How I Pay Less Than $7 A Month For (Good) Cell Service

Months ago I had written about how I quit my Verizon phone service to save myself heaploads of money, at that time switching to Mint Mobile (previously Mint Sim).  Since then I’ve switched phone plans yet again, this time to Tello.   I haven’t written about my new phone service up until this point because I’ve been negligent of my blog gathering information for all yee who read, so now that I have more data I figured it was prime time to share.

I’ll start with a review of Mint Mobile.  For those of you unfamiliar with the service, it’s an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator – a company that runs on the cell networks of one of the big four cell service providers but doesn’t have the steep operating costs of the big four so it can offer lower prices to its customers) on T-Mobile’s service that offers service in 3, 6, and 12-month time chunks – essentially contracts – but since you’re not paying month-to-month the cost is cheaper than that of T-Mobile’s plans.  It was my first time leaving Verizon so I was uncertain on what I would find in regard to the quality of MVNO.  The coverage on Mint Mobile was certainly a bit spottier than Verizon, but living in a major metropolitan area I didn’t really notice much of an issue with coverage. Overall I was pretty happy with the six months of Mint Mobile’s service I purchased.

So why did I switch?  Two reasons.  The first, and most relevant, reason was the cost.  With Mint Mobile I was paying $15 a month for service with no option to decrease that cost, and I was honestly looking for a better monthly deal long-term.  The second was an issue I had repeatedly with phone call and voicemail notification with Mint.  Seemingly randomly I would hear from family members or friends who relayed that they called me and left me a voicemail, but I would not receive any indication that they had called or left a message until a day or two or three later; this occurred even with my phone sitting in front of me at the time they called, connected to the network, and fully charged.  This was more of an inconvenience than a problem, as it only happened once in awhile.  However, one morning at 3am I was forced to call 911 for B because he was having medical issues.  The situation itself was scary enough, but what made it worse was that we could hear and see the ambulance outside of our apartment building but it seemed to take forever for emergency personnel to enter.  It wasn’t until later that I realized what had happened: B and I live in a building where, in order to enter, a key code must be entered on the outside call box.  When I called the 911 operator I gave her the key code for the paramedics to use, but it seems that information was never transmitted to the emergency personnel who arrived at our building.  The EMS/fire department is fortunately only located a few blocks from our apartment building, so they arrived fairly quickly.  I had the front door to our apartment propped open for the emergency personnel, meaning we could see the lights flashing through the windows when the ambulance arrived soon after I made the call.  However, it took them a good 20-30 minutes to get into our building, which I assumed was due to them setting up supplies or something of that nature.  I feared leaving B alone to let them in, which is why I didn’t let them in myself.

I later came to find out that the paramedics were not setting up outside for 20-30 minutes, but were instead trying to get into our apartment building.  We were far enough away so we couldn’t hear them knocking, but the next day a voicemail popped up from the 911 operator asking me how the paramedics could get into my building since they were having trouble entering and requesting I give 911 a call back.  I had kept my phone with me the entire time we were waiting for the ambulance and had perfectly good service during this period, but for some reason I did not receive the call nor the voicemail until it was too late.  We never found out how the paramedics did enter our building (I’m assuming a poor neighbor was awakened at 4am by a banging on the door and was forced to get up and let them in), and luckily B was not in life-threatening danger.  However, the situation could have been very different, and to say it was not at all ideal to have phone issues with Mint Mobile at that moment is a understatement.

Due to the 911 ordeal and the fact that I was looking to drop my monthly phone bill lower I switched to Tello after my 6-month contract with Mint Mobile was finished.  Tello is another MVNO, but runs through Sprint instead of T-Mobile.  This has led to interesting coverage gaps, such as at my parent’s house in the suburban northeast or on most underground DC Metro station platforms, but neither of these are much of an issue for me since I’m only in those locations for very limited periods of time and have access to WiFi networks instead.  What I love about Tello is that it’s a small company based in Atlanta, Georgia that began providing phone service 3 years ago.  Having lived in Atlanta for several years I love supporting a local business, plus the fact that they have great customer service doesn’t hurt, either.  Tello runs plans month-to-month with no contract, which allows users to back out at any time.

The best thing about Tello?  Their prices.  Tello’s website allows you to mix and match the number of minutes and GB of data you would like for varying prices, all of the plans coming with unlimited texting.  I originally signed up in fall of 2018 for the $5 plan, which at the time included unlimited texting, 100 minutes, and no data.  However, I’ve since had to switch to a plan with data for work reasons and was on the $8 plan for quite some time (unlimited texting, 100 minutes, and 200 MB of data).

Luckily for me Tello just improved their prices today, lowering plan costs even further.  I’m currently signed up for the $6 plan, which includes unlimited texting, 100 minutes and 500 MB of data.  While 100 minutes may seem like a low number of phone call minutes, I’ve found I use texting to communicate much more often than phone calls.  Additionally, instead of using phone minutes if I need to make a call I instead use WiFi calling, which can be done via Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, or Google Voice (what I used for the majority of my calls).  In regards to the 500MB of data, once a user runs out of the amount of 4G data allotted to them (assuming the unlimited data plan was not selected), data usage transitions over to 2G data, which is still plenty fast for checking email or using mapping capabilities.  Further, Tello has a Pay As You Go feature where you can add Tello Dollars to your account.  Once the account runs out of minutes or data the plan will withdraw Tello Dollars for each additional minute, international call, or data usage.  It’s a great way to have access to additional minutes or GB of data as needed, rather than paying monthly to use a chunk of something that you won’t necessarily use.

Tello plan

I’m quite happy with Tello’s service and plan to stick with them for as long as their prices remain low and their customer service remains helpful.  While this seems to be an all-out plug for Tello I have not been compensated in any way for writing this blog post.  However, if you’re interested in starting service with Tello there is a referral program (referral code: P3GRS7R7) where you will receive $10 Tello dollars upon sign-up.

One thing to note is that Mint Mobile uses GSM, while Tello uses CDMA.  (Confused as to what those letters mean?  Don’t fret, I was too.  Take a look at this helpful article to learn more).  Therefore, I had to get a different phone to use Tello’s service.  Luckily my sister had an old iPhone she wasn’t using that was compatible, but you can check to see if your phone is compatible on their website.

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