Giffgaff Review: The UK’s Low Cost, People Powered Mobile Network
August 5th, 2014
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 almost five 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 choose to 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 800,000 subscribers. As of 2014, they are now understood to have more than one million 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 one month and is paid for from your Pay As You Go balance. There’s no need to sign a contract nor is there any need to undergo a credit check (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 charge you once every month for the next month’s upcoming 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 your phone every month. Compared to standard contracts, you get improved spend control when using 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 for allowances you don’t 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.
4G Internet. At present, most of giffgaff’s goodybags will only give you access to 2G and 3G internet. 4G is currently available as a trial to giffgaff members. The £12/month 4G goodybag gives you 250 minutes, unlimited texts and 2GB of data (see a list of 4G Goodybags).
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 gives 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. 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 (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). Vodafone charges 30p/minute, 14p per text message and £2/day for up to 50MB data.
Lower calling rates can be found if you take the time to shop around. For light users, the best value deal 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 bag 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 message, 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 start getting 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 can be ideal if you rarely call or text: if data is your main requirement on a smartphone. 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.
giffgaff also offers 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 message (any country, any time). Rather bizarrely, it’s sometimes cheaper to call an international number than it is to call a number in the UK.
For people who regularly call abroad, significant savings can be found on giffgaff. Often, mainstream mobile networks will charge you around £1.50/minute to call another country. Although offers are sometimes available for cheaper international calling, these 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|
|£10 Big Bundle||100||1,000||500MB||£10.00|
|£10 Smart Pack||100||400||1GB||£10.00|
|£10 Freedom Freebee||150||Unlimited||250MB||£10.00|
Using Your Current Handset
Traditionally, giffgaff has been a SIM only network. What this means is most people provide their own handset to use with the network. If you bring your own handset, it 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 handset.
If you need to unlock your phone before using it on giffgaff, please see our full guide on unlocking your handset. We’ve 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, Nokia and Motorola. The “Nano SIM” option is only appropriate for some newer devices. You’ll need a Nano SIM if you’re planning to use giffgaff on an iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, HTC One M8, 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 currently 25 handsets to choose from with popular options including the iPhone 5s, Galaxy S5, HTC One M8 and Xperia Z2. All 25 handsets can be purchased upfront or using a payment plan where the cost of the handset is gradually paid back over 6 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||14.7% APR||£8.14 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 also sell SIM-free handsets compatible with giffgaff. It’s normally worth shopping around in case cheaper deals are available elsewhere. At the time of writing, the cost of handsets on giffgaff is roughly comparable to Amazon.co.uk:
|Handset||Price at giffgaff||Price at Amazon.co.uk|
|Apple iPhone 5s||£525||£514 (£11 cheaper)|
|Apple iPhone 5c||£409||£390 (£19 cheaper)|
|Samsung Galaxy S5||£487||£415 (£72 cheaper)|
|HTC One M8||£464||£474 (£10 more expensive)|
|Sony Xperia Z2||£435||£458 (£23 more expensive)|
|Nokia Lumia 630||£109||£112 (£3 more expensive)|
When paying upfront, a 16GB iPhone 5s will cost £525 when bought from giffgaff. With a 24 month repayment plan, you’d instead pay £50 upfront and £21.75/month (the total amount payable is £572). At Amazon, you can buy the iPhone for £514 (one-off payment only).
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
Members of giffgaff who have an unlimited data goodybag (£12/month or more) are subject to Traffic Flow (giffgaff’s traffic management policy). According to the policy, giffgaff will contact “members who have been identified as using the network in a way which impacts other members”. Members caught out by Traffic Flow may be stopped from buying further unlimited data goodybags. giffgaff also uses ‘Localised Traffic Flow’ in certain areas with congestion on the network (around 2.5% of O2′s network). In congested areas, heavy data users may see their download speed occasionally capped to 100kbit/s. This may last for up to 30 minutes.
Finally, giffgaff uses video optimisation technology for all members on the network. 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 doesn’t 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 bundles with a restricted download limit (i.e. on the £5, £7.50 and £10 goodybags). You can also tether on a giffgaff gigabag.
If you’re using an iPhone, tethering might be blocked if you haven’t yet updated to iOS 7.1.1 or later. On older versions of iOS, it might be necessary to jailbreak your phone (the official giffgaff carrier settings file was only made available in May 2014). See our guide on how to tether from your handset.
Main article: 4G Goodybags
giffgaff will be launching 4G in 2014. It’s already available as a trial for existing members and will soon be released to new members on the network. For the 4G service, giffgaff is using O2′s 800MHz spectrum. This provides better indoor coverage and faster download speeds compared to 3G. At launch, the service is available in 13 different cities: London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
To access 4G on giffgaff, you’ll need to have one of their 4G goodybag packages:
For more information, see our article on giffgaff’s 4G goodybag packages.
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 per 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 most support queries are answered within 90 seconds. As a consequence of reducing support costs, some of the savings are passed back to members in the form of giffgaff 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 the 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 to buy 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 next 6-month cycle. There’s only a maximum of one roll-over: the second time round your Payback points 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 4.4 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 taking these online tests. You’ll earn 100 points of Payback for every quiz you complete (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. Although you may need to spend a bit of time on hold and you may need to navigate through telephone support menus, you should get an immediate response to your query once connected to an advisor. With giffgaff’s online form, you may 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. As of 2014, it’s expected that giffgaff has more than 1 million subscribers.
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 your 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 transferring your phone number to giffgaff, 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+.