Tello is a relatively newer entry into the increasingly crowded field of low-cost carriers, offering very flexible monthly service plans on Sprint's network. Tello's plans are all prepaid, so there are no contracts, no early termination fees and no activation fees for its service. You can easily build a custom plan with just the talk time and data you want or opt for one of four preassembled plans.
Here's what you need to know about this relatively young mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), and whether its plans come with any catches.
What network does Tello use?
Tello provides coverage using Sprint's network. It provides full speed 4G LTE everywhere Sprint does. Once you use up your data allotment for the month, your data access will be slowed to 64 kbps. That's slower than a lot of other carriers, which throttle your speeds to 128 kbps when you use up your data.
What phones can you use with Tello?
Tello offers 27 phones on its site, most of them on the cheap side, with refurbished models bringing the cost down even further. iPhone selection is up-to-date and extensive: you can grab anything from an iPhone X ($999) all the way back to the iPhone 5 (a phone so old, it can't even run the latest version of iOS). On the Android side of things, the highest-end phone is 2017's Galaxy S7, but the focus really is on less expensive devices, like the Moto E4 Plus. At present, we count eight phones available at Tello that cost less than $100.
There are no payment plans for phones: You just pay full price when you get your phone from Tello.
You can also opt to bring your own phone to Tello's network, and any Sprint-compatible phone will do. You only have to make sure your device has no unpaid balance on another network, and that it is unlocked for use on other carriers (if the phone was previously used on a network other than Sprint). A compatibility checker lets you see if your current phone works with Tello's network. If the phone is compatible with both GSM and CDMA networks, you'll have to make sure it has a CDMA SIM card. Tello will sell you one if you need it.
What are the best Tello plans?
If you haven't checked out Tello in a while, its plans have changed — and for the better. You can choose how many minutes and data you need each month, with free texting coming with each option. While the carrier still offers its custom plan builder, you can also choose from four ready-made plans. Even with these changes, you can still save some money if you don't need a lot of talk time or if you rely on Wi-Fi for most of your connectivity and don't need to pay for data over LTE.
Talk plans start at zero minutes and range up to unlimited talk time (for $11 a month); calls to Canada, China and Mexico are included in your plan. Data plans start at $7 a month for 200MB of LTE data, with a maximum of 10GB ($34 a month).
Mixing and matching talk and data packages, you actually wind up with a lower monthly rate than if you just added Tello's listed fees together. Opt for 500 minutes of talk time and 1GB of data, for example, and Tello quotes you a rate of $13 a month. Upgrading to unlimited talk would raise that to $14 per month, while 300 minutes of talk time lowers your bill to $12 a month. (Note that all these amounts are subject to local taxes and fees.)
If that's too confusing, Tello now has four standard plans, ranging from an $11 package with 500MB of data and 200 minutes of talk time to a $39 plan with unlimited talk and 5GB of data (plus that additional 5GB Tello now includes for free).
If you use more than your allotted data for the month, speeds will be reduced to 64 kbps and tethering will be disabled. You can add data at any time at pay-as-you-go rates, though.
Tello also offers pay-as-you-go options with competitive rates. It's 3 cents per minute for calls to and from the U.S., a penny for each text, and 2 cents per megabyte for data. Calls are rounded up to the nearest minute.
What special features does Tello offer?
The big hook with Tello is simple, customizable plans. There are no phone-exclusive plans, no lock-ins, no contracts and no extra fees. You just pick the minutes, texts and data you need. Tethering is included at no additional charge, and just uses your regular data allotment. Talk- time minutes begin when the other end picks up, not while the phone rings.
Outside of the promise for simplicity, transparency and no extra fees besides standard federal and local taxes, Tello doesn't offer much in the way of perks, though it is teasing an upcoming promotion for its second anniversary. Tello doesn't offer roaming or service outside the U.S., either. There is a My Tello app (Android, iOS) that lets you make calls over Wi-Fi in the U.S. or abroad, but minutes will come out of your talk-time balance.
What do customers say about Tello?
Tello has an A-minus from the Better Business Bureau, but with only two customer reviews, that can hardly be considered a comprehensive endorsement. We couldn't find a listing on Yelp at all, nor on BestCompany.com, which isn't unexpected given Tello's low profile.
Sites such as PhoneDog and ThreeThriftyGuys do feature user reviews, and they're mostly positive. Tello likes to point to its 5-star rating on TrustPilot.com, where there are more than 1,000 posted reviews. Tello is praised for its customer service and prices, and for delivering pretty much exactly what it says it will.
If there's a red flag, it's with coverage. Everywhere Sprint has native 3G or 4G coverage, you should be fine. But in some parts of the country, Sprint relies on roaming in any area that's a little off the beaten path. If you do a lot of traveling, you'll want to check Sprint's coverage map. In the areas marked "off-network roaming" or "LTE roaming," you're not going to be able to use Tello. We should also note that Sprint had the slowest speeds among the big four carriers in our LTE network testing, so that's going to impact your Tello experience as well.
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 $10 each month, for example. And Tello has generally competitive pay-as-you-go rates to fill in the gaps.
If you use your phone primarily in one area that's served well by Sprint'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 Sprint's coverage relies on roaming, or if you need a large bucket of data, Tello probably isn't a good idea.