Are GiffGaff and their Goodybags any good?
GIFFGAFF proclaim themselves to be "the mobile network run by you", and say that they have members, not customers.
That's because they rely on their customers to provide help and support via a huge Community forum, and to give them ideas and feedback on price plans and features.
A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) piggybacking on O2's network, they sell calls, texts and data using a broad pay as you go model.
Customers can choose between "traditional" PAYG - topping up and using their credit call by call, text by text, megabit by megabit - or use their credit to buy one of the operator's Goodybag bundles.
Everyone who fancies joining GiffGaff needs to order a free SIM. Once this arrives, they'll need to log on to the GiffGaff site to activate it - at which point they'll be given the opportunity to buy one of the following Goodybags:
*Always on data offers 4G speeds for the first 6GB, then reduced speeds from 8am-midnight.
There's no obligation to buy a Goodybag, but they are way better value than paying as we go, particularly for people who use data more than they talk or text - and being PAYG, we can chop and change which one we have every month if needs be.
If we're happy with our choice of Goodybag we can set it to automatically recur every month - but we still have the ability to change it to a different plan up to 7.30pm the evening before the existing one is set to renew.
Since autumn 2015, all of GiffGaff's plans have come with 4G data as standard where available, and anyone with one of the capped data plans is allowed to use as much or as little of that data as they like for tethering.
The Always On £20 Goodybag is slightly different: only the first 6GB will be guaranteed to be at 4G speeds. After that's been used up, users will be restricted to a maximum data speed of 256Kb from 8am until midnight each day until the end of that month.
For this reason, GiffGaff don't claim to offer unlimited data - which, they point out, would mean no restrictions at all.
Out of allowance charges
Do note that while some operators' PAYG bundles can be renewed as soon as they run out, GiffGaff's are sold on a once-per-month basis - so once we've used up that month's Goodybag, we'll be back to paying for each individual call, text, or update until the start of the next month.
GiffGaff customers also need to be in credit with the operator if they want to use their phone to send an MMS, or send and receive premium texts - or call their voicemail.
The exception to this are calls to freephone numbers and certain helplines, listed in the table below:
|Type of usage||Cost|
|Calls and texts to other GiffGaff numbers||15p/minute|
|Calls to 0500 and 080 numbers||Free|
| Calls to 105 (power cuts and blackouts)
111 (NHS non-emergency)
Helplines starting 116
|Calls to standard UK landlines and mobiles||15p/minute|
|Calls to 084, 087, 09, and 118 numbers||Access charge of 25p/minute|
|UK texts||5p each|
|Sending premium texts||From 10p to £1.50 each|
|Receiving premium texts||Up to £10 each|
|Picture messages (MMS, max 300KB)||16p each|
Those who don't want to run the risk of running out of credit can set up an automatic top-up: when their credit balance gets to £3, their chosen payment method will be debited by a minimum of £10, up to three times in any one month.
Peer to peer handsets
GiffGaff do sell handsets, but not in the same way as most other operators.
There's a fairly standard selection of devices to choose from, from the budget Alcatel Pixi 4 and Motorola E3 up to the flagship Samsungs and iPhones. GiffGaff also sell a smaller range of pre-owned and reconditioned newer or higher end handsets.
Whether we go for a brand new model or a reconditioned device, we can choose to pay the complete cost upfront, or spread the purchase over a period ranging from six to 24 months.
Here's where GiffGaff's phone sales differ from their rivals: in late 2013, GiffGaff teamed up with Ratesetter to offer peer to peer loans for their handsets.
Users must agree to pay something upfront - from £25 to £200 for the handset, plus a Goodybag worth at least £10 - and choose how long they want to pay off their loan.
Loan rates range from 18.8% APR on 24 month loans to 21.5% APR on the six month terms; customers can see how much they'll pay per month and in total by playing with the various options before choosing one.
All the phones are sold unlocked - so while the ideal for GiffGaff would be that we'd buy one with a Goodybag then stay put, there's absolutely no commitment to them as a network beyond that first month.
As mentioned above, GiffGaff use O2's network to provide their signal.
As we were writing this review, Ofcom released their annual Connected Nations Report, which showed that after a few years of lagging behind in terms of geographic coverage, O2 have made a serious effort to reach more of the UK in the past year.
|Voice calls (2G and 3G)||Combined 3G and 4G data|
SOURCE: Ofcom Connected Nations Report 2016. Available here.
This time last year, O2's geographic data coverage stood at 47%; their voice call coverage was a quite respectable 72% by comparison.
And while GiffGaff's network of choice may still lag behind the other big operators in percentage terms, as we explain in our detailed guide to the subject, where they do have a signal it's generally stronger and more reliable than all but Vodafone's.
To see how strong GiffGaff believe the signal should be in a particular area, it's worth using their coverage checker, available here.
GiffGaff have a very different approach to customer service than their rival operators - because the customers provide most of that service for each other.
When it comes to issues like account management and billing, users will be dealt with by a proper GiffGaff staff member, but most other issues can be dealt with by popping into the Community section of the website and asking.
This has its advantages - there's almost always someone about who's willing to help - and its disadvantages - it might take a while to get a useful answer, and it's not ideal for people who like talking things through on the phone with an adviser - but most customers seem to like it.
It helps that they're also asked their opinions on pricing and plans, and that any GiffGaff customer can make a suggestion regarding features they'd like to see.
It's an unconventional way of doing things, but it's scooped them a couple of awards for best network, and they're a Which? recommended provider, so they must be doing something right.