Friday, 26 August 2011

I switched to giffgaff after ~5 years with T-Mobile - here's why

I am generally quite loyal chap when it comes to my technology choices. When I stick to one thing (or brand, for that matter), I hesitate a lot before even considering switch to direct competitor, even if it seems better at first glance. So that was the case with the relationship I've had with T-Mobile UK for over 5 years. There were ups and downs, complaints sent, goodwill gestures received and so on but generally once I settled in with satisfying deal I was quite happy with them and never considered switch. Until one day when I learned about that new giffgaff network which gradually attracted me to the point where my usual hesitation broke completely and I ended up switching all my numbers (2x pay monthly + 2x prepaid) from T-Mobile. This tale is to tell you why.


First and foremost reason to join giffgaff - they are cheap! Switching me and my Mrs from T-Mobile's SIM-only plans into giffgaff's goodybags (which is their fancy name for monthly bundles) saves us £10pm off the bat. Additional £5pm saving comes from cancelling T-Mobile Family service, which provided up to 5 TMUK numbers free calls and texts between each other. With giffgaff I get completely free on-net calls and texts at no additional charge. I have hooked up parents and few friends with giffgaff already, so there are way more than 5 people to call to with no financial damage whatsoever.

Apart from amazing monthly bundles which come with generous voice minutes allowance, unlimited texts and unlimited internet, their standard pricing is one of the lowest on the UK market. It's just 8p/min, 4p/sms and giffgaff-to-giffgaff calls are always free as long as credit is topped up once in a quarter. On top of that international calls to EU countries are reasonably priced at 8p/min to landlines and 16p/min to mobiles, instead of 70p/min flat rate rip-off pay monthly TMUK users are charged until very this day.


Mobile network coverage is very subjective matter and I geniuenly believe there is no network that has perfect signal reception everywhere. Giffgaff uses O2 mobile network and having used it for few weeks already I can tell it has really decent overall 2G coverage, which isn't particularly surprising since it uses 900 MHz band, providing much better overall coverage and penetrating buildings, opposed to 1800 MHz band used by TMUK for their 2G coverage. In fact, I am able to make a continous voice call on the whole overground stretch of Piccadilly Line between Hounslow West and Barons Court, while T-Mobile has quite major outages there, which I've pointed them out about 4 years ago but literally nothing has changed since then. Nonetheless, there are also places where O2 lacks signal, while TMUK is great. As I said, this is very subjective matter and it's difficult to choose a single network which stands out in terms of overall coverage these days.

However, when it comes solely to 3G coverage, I must say O2/giffgaff falls short big time. It quickly occurred to me that my phone sits more frequently on 2G band rather than 3G since I switched to giffgaff. To be fair, it might also be network policy to prefer 2G over 3G, but I reckon it's rather poorer 3G network density O2 has compared to TMUK. While London 3G coverage is mostly OK, going anywhere outside M25 is where it sucks a lot. I've recently been to Oxford for a weekend and while not driving this time I just wanted to catch up with news, tweets and stuff on my phone while on the road. It was cumbersome experience, as there was 2G/GPRS coverage available only on M40 stretch between Oxford and High Wycombe outskirts. To be fair again, that 2G signal was really decent most of the time and would definitely provide good voice calling experience, but I'd rather expect at least major roads and motorways covered with 3G better, especially around the capital.

Mobile internet

While being with T-Mobile, I've been struck hard with WTF moment when Customer Services have officially confirmed that mobile internet speed on their standard plans with Internet Booster add-on is atrificially limited to approx. 350 kbps - that is, even if your local base station is physically allowing higher speeds (think HSPA). In order to obtain better throughput I'd need to pay £5 premium on top of my monthly cost. At first round of arguing and complaining I've been given that upgrade for free and was fairly happy with it. But once my contract ran out and I have migrated to SIM only plan, my internet upgrade suddenly disappeared from the bill and connection got sluggish again. When called CS, I've been told that previous upgrade on my account was an "one-off goodwill gesture" and - wait for it - "you can't have everything for free" in these exact words! Holy cow, isn't that just rude?! And hey, I'm not asking for £100 credit on my account for nothing, I just would like to get fair connection allowing me to use full potential of my mobile phone. Anyway, at the very same call I've decided to upgrade my network rather my price plan with TMUK and just asked for PAC code.

Needless to say, there are no nasty tricks like this in giffgaff. Goodybags that come with mobile internet are not only unlimited in terms of speed but also volume of data sent/received. There's one exception, tough - no tethering, but that's not particularly surprising these days.

Community support and Payback

Giffgaff's main selling point is that they are network run by you. What does it mean? It means that you won't find typical customer service department in giffgaff where you call, get through ridiculous push-button (or worse, speak-to) automated prompts and then typically wait half an hour listening Celine Dion for someone in Bangalore to pick up your call. No, nothing like that. Instead, there is really decent support section on website with lots of useful information and tutorials. Additionally (or should I say mainly) there are lively and vibrant community forums where hundreds of devoted people - users of giffgaff - are responding to questions from other, usually newbie users quicker than you could spell "chambawamba" right.

One of the main reasons all these people are so efficient and helpful is Payback scheme in which every single giffgaff user gets literally paid for either signing up new people to the network or contributing to the community by helping out others, actively joining general discussions or submitting giffgaff ideas. All these little contributions are collated into Payback points which then are converted into either calling credit or real cash (paid out via Paypal) every six months. According to giffgaff's official blog, there are people who cashed in over £3000 thanks to Payback scheme in the course of 6 months. Pretty fair deal, if you ask me!

Finally, if you stumble across an issue that cannot be solved by community and you really, really want to get hold of official customer service representative, there are giffgaff Agents which are separate from community forums. Although only reachable electronically through online form in My Account section, these guys are usually quick and efficient when it comes to solving real-world problems, or at least I didn't have any major issues using this facility (yet).

Wrapping up matter of community and giffgaff's unique run by you approach, I'd sum it up by saying that giffgaff is probably the most geek friendly and open source mobile network out there, as community not only is there for growing giffgaff and helping others (and earn cash) but most importantly they also have real influence to the way network is shaping up for the future. Ideas for features or offers in giffgaff are submitted and voted up by the community and seems like giffgaff staffers are taking that input seriously most of the time.

Cons, if any?

Right, is giffgaff so perfect after all? No, it isn't, however all these itches I've got with them are really minor anyway. First thing is just the fact they are pay as you go network. Being on pay monthly tariff I was never worried about topping up, remembering to buy monthly bundles and so on. However, giffgaff has auto top-up feature which fills credit automagically from debit/credit card once it goes below £3 (I haven't hit that threshold yet anyway :) and also auto renewing goodybags are coming sometime this year (yet another example of giffgaff's transparency towards its users, btw), so these issues could be mitigated to some extent.

Other thing is quite limited online account management. In the network which is focused to do most of the business online, I'd rather expect this area to be near-perfect, while it doesn't even offer online billing access to track down usage and costs associated (yet again, it is planned for release sooner or later). To be fair, tough, giffgaff does send really nice and useful monthly statements with last month's summary of usage, savings made and even suggestion which price plan suits me best.

Excerpt of initial monthly statement
I've got from giffgaff (click to enlarge)
Another thing is that there's no way of activating a new SIM card without internet access and registering online account at This approach is certainly cool with geeks or teenage Facebook addicts, but I personally found this to be putting me off from signing up older people who have really vague idea what "internet" actually is, yet could be perfectly happy giffgaff users.


Although my giffgaff career has been relatively short so far, I am overall very pleased being with them. Substantial monthly cost savings for me and my family, reasonable mobile internet quality on my daily commute route (at least with no major coverage gaps), massive online community always there to help and finally Payback scheme in which I have already accumulated £20 worth of points. Speaking of which... if any of my fans like to try giffgaff, make sure you order your free SIM though little banner below, so you'll bag extra £5 credit upon first top-up and my Payback account will grow a little. :)

Get a free Giffgaff Sim


  1. No tethering? Good that You did not told me that when I got sim. In Cambridge we were surfing net while drinking beer with my Nexus S working as mobile AP for few other phones.

  2. Well, tethering physically works, it's just no allowed in terms & conditions. In fact, I've been tethering via my giffgaff SIM card on couple of occasions already as well (shhh!). I reckon it's all about common sense, unless you don't abuse that by transferring tens of gigabytes per day or sth, then you should be all fine.

  3. Just saw this on the giffgaff twitter feed. Good read, and giffgaff is great!

  4. Are these SIM cards limited to O2 handsets only? I have a handset with T-Mobile, so will it need unlocking?

  5. Handset needs to be unlocked or locked to O2.

  6. Wszystko fajnie, szkoda tylko że podnieśli ceny z 8p na 10p a i do Polski tanio nie mają. Pzdr Slawosz ;(

  7. No, powiedzmy, ze do dzwonienia do Polski sa inne sieci w UK. A na podwyzke do 10p/min polecam goodybagi :-)