By Dan Howdle | Tuesday, February 18th 2020
Giffgaff advertises itself as the 'mobile network run by you'. It is, currently, the only UK provider whose 'members' (not customers) help one another out in place of a call centre. It could have been a total disaster. But it's not.
Giffgaff is one of the little guys. A provider not only held together by its community, but also not a network holder in and of itself. It's what's called a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO. It runs on the O2 network, which means that, as a giffgaff customer, you'll benefit from the coverage and 3G/4G speeds that O2 provides nationwide.
Giffgaff's focus on its community of members has led to some quite extraordinarily positive word-of-mouth. Even here in the Cable offices, those on the network have nothing but good things to say. The fact giffgaff has no call centres and otherwise relatively inexpensive overheads also means it commonly offers some of the cheapest SIM-only and handset deals in the country.
Giffgaff currently offers handsets from Apple (iPhone), Samsung, Sony, Huwawei and Nokia, with the offer both to buy, or to pay off the value of the handset in instalments through your normal monthly bill. You can get everything from the latest iPhone to a pre-owned Samsung already a few generations old via the giffgaff Marketplace. You can even sell your existing phone to giffgaff and either pocket the cash or use it towards a new handset.
Giffgaff also offers a wide variety of SIM-only deals it refers to as 'goodybags'. This is somewhat annoying for two reasons: (1) they're just SIMs – not goodies – and they don't come in a bag, and (2) giffgaff loves the lower-case 'g' so much it applies it to this, too. So don’t take the name literally – it's just a SIM with various amounts of minutes, texts and data.
In terms of where giffgaff sits in the wider market, it's almost always among the cheapest out there. The question that usually follows that, of course, is whether the service itself is lacking in any way? No. Definitively no. But it is different.
Giffgaff has everything and anything you could be looking for, so long as it comes from one of the main mobile phone manufacturers. Either new, or through the giffgaff marketplace, you'll be able to get everything from an iPhone 5S, or SE or Samsung Galaxy S5, through to the very latest handsets such as the iPhone X, or Galaxy S8.
Apologies for the clear bias towards Apple and Samsung evident in our examples here, it's just you can only have so many examples, and these are the phones most people either have or want to have. You'll also find phones from Sony, Huawei and Nokia on the giffgaff website. What you won't find, however, are niche/exotic handsets such the Razer Phone, or anything from slightly less-popular brands such as OnePlus or LG.
Only O2 offers OnePlus handsets. LG handsets are available from a number of different providers including O2, Carphone Warehouse and Tesco Mobile. If you're a serious gamer and you must have a Razer Phone (the writer of this review has one and they are awesome), then you can only get it from Three.
As previously alluded to, customer service with giffgaff is a very different proposition from any other provider you could name. How 'good' or 'bad' the experience is doesn't rely on how upbeat the call centre employee is, but how responsive the giffgaff community is and how extensive its knowledge base.
If you have a question, your first port of call will be the knowledge base. Think of it like an encyclopedia covering all the problems thus far experienced. If you don't get a satisfactory answer there, you can ask the community, or if it's something account-related, you can 'ask an agent', which involves submitting an online form. All of which sounds great on paper, but the proof is in the pudding: what do giffgaff users make of this system and how well does it work for the average customer?
Well, these things are often difficult to gauge. In terms of finding out what real customers think of the service the best source is Trustpilot. But there are problems. This is because people only tend to take the time out of their day to write a review when want to complain about things. Trustpilot pages, then, are heavily biased towards negative reviews. You can, however, look at it more relatively. Giffgaff's two stars out of five are positively spectacular next to EE, Vodafone and Three, for example, who each only have one star.
As alluded to further up the page, giffgaff is often second to none when it comes to value for money. In fact, there have been numerous occasions when the latest iPhone is to be found cheapest with giffgaff. That's because giffgaff not only doesn't have to support its own network (it uses O2's), but it doesn't need to make its customers bear the weight of all that infrastructure other network providers tend to have, from highstreet shops to call centres.
You can use our comparison tool to see how giffgaff's current range of handset and SIM-only deals stacks up price-wise against the competition. (It tends to do well.)
Giffgaff operates on O2's network. O2 claims to cover 98% of the UK population, but there are two major flaws in this number you should make yourself aware of when considering coverage. Flaws that go for every other network provider as much as they do for O2.
The first is to do with the way the signal is measured. It tends to be calculated as a radius around the mast, taking into consideration the contours of the landscape (hills block signal). What it doesn't do is actually measure anything indoors, where you might not only be blocked partly by especially thick walls, but also by any large buildings between your location and the mast. If you want to be absolutely sure, invite someone round to your house who's with O2 and see what their signal is like.
The second flaw is to do with the 'population' part of that measure. It means coverage is heavily weighted towards built-up areas, and that means that the further away you are from those built-up areas the less likely you are to get a workable signal. 98% of the population does not translate to 98% of the UK landmass.
You can use giffgaff's O2 network coverage checker to get an idea of how strong the signal is where you live.
We admire giffgaff very much. It's a company that decided to do things differently. Not only do its systems work, not only does it have a lot of very happy customers, but the savings it makes by not having all that additional infrastructure are actually passed back to its customers. Giffgaff is one of our favourite providers and we would not hesitate for a second in recommending it.