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Giffgaff SIM-only review

Giffgaff is a community-driven mobile phone provider that is developing quite a cult following. It uses the O2 network to offer a collection of contract-free 4G SIM-only plans called goodybags, ranging from £5 to £20 per month.

Giffgaff has a unique take on mobile phone services. A customer forum replaces an official helpline and active contributors are rewarded with payment. Many people love this approach but it’s not for everyone. Here are the details on giffgaff SIM-only to see if it could work for you.

Cable.co.uk overall rating
3.2

Giffgaff takes an innovative stance on mobile phone services. Expect a range of good value contract-free 4G SIM-only deals with a community-run customer service forum. You won’t find perks and freebies, unless you’re prepared to work for them.

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Coverage & data speed

Rating

3

Giffgaff is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which means it uses another network to run its services. That network is O2, which has widespread 3G coverage so you can talk, text and get online in most parts of the UK. O2’s 4G network currently covers around half of UK homes and businesses but is expanding. In theory, giffgaff’s coverage should echo O2’s but this isn’t always the case so check coverage on the giffgaff site before signing up.

The same issue applies to the speed of 3G and 4G data services, in that O2’s speeds provide an indication of what you can expect but giffgaff’s speeds may vary slightly. Giffgaff reports that 4G allows you to get online around five times faster than 3G, although official data is more conservative. O2’s 3G service averaged 5Mbps while its 4G service averaged 18Mbps in Ofcom speed tests. Both are adequate for many activities, including browsing, shopping, emailing and social media, but 4G is better for watching videos and streaming music, TV and movies, as well as gaming and video calling.

If you’re in an area that isn’t covered by 4G you can still go online using giffgaff’s 3G service – assuming that 3G is available. Note that all plans are available on 4G.

3G coverage
98%
4G coverage
97%
Average 3G speed*
5Mbps
Average 4G speed*
18Mbps
Call allowance
100 - unlimited minutes
Text allowance
Unlimited
Data allowance
100MB to unlimited**
Minimum contract
30 days
*Ofcom statistics for the O2 network, which giffgaff uses to operate its services. Giffaff coverage and speed may vary.
**Traffic management applies.
Prices from
3G coverage 98%
4G coverage 97%
Average 3G speed* 5Mbps
Average 4G speed* 18Mbps
Call allowance 100 - unlimited minutes
Text allowance Unlimited
Data allowance 100MB to unlimited**
Minimum contract 30 days
Prices from £5 per month
*Ofcom statistics for the O2 network, which giffgaff uses to operate its services. Giffaff coverage and speed may vary.
**Traffic management applies.
Info

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Data usage

Rating

3

A data allowance is included in all giffgaff goodybags, so you can get online whatever your budget. There’s a light option of 100MB, which will limit you to emailing and browsing online, and five graduating data caps up to unlimited. However the unlimited data package, known as Always On, comes with a caveat. You get 6GB of UK data at full 4G speeds and then an unlimited data allowance at a reduced speed (256kbps) from 8am to midnight.

Giffgaff operates Traffic Flow to help combat network congestion at certain hours of the day. It introduced the policy after finding that 1% of members were using around 30% of the total network resource at peak times (evenings and weekends) and diminishing the experience for everyone else.

Tethering – using your phone as a personal wi-fi hotspot – is permitted on all goodybags so you can get other devices online while out and about. The maximum allowance is 6GB per month. If you run out of data before the month is out you can buy another goodybag for a fresh allowance of data, calls and texts.

Calls & texts

Rating

4

Unlimited texts feature in all giffgaff goodybags. Inclusive calls options range from 100 to unlimited minutes per month. The allowance includes calls to UK landlines and mobiles, to free phone numbers (starting 080 and 0500) and to other giffgaff numbers. If you reach your limit before the end of the month, you can buy another goodybag for a new bundle of data, calls and texts. Alternatively, you can continue to make calls without a goodybag, which costs 15p per minute or is free to fellow giffgaff members. International call rates are very competitive and start from 3p per minute.

Extra features

Rating

2

Giffgaff doesn’t offer extra features or perks. The main feature of giffgaff is that all its SIM-only services are contract-free. This is a major draw for those who like the freedom to change deals or switch providers at short notice. The next feature is the community–run forums, which take the place of traditional customer service.

The friendly online forums are full of so-called giffgaffers helping each other out with various issues and questions. There is an official helpline as well for billing and account enquiries, but you’ll be directed to the forums for everything else. If you’re actively helpful, it’s possible to earn money in the form of payback, which is paid out twice a year in June and December. You can find out more about ways to contribute here.

Giffgaff also runs a Super Recruiter programme for those who spread the word about giffgaff and encourage new members to sign up. There’s the potential to earn around £5 to £8 per month for each person you recruit.

Finally, giffgaff offers free advice through the unlockapedia service to unlock your phone so it can accept a new giffgaff SIM card.

Value for money

Rating

4

Giffgaff’s SIM-only deals are pretty cheap, faring well against market-leading providers EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. You don’t get the extra features that these big brands offer, but something altogether quite different.

Giffgaff members are responsible for shaping the company and have a key role in developing its place in the mobile market. Whether you love or loathe this novel approach, it’s nice to see a firm that actually listens to what customers want.

Consequently, giffgaff was named Which? best telecoms provider in 2013 and 2014. However, the customer service stance could be a deal-breaker for those who just want to talk to a real person rather than posting online and waiting for a response, which may or may not help.

Overall Rating

3.2

Giffgaff’s unique approach to the mobile phone market has earned it an army of loyal followers. The handful of SIM-only plans offer good value for money and the fact that they all offer 4G as standard helps make it a strong competitor against the main four mobile networks. The offer of unlimited data is very attractive too. The appeal of giffgaff lies in what you’re looking for from your mobile phone provider. If it’s loads of data, extras, and a highstreet presence, carry on your search elsewhere. However, if you’re just after a good-value, contract-free SIM deal from a firm that cares about its customers, with an active online community to solve potential problems, giffgaff could be the one for you.

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