Which Budget Carrier Is Right for You?

Estimated read time 8 min read

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Mint Mobile and Tello Mobile are less expensive alternatives to major carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon. They’re especially tempting options for single-line users looking to save on their monthly mobile connectivity bills.

Mint Mobile and Tello are known as mobile virtual network operators, or “MVNOs,” which piggyback off a major carrier’s network to deliver wireless service. In this case, both Mint Mobile and Tello operate on T-Mobile’s network. 

As such, there isn’t a major difference between Mint Mobile and Tello when it comes to coverage, reliability, and speeds. Instead, the major difference between them is the data allotment in the plans they offer, as well as the pricing. With that in mind, it can be quite simple to pick which one is best for you — go with the plan with the amount of data you need at the best price. We give Mint Mobile a slight edge for its excellent app that makes the carrier our top pick among the best cheap cell phone plans, and one of the best cell phone plans overall, too. 

However, Tello sets itself apart from Mint Mobile and most carriers at large with its customizable “Build Your Own Plan” option that lets you customize how much data and how many voice call minutes you want in your plan. It offers the biggest savings if you know you don’t need that much data, even if you don’t spend much time on phone calls. Accordingly, Tello is our top choice for a “true budget” option in our best cheap cell phone plans guide. 

Mint Mobile (Any 3-Month Plan)

All of Mint Mobile’s three-month plans are now discounted for new customers, so you can get anywhere from 5GB to “unlimited” monthly data (40GB) from our favorite MVNO at the same low prepaid cost of $15/month.

Tello Mobile (Build Your Own Plan)

Tello’s unique Build Your Own plan allows you to customize your data and minutes to your specific needs and offers a low base price of $5/month.

Plan offerings and flexibility

Both Mint Mobile and Tello Mobile offer familiar pre-designed plans with set amounts of data, and both have “unlimited” data plans. Just keep in mind that Mint Mobile caps its unlimited data plan to 40GB before data speeds are reduced, and Tello’s caps its unlimited data plan at 35GB before affecting speeds. 

Below are the standard, entry-level plans for the services, which are prepaid upfront for three months and monthly for Mint Mobile and Tello, respectively. 

Note: All four of Mint Mobile’s introductory three-month plans are currently available to new customers at the same low prepaid cost of $15 a month in a limited-time promotion that the carrier frequently implements. 

At the end of the day, Tello offers the most flexibility when compared to Mint Mobile. That’s because Tello gives you the opportunity to create your own customized plan that can lead to incredibly deep savings if you have a good sense of how much data, and even how many voice call minutes, you really need on a typical monthly basis. 

Indeed, with Tello’s “Build Your Own” plan, you can pick a variety of data and voice minutes combinations with free unlimited texting as standard, potentially costing significantly less than Mint Mobile’s least expensive ($15) 5GB plan. You can go as far as having no data, 100 minutes for voice calls, and unlimited texting for $5 a month. Or, you can get 5GB of data with 100 voice minutes for $11. 

Only Tello offers roll-over data, where unused data (and minutes, in Tello’s case) can be rolled over into the next month. However, Tello requires you to manually renew or change your plan every month to carry over your data and minutes. It’s possible to do this even with automatic monthly renewal billing — you just need to manually do so in the Tello app at least 24 hours before the end of the current billing cycle. It’s not ideal, but at least it’s an option.

Neither Mint Mobile nor Tello offers separate plans for connected devices, like smartwatches and tablets. 

Read our Mint Mobile review or Tello Mobile review for full breakdowns of the services’ respective plans. 

Coverage area

Map of United States indicating Tello’s data coverage areas.

Both Mint Mobile and Tello operate on T-Mobile’s network, and have the same coverage.


As MVNOs, Mint Mobile and Tello Mobile run off the back of major carriers, and both use T-Mobile’s network. That means both should have the same coverage area as each other and T-Mobile. It also means if you know T-Mobile covers your area well, Mint Mobile and Tello should work for you. 

T-Mobile, and therefore Mint Mobile and Tello, typically have excellent coverage in cities and towns. Coverage is also notably good on major highways, especially with 5G connectivity. However, coverage tends to drop off in rural areas and when you stray away from highways. 

Whenever you switch to a new carrier you’re unfamiliar with, it’s usually a good idea to find out whether the carrier services the area well. You can check T-Mobile’s coverage map as a preliminary step, but we find official carrier coverage maps to be optimistic. In this case, you can ask locals in your area who are on T-Mobile (or Mint Mobile and Tello). You could even go on social media services, like Nextdoor. Neither Mint Mobile nor Tello will make sense for you if T-Mobile doesn’t service the areas you often visit well. 

Service reliability and speeds

We experienced slightly better reliability and speeds in testing for our Tello Mobile review in New York City. However, we also suspect we experienced chance deprioritization in the city while testing for our Mint Mobile review — an unfortunate reality of using any MVNO.

Indeed, MVNO customers will experience reduced data speeds when the primary network is congested, and it’s difficult to know where and when deprioritization occurs. T-Mobile prioritizes its own customers with “premium” data that doesn’t get affected by network congestion. 

With that in mind, we fully expect Mint Mobile and Tello to have similar service reliability and speeds, as both run on T-Mobile. Both should also experience deprioritization at the same time, too.

Both Mint Mobile and Tello include 5G service, which can deliver faster data speeds over LTE in certain areas.

Customer support

A screenshot of the Mint Mobile app on the support page, and a Tello SIM card, side by side.

Mint Mobile and Tello have straightforward and convenient custom support, though Mint’s app gives it a slight edge.

Eve Montie/Business Insider

We didn’t experience any major issues with Mint or Tello during testing, so we couldn’t test troubleshooting with more involved issues. However, both carriers offer straightforward apps to help you manage your plans and service. Both also provide chat and phone support, and we experienced low wait times and helpful agents for simpler queries. 

We’re giving Mint Mobile a slight edge over Tello here for its spectacular app, which is well laid out and incredibly user-friendly. 

Which should you sign up for?

Mint Mobile vs Tello Mobile

Mint Mobile and Tello Mobile are both worthwhile budget alternatives to major carriers.

Eve Montie/Business Insider

With coverage, reliability, speeds, and customer support being essentially identical, you could go for either Mint Mobile or Tello Mobile, and your decision should be made by price and how much data you need. 

With that in mind, Tello’s customizable plan option, called the “Build Your Own Plan,” has a lower cost advantage that allows you to pay as low as $5 a month with customizable amounts of data and voice minutes. It’s an ideal option for low-data users or those who don’t spend much time on phone calls.  

If you’re looking for a pre-designed plan, you could go either way for a 5GB plan. However, Mint Mobile offers the best value with its 15GB and 20GB plans. Even further, Mint Mobile is running a promotion at the time of writing for its introductory 3-month plans, where each data plan costs only $15 a month. After three months, pricing returns to normal, with the 12-month plans offering the best value. 

For unlimited plans, Tello’s Unlimited plan offers stunning value at $25 a month compared to Mint Mobile’s Unlimited plan at $30 a month. 

However, do keep in mind that if you can get on a plan with three other people, T-Mobile’s Essentials plan costs $30 a month per line — the same as Mint Mobile’s standard Unlimited plan. And if you can get four people on a T-Mobile Essentials plan, the monthly price per line goes down to $25 a month — the same as Tello’s Unlimited plan. If it’s possible to get three to four people on your plan, you’d enjoy 50GB of T-Mobile’s “premium” data that doesn’t get deprioritized when the network is congested for essentially the same price as Mint Mobile or Tello. 

Antonio Villas-Boas

Senior Tech Reporter

Antonio is a senior tech reporter for Insider’s Reviews team, where he helps lead coverage, reviews, and guides of smartphones, tablets, accessories, wearables, smart home products, as well as audio devices from Apple, Google, Samsung, OnePlus, and other major tech companies. Before joining Business Insider, Antonio was a consumer-electronics analyst at PCMag. He graduated from Colgate University in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in history.
You can contact Antonio with tips and cool tech via email at: avillasboas@businessinsider.com
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