TPO Mobile, short for The People’s Operator, is a cell phone carrier that donates 25% of profits to social causes. Sadly, you've probably never even heard of this small fish in the big pond of mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs.
MVNOs are mobile virtual network operators, which are smaller carriers that run on the networks of larger carriers. You might already be familiar with MVNOs like Virgin Mobile, Cricket Wireless, and Straight Talk. Each has its own niche, or selling points, that give them a foot in the consumer's door.
Instead of having an in-house network of their own, MVNOs rent network space from the larger carriers. In other words, they are 'kids' piggybacking off the networks already established by major 'parent' carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular.
TPO Mobile offers affordable, no contract cell phone plans, but are they the right carrier for you? Let's find out. You can compare TPO Mobile plans using Wirefly, or read on for the rest of the review.
Who's The People's Operator?
The People’s Operator’s most unique feature among the pond of MVNOs is charitable contributions. Not only do they directly give 25% of their own profits to support various social causes, they also allow customers to donate 10% of their monthly bill to a charity of their choosing.
The company's roots are in the United Kingdom. They opened in 2012 with the business model of being an ethical mobile carrier that "could be used to change lives for the better" and a goal of raising millions for charity.
The path to success was a rocky one, mainly because the company was almost solely reliant upon word-of-mouth as their marketing strategy.
Fast forward to 2015. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, becomes chairman and the company hits the U.S.
Current projections show the company thriving in the coming years as it gains more popularity through satisfied customers and a unique philanthropy business model.
So, it's an altruistic company, but what about performance? Charitable, or not, most consumers still need good service and affordable prices.
Prices are competitive, with single user talk and text packages among the cheapest on the market.
There are two ways to pay. Option one is auto pay, where you give the company permission to automatically bill your credit card monthly. Option two is pay as you go, where you pay on a month-to-month basis. If you choose not to auto pay, the company adds $5 to the plan.
Plans do not include call forwarding nor international calling.
Additional minutes and texting can be purchased through another plan after the allotted amount is used. However, high speed data will be disabled until the next billing cycle once the allotted amount has been used.
There's no plan contract, service obligation, deposit, yearly fee, or activation fee.
Credit checks aren't necessary for plans, but will be a consideration for leasing devices.
There's no problem keeping your existing phone number.
Customer service for U.S. plans is based in the U.S, open seven days a week, and has customer-centered agents dedicated to providing expedient customer care.
TPO Mobile also has a social network portal to connect like-minded customers interested in charity work and cellular services.
Yes, the company offers free TPO GSM SIM cards for compatible devices.
How Are They So Cheap?
Those prices, 25% going directly to charity, another 10% from customers going to charity.... how can TPO Mobile stay in business?
It's a bit ironic, but the very thing that has thus far caused the company to remain a little fish is actually also how the company remains in business.
While most carriers spend thousands to millions on marketing projects and campaigns, TPO Mobile heavily depends on customer word-of-mouth and referrals. Their referral program gives customers a choice of a $10 credit or $5 cash for each friend who signs up. The lack of marketing expense is transferred to customer savings.
Please keep in mind that newer phones with the latest technology, software, and hardware will get the best coverage.
You can bring your own phone, depending on compatibility with TPO Mobile's network.
Otherwise, you will need to buy one of the company's phones. Leasing is available through SmartPay with approved credit.
At present, they have 10 phone choices, which is a fair amount for the carrier's size. At the high end are the Samsung Galaxy S8 LTE, leasable for $130 or bought outright for $699, and the iPhone SE LTE, leasable for $83 or bought outright for $449. The more reasonable phones include the Samsung Galaxy J1 Ace VE LTE, which can be leased for $20 or bought for $109.
One thing to consider is that TPO Mobile does not have any physical store locations. All business is conducted via phone or online.
This is yet another financial reason why the company can simultaneously remain relatively unknown and a thriving business.
To the consumer with a pressing technical problem, however, it means you may not have a phone in certain situations while you wait for replacement(s) through shipping.
Both of TPO Mobile's parent networks (Sprint and T-Mobile) have a decent reputation when it comes to coverage and reliability.
CDMA (via Sprint) and GSM (via T-Mobile) work with TPO Mobile.
Sprint's network is strongest in urban areas. Testing company, RootMetrics, gives Sprint -3.6% behind Verizon and -2.4% behind AT&T. No bad, not bad at all.
It's not something that's going to impact elements like streaming. The biggest difference seems to be in shaky rural coverage through the networks.
T-Mobile is currently the weaker link in this trifecta. They have a particular reputation for lagging behind the other major carriers in rural areas. That said, the company has been making strides to expand into rural areas, particularly in the southeast and southwest. As for urban areas, T-Mobile is strong. The company's 4G LTE network was rated fastest of 2016 by OpenSignal.
Infrastructure, towers, and antennas are only half the coverage equation; the other half is your specific phone.
It's imperative to remember that the more current your phone is when it comes to technology hardware and software, the better coverage you will get.
Is TPO Mobile Right For You?
Those looking for heavy data plans will probably find TPO Mobile's plans lackluster since other companies give you more data for your dollar and allow you to purchase more data or only slow data after limits are exceeded.
On the other hand, the unlimited talk and text plans offer significant value.
Predominantly urban customers should be more than happy with coverage.
Rural customers might want to visit the TPO Mobile, T-Mobile, and Sprint websites to check coverage availability and statistics specifically related to your service area(s).
Of note, don't just consider where you live. Also factor in your routine work and leisure routes of travel.
If charitable work is a top priority for you, then this is a company you'll feel good getting behind and enjoy having an active hand in contributing to a variety of local and national charities.
TPO Mobile Pros and Cons
Inexpensive text and talk plans
Allows you to help contribute to your community or causes
No contracts or fees beyond the plan
No credit check
Financing available on devices
Fair to Good coverage in urban areas
Coverage isn't guaranteed to be available and/or adequate for all areas, particularly rural areas
Absence of retails stores means customers must conduct business over phone or on website
It takes some digging to get to the U.S. pricing, plans, and services on the company's website
This is a company on the upswing, with low overhead costs, and that has proven it believes in passing those savings on to consumers. The most pressing problems are the iffy rural coverage and the lack of physical stores for emergency replacement. Prices this low do require sacrifice somewhere, though.
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