to consider.
After recently lowering its rates, Tello’s plans range from $5 to $39 per month. The low-cost carrier is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that relies on T-Mobile’s towers to provide network coverage.
Editor’s note: This service was tested when Tello used Sprint’s network.
Everything You Need to Know About Tello Mobile
I signed up for Tello and tested the provider to see if it’s worth the savings. Here’s my real customer review after spending 30 days on the $10 per month plan.
Table of Contents
- Plans and Pricing
- Activation Process
- Phone Selection
- Call and Text Performance
- Mobile Hotspot
- Data Speeds
- Customer Service
Plans and Pricing
Tello’s cell phone plans are some of the cheapest around, starting at $5 per month. However, that $5 plan doesn’t come with data and only gets you 100 minutes.
For my test, I chose the $10 plan that includes unlimited talk, text and 1GB of high-speed data.
Tello lets you build your own plan or choose from one of its ready-made deals. The most expensive plan offers unlimited talk, text, high-speed data for $39 per month.
Tello’s plans renew automatically every 30 days, but you can cancel whenever you want for no extra charge.
Tello is an online-only wireless provider, so I signed up at Tello.com, selected my plan and ordered a SIM card for $10. Shipping is free.
When the CDMA SIM card arrived at my door a few days later, there were no instructions included. Fortunately, the activation process was simple. I just inserted the SIM card into my phone and was up and running moments later.
Still, I wish that it included step-by-step activation instructions for those who are less familiar with the process.
Editor’s note: As of January 2021, Tello sends a GSM SIM card.
For my 30-day test, I used an unlocked Moto G6 smartphone to try out Tello’s service. If you don’t have a compatible device (check here), you can purchase a new phone from Tello.
At last check, about 10 phones were available for sale, including budget and high-end models.
Call and Text Performance
From my test location in South Florida, Tello delivered solid call and text performance. I noticed no difference compared to when I recently tried out Twigby, another Sprint MVNO (as of August 2021, Twigby runs on Verizon’s network).
There were no dropped calls, no missing texts and everyone said they could hear me loud and clear.
Of course, call and text performance will vary depending on where you live. To give you an idea of what to expect, Tello has a coverage checker on its website that requests your home address.
Some low-cost cell phone providers restrict the use of mobile hotspot, but tethering is allowed with Tello.
Since I only had 1GB of data to last the entire month, I was unable to test this feature. But Tello says on its website that tethering is free of charge and data will be deducted from your plan.
I found data speeds with Tello to be inconsistent and somewhat unreliable.
For example, I repeatedly lost a data connection while using Google Maps for navigation. On one occasion, I had to pull over my car to open Google Maps from a backup phone.
When I was at home, the data speeds were more steady and allowed for viewing of YouTube videos without buffering.
There are no Tello stores where you can go for customer service, but toll-free phone support is available by dialing 611 from your Tello phone or calling 1-866-377-0294.
Although I had no urgent customer service needs, I called and was put on hold for a few minutes until it went to voicemail.
Having phone customer service is a plus for a budget cell phone provider, but I was disappointed that nobody was around to answer my call during the middle of a weekday.
Fortunately, canceling my Tello account didn’t require a phone call. I was able to do that online from my account dashboard.
Tello’s prices are great, but the service may be a headache if T-Mobile’s network coverage isn’t up to par in your area.
In addition to checking the coverage online, you can go to RootMetrics and enter your location to compare the performance of the major wireless networks where you live.
If you’ve tried Tello, let us know in the comments below if you’d recommend it!
This article was originally written by Michael Timmermann and published on August 8, 2019.