The lowdown on giffgaff

by Dan Lane on 26th November 2009

giffgaff (uncomfortably all lowercase) is a brand new pay-as-you-go MVNO backed by O2 (and using the O2 network) that claims to be “The People Powered Network”, they launched their service yesterday morning and I was lucky enough to get up close and personal with the giffgaff management team to get the lowdown on this unique mobile offering.

The giffgaff SIM comes in a complicated card origami wrapper.

The giffgaff SIM comes in an obscure origami wrapper.

First up let’s look at their pricing, completely free voice calls, SMS, MMS, call forwarding and video calls between giffgaff users (as long as you top up at least £10 every 3 months), which should go down well with the target pay as you go market as well as encouraging groups of friends and family to sign up en masse. There is a fair usage limit on the free voice calls of 60 minutes per call followed by the standard 8p/min charge but it’s nice to see that the terms and conditions recommend users “Re-dail after 60 minutes to re-commence the free minutes” even if they did manage to typo Re-dial (is this a giff-gaffe? BADOOM-TISH!).

Calls to other mobile networks and UK landlines come in at 8p/min (it’s the same cost to forward calls to other networks and landlines as well)

SMS to non giffgaff UK numbers is 4p per message

MMS to non giffgaff handsets will be billed at 16p per message although the launch website is mistaken in offering 16p per MB.

Video calls to non giffgaff UK numbers are charged at an unexciting 50p/min but who actually uses video calls anyway?

We’ll see absolutely free calls to freephone numbers which is how most consumers think it should be, but unfortunately isn’t with most UK networks but don’t sing giffgaff’s praises too loudly just yet because…

Calling voicemail costs a flat fee of 8p per call (BOO HISSS!) however giffgaff have confirmed that you can disable voicemail by pressing #004# then the dial/send button (re-enable voicemail with *004#) so those of you who perpetually have no credit won’t end up with voicemails you can’t listen to (although people won’t be able to leave you messages either). What would be nice here is perhaps some integration with a transcription company such as my current favorite Vox Sciences or, dare I say it, SpinVox. Even e-mail attachments of the audio would be nice (and fairly easy to implement).

Last but by no means least…. DATA!

Data is absolutely free for the first 6 months of the service. Ostensibly this is due to giffgaff not really knowing how to price data but they have been quite open about this since announcing the service and will be taking on board feedback from early users as well was taking cues from usage statistics that show how giffgaff users consume data.

While the iPhone betrays giffgaff's O2 roots by display O2-UK as the network, other handsets such as the INQ Mini show the giffgaff brand. The "Planet 3" link remains from this handset's 3UK origins, highlighting branding issues behind using unlocked handsets from other networks.

While the iPhone betrays giffgaff's O2 roots by displaying "O2-UK" as the network, other handsets such as the INQ Mini show the giffgaff brand. The "Planet 3" link remains from this handset's 3UK origins, highlighting branding issues behind using unlocked handsets from other networks. We think the data-centric INQ handsets make a perfect match for giffgaff users.

There are some reasonably agreeable prices in there (as well as some annoying ones such as the voicemail cost) but the really interesting thing about giffgaff is how they aim to handle marketing and support by enlisting the help of existing members to create marketing material and field support requests in exchange for points in the giffgaff payback scheme.

In this scheme 1 giffgaff point equals one Great British Penny and users can earn 500 points (five pounds) for giving a SIM to a friend which is subsequently activated, 200 points (£2, see how this works now?) for a recommendation and 50 points for using their “Spread the word” tool.

For launch giffgaff have had some crazy marketing tools created ranging from a bubblewrap suit designed to help passers-by relieve stress to remote control roller skates and even a man in a brightly coloured gimp suit who will do whatever you ask him to (personally, I like to think this role is filled by giffgaff CEO Mike Fairman but I doubt this is actually the case). Taking a hint from tool hire companies giffgaff will allow members to “hire” these marketing tools for free to use as props in youtube videos with a chance to win 12 months of free UK calls, texts and internet for a year as well as cash prizes. You can check out the tool hire site here if you’re interested in making an arse of yourself in exchange for free calls and don’t forget to plug The Really Mobile Project in all your videos ;)

As well as using points as a reward for marketing exercises users can earn points by “getting involved in the community” by answering questions and commenting on the giffgaff forums.

Twice a year giffgaff will turn points into prizes… well, hard cash deposited into your bank account, credit on your giffgaff account or a charitable donation.

While it’s all very well having users help each other there are sometimes problems that can’t be solved by another user. In this scenario an unanswered question will be escalated to a member of the support team and there is a web-based secure messaging page that gives users a direct “e-mail-esque” line to the support staff if they need to reveal private details. To keep operating costs down giffgaff don’t offer a realtime chat or phone line to it’s support team but where required support staff will phone the user in response to a support query. This is a controversial approach that may not be appreciated by everyone and I foresee some backlash over the lack of phone support.

In terms of the business itself I was initially very skeptical and wary that this might be an O2 spinoff that was just another MVNO surrounded by a pile of clever PR, especially when a Twitter direct message to CEO Mike Fairman’s twitter account resulted in an almost immediate response from Splendid Comms, giffgaff’s PR company. When I raised these concerns in our meeting Mike was quick to confirm that he ran his own Twitter account as well as writing his own blog posts and that O2 funded and own giffgaff but gave them operational independence meaning giffgaff are given the freedom to choose their own suppliers, software and staff and in fact only 5 of the 14 staff members are from O2, the others being sourced from other telcos and even from outside the communications industry.

I guess the proof, as they say, is in the pudding so I’ve got a giffgaff SIM here that I’ll start using as my main handset so keep an eye on my twitter feed for updates on that. I’ve got giffgaff SIMs here for the rest of the Really Mobile team (if you were paying attention you’ll see that if the three others activate their SIMs this gives me £15 worth of giffgaff points!)

I think we’ll have to get one into the hands of Ricky, the Really Mobile resident student as he is a bit more their target market than us bunch of multi-contract big spenders.

Watch this space to see giffgaff become a tremendous success… or a horrific disaster, whatever happens, we’ll be there to comment on their performance and say “I knew them when they couldn’t spell ‘dial’”.

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