You'll find Tello among the many different MVNOs — or mobile virtual network operators — offering low-cost wireless service to smartphone owners in the U.S. Tello looks to stand out with a blend of affordability and flexibility, making it an attractive option if you're hunting for the best cheap cell phone plan. But is Tello the right service for you?
Tello hopes to win your business with a collection of pre-designed plans, but some customers might also appreciate the phone carrier's "build your own plan" approach. That lets you choose exactly how much you'll pay each month based on the amount of data you use and the number of talk minutes you're allotted.
Whether you decide to design your own cell phone plan with Tello or choose one of the options supplied to you, the network has some very compelling low-cost plans, competing for business in the U.S. with the ever-popular Mint Mobile.
With one of the best prepaid phone plans, Tello offers flexibility, only tying you down on a month-to-month basis. (In contrast, the best Mint Mobile plans require you to commit to the wireless service for a year.) Using T-Mobile's network, Tello also provides 5G coverage if you've got a compatible 5G phone.
Tello may excel in pricing and flexibility, but this comes with some sacrifices. You won't find the perks you get with other mobile plans, and you won't get escalating discounts as you add more lines to a phone plan. (Families can mix and match plans at Tello, for different data allotments and different monthly rates.)
So is Tello right for you or will you find yourself restricted with data caps? Read on to find out more about this cheap carrier and see whether it is the right option for you to go for.
The best Tello plans
Tello has two options when it comes to choosing a cell phone plan — either pick from from a list of deals or make your own plan by adjusting the amount of data and talk time you get. (Texting is free no matter what plan you assemble.)
In terms of data, you can get anywhere from 1GB to unlimited data each month. (No data is also an option.) In terms of talk options, you can choose 100, 300, 500 or unlimited minutes; zero talk minutes is also an option. Opting for lower data and talk limits chips away at the monthly rate Tello charges.
This is likely going to be the best option when it comes to choosing a Tello plan. You can select the exact amount of data, calls and texts you'll receive, mixing it up to find your best price. The customisations start at 1GB/100 minutes and go all the way up to unlimited everything.
If you choose one of Tello's pre-made plans, you have four options, differentiated by how much data each one provides.
While you can customize your own plan, you can also simply decide on a pre-designed option. The cheapest of these is the $9 Economy package, rewarding you with 1GB of data and unlimited minutes and texts. It's cheap but that 1GB limit will prove pretty restricting for a lot of people.
Value does exactly what it says on the tin — it provides you with Tello's best overall value for $10/month. You'll be getting 2GB of data and unlimited minutes and texts. It's slightly more expensive than the Economy option above but for most, the boost in data available here will be a necessary.
Tello's Smart plan doubles the data available from the Value plan boosting you up to a much more competent 5GB. You'll pay $5 more each month for a $14 rate. The extra data will give you a bit more room for some very light streaming, social media and more. Like the two options above, you'll get unlimited minutes and texts
Tello's most expensive cell phone plan at $25 may be the best one for a lot of people. Your bills will jump up sharply here but you will get unlimited data, calls and texts. However, you will only get 35GB of high-speed data, with speeds slowed down for the rest of your billing cycle once you exceed that amount.
Be on the lookout for promotions from Tello that occasionally drop the cost of your first month of service. That promotion is largely aimed at new customers, though.
Tello family plans
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Tello offers family cell phone plans in the loosest sense possible. You'll sign up as a family and you can manage all of the accounts via one email address and one dashboard.
However, past that, there's no real benefit to a Tello family plan. Each person in the family can choose their own plan, pay separately and start their contract on a different day. Plus, there is no discount for added lines as there are with phone carriers who offer the best family cell phone plans.
Other than the ease of checking your accounts and dashboard, Tello's family plans are pretty much identical to buying separately. In contrast, rival provider Visible offers per-line discounts as you add additional lines to your account.
Why choose Tello?
A lot of obvious benefits come with Tello, though the two biggest come down to pricing and flexibility.
All of Tello's plans renew every 30 days. Not only does that mean you can cancel whenever you like without any charges but, it also allows you to update your plan each month if you need more data, want to pay less or need to bump up your minutes.
This flexibility also allows you to pick exactly how much you pay. Tello can get you some of the cheapest prices in the US, especially if you don't need much data and if you feel you're paying too much, you can easily cut your data down and lower the bills at any time.
Looking past the cost and flexibility, Tello's other benefits include unlimited texts on all plans, free tethering with no limits, free calls to 60-plus countries and the use of 5G data via T-Mobile's network. Unlimited plan subscribers get 5GB of hotspot data, while other plans can also use hotspot data as well (though that comes out of your regular data allotment for the month).
What do customers say about Tello?
Tello for the most part is a well rated network. On TrustPilot, Tello scores an impressive 4.6 stars from more than 10,600 reviews, making it one of the best rated options in the US right now.
Over on the Better Business Bureau, Tello's score takes a tumble, scoring a B rating. This however is from just 17 customers so is by no means as comprehensive as the reviews from TrustPilot.
The major factor that stands out in the negative reviews of Tello is around its customer service. Most complaints seem to highlight the network's issues with troubleshooting, customer service assistance and occasional issues with payments.
The next most common complaint focuses on signal with complaints that customers were struggling to get fast speeds in their homes. However, this tends to be the most common theme in complaints across all of the networks, both MVNOs and the core options too.
Is Tello an MVNO?
Like the majority of carriers in the US, Tello is an MVNO, which means it doesn't have its own cellular network. Instead, as a T-Mobile MVNO, Tello uses the T-Mobile network for its speed, coverage and 5G service. There aren't really any issues with an MVNO, operating almost identically to the carrier it borrows from.
That's good news for Tello customers, as T-Mobile ranks very highly for coverage, especially when it comes to 5G. According to testing firm Rootmetrics, T-Mobile ended last year with the fastest 5G speeds and the best 5G experience overall. Other third-party testing firms rate T-Mobile very highly for data speeds as well.
Just be aware that if you get your service through an MVNO, you could see your data speeds slowed if a network becomes congested. Carriers favor their own customers over MVNO partners, so a company like Tello might see speeds slowed, when T-Mobile subscribers are prioritized.
While this is obviously going to be irritating, it doesn't happen all too often and in exchange, you're able to use the T-Mobile service at a much cheaper cost than going directly through that carrier.
Tello: Bottom line
Tello can save you a lot of money if you don't need a whole lot of talk or text. A plan that gives you 100 minutes of talk, free texting and 1GB of data will set you back just $6 each month, for example. Upping your talk minutes to unlimited adds just $3 to your monthly rate.
If you use your phone primarily in one area that's served well by T-Mobile's network and spend most of your time connected to Wi-Fi, you can really save a bundle. If you often travel to areas where T-Mobile's coverage relies on roaming, or if you need a large bucket of data, Tello probably isn't a good idea.
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.