Giffgaff Review: The UK’s Low Cost, People Powered Mobile Network
December 5th, 2013
giffgaff is a low-cost mobile network running on O2. Their goodybag bundles start at £5/month. Members can earn cash or free credit by participating in the network.
In the UK, giffgaff is a low-cost mobile network and a fully-owned subsidiary of O2. Founded four years ago in November 2009, giffgaff uses the same underlying network as its parent company, O2. Customers on giffgaff get the same level of coverage as they would on O2 with the added benefit of substantially lower prices.
Most giffgaff members buy one of their goodybag bundles. A giffgaff goodybag is a monthly package that includes a set amount of calls, texts and internet. The most popular goodybag is currently the £10/month offering: this comes with 500 minutes, unlimited text messages and 1GB of internet. For heavy smartphone users, unlimited data is available on the £12 goodybag. Data-only goodybags are also available for users of a tablet. Occasional mobile users can Pay As You Go at 10p per minute, 6p per text and 20p/day for accessing mobile internet (up to 20MB of data).
Being a no-frills network with much lower prices, giffgaff does things differently to its parent company O2. First of all, customer support is an online-only affair: you can’t get support in a high street store or by picking up the telephone and calling customer services. Secondly, you won’t have access to Priority Moments or other O2 customer exclusives. They aren’t available to customers on giffgaff.
What giffgaff has is a scheme that rewards members who contribute to the network. You can earn cash or Pay As You Go credit by recommending giffgaff to your friends. You can also earn money by posting in the online community. You can earn a maximum of £18 per referral and up to £360/year via the community. With members helping to shape the giffgaff network, giffgaff brands itself as “the mobile network run by you”.
At the end of 2012, giffgaff had around 800,000 subscribers.
- 1 Bundles & Pricing
- 2 Comparison with Rival Networks
- 3 Using Your Current Handset
- 4 Buying A New Handset
- 5 Coverage & Network
- 6 Payback Rewards
- 7 Customer Support
- 8 Popularity & Number of Subscribers
- 9 Keeping Your Phone Number
- 10 More Information
Bundles & Pricing
Giffgaff Goodybag Bundles
Most giffgaff members choose to buy a goodybag bundle. Goodybags are perfect for people who use their phone regularly: a goodybag contains calls, texts and internet and is available at a much lower rate than paying as you go. Each goodybag bundle lasts for a month and is paid for from your Pay As You Go balance. There’s no need to sign any contracts nor is there a need to undergo credit checks. Goodybags are a purely pre-paid product.
For added convenience, you can set up your goodybag to automatically renew every month. In this case, giffgaff takes the long number on the front of your credit or debit card. They’ll then charge you at the start of every month for the upcoming month’s goodybag. With auto-renewal, getting a goodybag is just as convenient as getting a SIM only contract. There’s no need to manually top-up every month. Compared to standard contracts, you’ll get improved spend control whilst on a goodybag (the only additional charges you’ll be able to run up will be taken from your Pay As You Go balance). Also, as there isn’t a credit check, goodybags are also available to people under 18.
giffgaff currently has a choice of six goodybag packages:
& 1 min per min
of calls received
A nice feature that helps you decide the best value goodybag is the “recommended best plan” e-mails sent out at the end of every month. The e-mail summarises your usage over the past month e.g. how many minutes of phone calls you’ve made, how many text messages you’ve sent and how many megabytes of data you’ve downloaded. Based on your usage, a recommendation will be made for the best value goodybag. By following the e-mail, you’ll always be sure you’re on the right plan (i.e. you won’t be paying too much for allowances you never use).
Voicemail & Out Of Bundle Charges. Calls made to your giffgaff voicemail service will be deducted from your inclusive allowance of minutes. If you exceed the allowances included on your plan, you’ll pay the standard rates for calling and texting. These are 10p/minute and 6p/text. Outside of your allowance, extra data will only cost 2p per megabyte (this is heavily discounted from the normal charge of 20p/MB).
Calling & Texting: Free between giffgaff members. Providing you’ve topped up in the past 3 months, you’ll get free calling, texting and video calling to other giffgaff members. Any calls made to other giffgaff members won’t be deducted from your inclusive allowance of minutes.
Download Limits. The £5, £7.50 and £10 goodybags all have limited amounts of data. Check out our guide on smartphone download limits to find out what 20MB, 250MB and 1GB of data actually correspond to in real life.
For most smartphone owners, we would recommend the 1GB download allowance provided on the £10 goodybag. Alternatively, the unlimited internet packages (£12/month and above) also provide quite good value.
Tethering is not permitted on goodybags with unlimited internet.
BlackBerry Customers. If you own a device running BlackBerry OS 7 or earlier (e.g. BlackBerry Curve, BlackBerry Bold, BlackBerry Torch or BlackBerry 9720), you’ll need to buy the extra BlackBerry add-on. The BlackBerry add-on costs £2.50/month on top of your goodybag. It’ll give you access to push e-mail, web browsing and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). If you own a BlackBerry 10 device (e.g. BlackBerry Q5, Q10, Z10 or Z3) the extra add-on isn’t required.
Hokey Cokey (£5 Goodybag). The Hokey Cokey goodybag is a rather unique offering in the mobile industry. You start off with 60 minutes, 300 texts and 20MB of internet. You’ll then receive an extra minute of calling allowance for every minute you’re called on your phone (this excludes the calls made from other giffgaff members). For example, someone who receives 100 minutes of incoming phone calls would see their allowance bumped up to 160 minutes. The extra minutes expire with your goodybag: it’s not possible for them to be rolled over into the following month.
For more information on giffgaff’s goodybag packages, see our full review posted earlier this year.
Pay As You Go Pricing
If you don’t have a goodybag on your account, you’ll pay giffgaff’s standard Pay As You Go rates. These are 10p/minute, 6p/text and 20p/day for up to 20MB of internet. You’ll still get your free calls, texts and video calls to other giffgaff members providing you top up at least once every three months. Your free giffgaff-to-giffgaff calls can last for up to 60 minutes (after an hour you’ll need to hang up and call again). As a notable extra, giffgaff also offers free calls to 0800 numbers. This is a fairly unique offering: other networks can sometimes charge up to 40p/minute.
|Voice Calls||10p/minute to other networks (free to giffgaff)|
|Calls to Voicemail||8p/call|
|Text Message (SMS)||6p to other networks (free to giffgaff)|
|Picture Message (MMS)||16p|
|3G Internet||20p/day (up to 20MB)|
|Additional Data||20p/MB after the first 20MB/day|
In general, giffgaff’s calling rates are fairly competitive when compared to rival networks. For example, O2 charges 25p/minute, 12p per text message and £1/day for accessing the internet (up to 50MB of data per day, see full tariff information). That said, lower calling rates can be found if you take the time to shop around.
The best value deal for occasional mobile users is currently Three’s 321 Plan. Three charges 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB of data. For a typical smartphone user who consumes about 10MB/day, you’ll pay approximately 10p/day to access the internet. For more information, check out our full review of Three’s 321 Tariff.
Gigabags: Tablet & Mobile Broadband Bundles
If you’re using giffgaff on a tablet or on a mobile broadband dongle, you can buy one of giffgaff’s gigabags. A gigabag is a data-only goodybag: £5/month bags you 500MB of data, £7.50/month gets you 1GB of data whilst £12.50/month bags you a whopping 3GB. Tethering is permitted on all giffgaff gigabags.
If you need to make a phone call or want to send a text, you’ll pay giffgaff’s standard PAYG rates of 10p/minute and 6p/text.
Outside of your allowance, you’ll pay 2p/MB for any extra data used. There’s a 50MB buffer before you’ll start to be charged (i.e. on the £5 gigabag you can actually use 550MB before you’ll be charged).
Although gigabags are designed for tablets and dongles, they can also be used in a smartphone. This could be ideal if you rarely call or text: if data is your main requirement. The £5 gigabag gives you 500MB of data (compared to the £5 goodybag which only comes with 20MB).
If you’re struggling to decide which gigabag to buy, see our guide to the real-world meaning of mobile download limits.
From June 2013, giffgaff has also offered low cost international calling. Calling abroad starts from 2p/minute (charges vary depending on the country you’re calling) and texting abroad costs 8p per SMS (any country, any time). Rather bizarrely, it’s sometimes cheaper to call abroad than it is to call a number in the UK.
For people who often call abroad, significant savings can be found on giffgaff. Often, mainstream mobile networks will charge you around £1.50/minute to call another country. Offers are sometimes available for cheaper international calling but the offers are often incompatible with the best value packages for a smartphone. With giffgaff, you’re able to combine a great value goodybag with low cost international calling.
|Country||Calls to Landline||Calls to Mobile||Text Message|
|United States (+1)||3p/minute||3p/minute||8p/text|
You can use our interactive comparison tool to see how giffgaff’s international rates compare against rivals.
Comparison with Rival Networks
At the £10/month price point, giffgaff compares as follows to rival mobile networks:
|Network||Bundle Name||Minutes||Texts||Internet||Monthly Cost|
|Pay & Go Go Go||75*||500*||250MB*||£10.00|
|£10 Smart Pack||100||400||1GB||£10.00|
|£10 Freedom Freebee||150||Unlimited||250MB||£10.00|
* On O2 Pay & Go Go Go, allowances double after the first 3 months. If you top-up every month, you’ll get 150 minutes, 1000 texts and 500MB internet from the third month onwards.
Using Your Current Handset
Historically, giffgaff has been a SIM only network. What this means is you’ll need to provide your own handset to use with the network. Your mobile phone must either be unlocked for use on any network or locked for use on O2. giffgaff will give you a free SIM card that slots into the back of your device.
If you need to unlock your phone before using it on giffgaff, please see our full guide on unlocking your handset. We’ve also got step-by-step guides on how to unlock an iPhone, a Galaxy S3, a Galaxy S2 or a BlackBerry device.
If you previously used your handset on O2, it shouldn’t be necessary to unlock your handset. An O2 handset should already accept SIM cards from giffgaff.
giffgaff provides their SIM card in a choice of two sizes. The “Standard & Micro SIM” option should be used for most smartphones including devices from Samsung, Sony, HTC and Nokia. The “Nano SIM” option is only appropriate for newer Apple devices. You’ll need a Nano SIM if you’re planning to use giffgaff on an iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPad Mini or iPad Air. For more information, see our guide to smartphone SIM card sizes.
Buying A New Handset
As well as offering SIM only deals, giffgaff has started to sell handsets as of November 2013. There are a total of 20 handsets to choose from with popular options including the Galaxy S4, the Xperia Z1, the Galaxy Note 3 and the HTC One. All twenty phones can be purchased upfront or on a payment plan where the cost is spread out over a period of up to 24 months.
If you choose the payment plan option, you’ll receive handset financing from the RateSetter P2P lender. At the time of writing, interest rates range between 9.7% APR (over 24 months) and 25.8% APR (over 6 months). This can add a good £40 to the cost of your handset so do try to buy upfront whenever it is possible. You’ll need to be 18 or over to use the financing option. You’ll also need a bank account in your name and will undergo a soft credit search.
|Length of Payment Plan||Interest Rate||Total Cost Of Financing|
|6 months||25.8% APR||£7.66 for every £100 borrowed|
|12 months||14.6% APR||£8.08 for every £100 borrowed|
|18 months||11.4% APR||£9.27 for every £100 borrowed|
|24 months||9.7% APR||£10.42 for every £100 borrowed|
If you don’t need the financing (i.e. if you’re able to buy the handset without a payment plan), there are many other retailers that sell SIM-free devices compatible with giffgaff. In many cases, you’ll find a cheaper deal elsewhere rather than buying the handset via giffgaff.
|Handset||Price at giffgaff||Price at Amazon.co.uk|
|Samsung Galaxy S4||£474||£385 (£89 cheaper)|
|Sony Xperia Z1||£530||£420 (£110 cheaper)|
|Samsung Galaxy Note 3||£599||£470 (£129 cheaper)|
|HTC One||£503||£395 (£108 cheaper)|
For instance, a Galaxy S4 will cost £385 when bought from Amazon (no payment plan). The same handset from giffgaff on a 24 month payment plan will cost you £516.08 (this requires an initial upfront payment of £50). The best way of buying a handset is still to save up in advance and then to find the cheapest SIM-only deal.
If you buy a handset from third-party retailers, simply order a free giffgaff SIM card and slot it into your device.
Coverage & Network
giffgaff uses O2 as their network coverage provider. This means you’ll get identical coverage to customers on O2 (use O2′s online coverage checker to make sure there’s signal available where you live). The claimed population coverage levels are 99% on 2G and 98% on 3G.
For more information, see our guide to virtual network operators and how to compare mobile phone coverage.
Traffic Management Policy
As of December 2012, giffgaff has used video optimisation technology. According to giffgaff’s website, “only a minority of downloaded videos are watched to the end on a mobile device. Just in time downloading controls the length of your video buffer, to ensure that only the content which is actually going to be viewed is downloaded.” As well as video optimisation, videos may also be compressed. This may lead to a small reduction in picture quality.
giffgaff does not allow tethering on goodybag packages with an unlimited internet allowance (i.e. you can’t tether on the £12, £15 or £20 goodybags). You can, however, tether on Pay As You Go or on packages that have a restricted download limit (i.e. on goodybags of £10/month or less or on a giffgaff gigabag).
If you’re using an iPhone on giffgaff, tethering is normally blocked by Apple’s default carrier settings file. You’ll need to jailbreak your device in order to tether from an iPhone. This is a software-level restriction rather than a limitation imposed by giffgaff.
At the time of writing, giffgaff only offers coverage on 2G and 3G. According to a recent blog, they plan to launch a 4G service by the end of March 2014. They’ll be using O2′s 800MHz 4G spectrum to provide this service. Once 4G has launched on giffgaff, you’ll need to have a compatible 4G handset in order to use the new service.
4G pricing details are still to be confirmed. It’s not known whether giffgaff will charge a premium for 4G and if so, what the size of the premium might be.
giffgaff’s unique selling point is being the world’s first people powered mobile network. The company’s motto is “the mobile network run by you”. To that extent, giffgaff asks its members to get involved with the running of the network. Members can participate by promoting the network to their friends, by answering support questions on the community and by suggesting new ideas for the network.
It’s by no means compulsory for giffgaff members to get involved with the network. Indeed, only a small proportion of members are currently active within the giffgaff community. The majority of members simply use the mobile service without interacting with the community at all.
For members who choose to get involved with the community, giffgaff has a scheme called “Payback” which offers monetary rewards for contributing to the network. Members can earn up to £18 for every friend they refer and up to £360/year by posting on the forums.
Payback For Referring Friends & Family
The easiest way to earn Payback is by recommending giffgaff to friends and family members. For every person you introduce to giffgaff, you’ll earn 500 points of Payback (which is equivalent to £5). The person you refer needs to top up their account by at least £10.
Frequent recruiters can earn even more by taking part in giffgaff’s Super Recruiter programme. It’s an invitation-only programme: to join you’ll need to refer at least three other members in three consecutive months. Once you’ve joined the programme, you’ll be able to earn up to £18 per referral. To earn the full reward, the people you recruit must top up monthly for at least 3 months. Referral commissions are on a sliding scale: you must consistently recruit at least 30 people per month to earn the full £18.
In reality, it’s incredibly difficult to join the Super Recruiter programme. Consistently recruiting 3 people every month means referring a total of 36 people over the year. Assuming they each top-up in the first three months of use, you’ll earn £540/year by recruiting 3 new members per month.
Community Payback: Submitting Ideas & Providing Technical Support
The drive behind community-based support is lower operating costs without telephone call centres. According to giffgaff, community-based support is also much faster than telephone hotlines. giffgaff claims that most support queries are answered within 90 seconds on the forum. As a consequence of reducing support costs, some of the savings are passed back in the form of Payback.
Every month, members who participate in the community are split up into five separate bands. The band you’re in will depend on how much you’ve contributed to the community that month (e.g. the quality and quantity of posts).
The amount of Payback awarded depends on the band you fall within:
|Community Band||Monthly Payback||Annual Payback*|
|Band 1 (top)||£30.00 (3,000 Payback points)||£360/year|
|Band 2||£20.00 (2,000 Payback points)||£240/year|
|Band 3||£10.00 (1,000 Payback points)||£120/year|
|Band 4||£1.00 (100 Payback points)||£12/year|
|Band 5 (bottom)||£0.10 (10 Payback points)||£1.20/year|
* The annual payback calculation assumes you’ll be in the same band every month for a year.
If you manage to make it into Band 1 every month, you’ll earn £360 of Payback per year. This should be more than enough for a brand new smartphone every Christmas. Alternatively, aim for Band 3. This will give you £120 per year. Taken as credit, you’ll be able to buy a £10 goodybag every month for a year. Your mobile service will essentially be free.
Claiming Your Payback
Once you’ve collected Payback points, there are three ways you can choose for it to be paid:
- Pay As You Go Credit. This is the simplest method of receiving your Payback: it’ll be added to your account as extra Pay As You Go credit. The credit can be used to pay for calls or to buy a goodybag package.
- Cash (minimum of £10). Providing you’ve earned at least 1,000 points of Payback (equivalent to £10), you can ask for your Payback to be sent as cash. Payments will be made via PayPal (from here you can withdraw the cash to a bank account).
- Charity Donation. You can also ask for your Payback points to be donated to charity. If you choose this option, giffgaff will match your donation. For example, 1,000 Payback points is normally equivalent to £10 in cash. If you make a charitable donation, you’ll get an extra £10 added by giffgaff. This gives you a £20 donation to charity.
Payback is made twice every year: once in June and once in December. You’ll be sent any Payback earned up to the start of that month.
When claiming your Payback, there are two important things to be aware of.
First of all, giffgaff requires you to re-select your payment method once every Payback cycle (i.e. you’ll need to log in to your account and choose either the credit, cash payment or charity donation option). If you don’t select a payment method during the Payback cycle, your points will roll over once into the following cycle. There’s a maximum of one roll-over: the second time round your Payback will expire.
Secondly, you’ll need to make sure your giffgaff SIM card remains active. You must have used your giffgaff SIM card in the three months preceding Payback. This means having at least one chargeable event (e.g. buying a goodybag, making a phone call, sending a text message or accessing the internet). If your SIM card is inactive, any Payback points on your account will expire. Please note there is also a six month inactivity period after which your phone number is disabled.
To start earning Payback, grab a free SIM card and start by activating it. You don’t even need to use giffgaff as your main number: simply use your phone at least once every three months and you should be eligible to start earning money.
Being a purely low-cost offering, giffgaff doesn’t offer in-store support or a telephone hotline where you can ask questions. Instead, support is a purely online-only affair. There are three standard support channels: a knowledge base on the giffgaff website, an online community and the ability to “ask an agent” for account-related queries.
General Queries: Knowledge Base & Community
Commonly asked questions are normally answered within the knowledge base articles. At present, there are several hundred articles which are all searchable to find the answer you require. The knowledge base articles are all maintained by elected members of the giffgaff community (the members are known as giffgaff’s knowledge gardeners).
If your query isn’t answered within the knowledge base articles, you can post your question on the online help forums. At the time of writing, the online help forums have 3.5 million posts. The average response time is around 90 seconds: comparing favourably to the time it takes to get through on a customer support line.
After posting your queries on the forum, it’ll be answered by other members of the giffgaff community. Members providing the best answer will receive Payback as a reward for their contributions. One common issue is quantity of answers rather than quality: replies can sometimes be brief and lacking in detail.
As an effort to improve support quality, giffgaff has recently launched the Approved Helper scheme. giffgaff members are invited to take a series of tests before answering queries. The multiple-choice tests are designed to ensure a basic level of knowledge amongst those participating in the help forum. Before taking part and answering questions of your own, it’s well worth going through these online tests. You’ll earn 100 points of Payback for every quiz you complete (100 points is worth £1 of cash or free credit).
Account Related Queries: Ask An Agent
For queries relating to your account, it’s possible to contact a giffgaff agent. Common reasons to contact an agent might be a payment-related query, a problem with your mobile service or a question about something on your account. You must also contact an agent if you’d like to remove restrictions on the content you can access (by default, over 18 websites are blocked on giffgaff).
Agents can be contacted securely through a form on the giffgaff website. At the time of writing, the average response time is around 5 hours with 100% of cases responded to within 24 hours (check the giffgaff notice board for up-to-date statistics). Agents can be reached 7 days a week between 8am in the morning and 10pm at night.
Compared to other networks, a disadvantage of giffgaff’s support model is that account-related queries can take longer to process. With most other networks, you’re able to call a telephone support line. You might need to spend a bit of time on hold and you’ll need to navigate through telephone support menus. However, once connected, you should get a response to your query immediately. With giffgaff’s online form, you might need to wait a couple of hours before you receive a reply.
Popularity & Number of Subscribers
According to The Telegraph, giffgaff is the UK’s fastest growing mobile network. They trebled their subscriber numbers in 2012 by adding 532,000 subscribers. At the end of 2012, the number of subscribers is around 800,000.
Keeping Your Phone Number
If you’re switching to giffgaff, it’s super-easy to keep your existing phone number. The process involves two simple steps and can take up to 24 hours in total. Firstly, ask your old mobile network to provide you with a PAC Code. This is a nine-digit code that authorises the transfer of your phone number. It’s a legal requirement for your current mobile network to give you a PAC Code within 2 hours of request.
Once you’ve received the PAC code, fill in this form on giffgaff’s website to arrange the transfer of your number. The number transfer will normally take place on the next working day. Until this happens, you’ll continue receiving coverage on your old network.
For a step-by-step guide on how to transfer your phone number, please select your current network provider:
|PAC Code Finder: Transfer Your Phone Number to giffgaff|
For more information, please see the giffgaff website. You can order a free giffgaff SIM card by following this link.
I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.
Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.