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More gaff than giff: The consumer-run network falters

by Dan Lane on 24th August 2010

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If O2 was a comedy club (and sometimes I’m not entirely convinced it isn’t) then giffgaff would certainly be the equivalent of Open Mike night…

Or Amateur Hour.

When giffgaff launched their service last November I said “Watch this space to see giffgaff become a tremendous success… or a horrific disaster” and unfortunately 9 months later it pains me to say that it seems to have ended up the latter, at least from my point of view.

Once giffgaff announced their Goody Bag bundles I decided to embrace the service and ported my main mobile number to them – everything went completely smoothly and I was initially very impressed – after I ported I even had a call from a friendly giffgaff staffer to make sure everything was OK. Then we ported my girlfriend’s number so she could ditch her SIM-only contract and take advantage of the free giffgaff data on her iPhone… everything went quite well but she didn’t get the courtesy call once she ported.

giffgaff Goody Bags

Happy with how well things had gone so far I started to recommend the service to other people, I ordered some SIMs so I could hand them out and the first 3 went almost instantly. I even signed up a couple more for myself so I could use them in secondary handsets (for testing etc).

Then I recommended one to my friend Will. Will is a developer with a keen interest in mobile and VoIP, he currently works for a telecoms company and was keen to try out the free data service on giffgaff. I sent him a SIM.

A giffgaff SIM. A few of these have hit the bin recently...

Will’s SIM wouldn’t activate and he had the most calamitous customer support experience trying to get it working – stupid questions from giffgaff support about supplying his username and information about how he performed his first top-up (impossible since he couldn’t activate his SIM) followed by instructions about signing up before activating (in contrast with their website which has a big “Activate a SIM” button which doesn’t require signing up). Eventually I got in touch with giffgaff’s Robbie Hearn (Member Experience Champion) who explained to me that there were a small handful of SIMs that were broken when they were sent out and that it was so rare that the customer service guys hadn’t been trained how to deal with it (it doesn’t quite explain why they seemingly took pot shot guesses as to what was wrong though).

Then Will messaged me to say “Hey, good news! my SIM card started working but their system won’t accept my payment”. Apparently they claimed his address didn’t match his card even after he rang his bank and confirmed the spelling of his address and was finally told that he’ll have to buy his top-up in store. This was the deal breaker and he rightfully decided to stick with his current provider.

Next up is an old friend and colleague of mine, Jay Fenton. He’s a smart chap and even holds telecom infrastructure patents – he couldn’t get payment into giffgaff either and found their customer support lacking to the point that he threw the SIMs into the bin and sent me a bit of a snarky e-mail.

Basically these are two professional people who trusted my recommendation and were let down, making me feel like a bit of a lemon for recommending giffgaff but today was the last straw.

Houston... We have a problem...

Today at around 4-5pm the giffgaff network appeared to completely die for at least 30 minutes. No calls or texts in or out for that whole period. When I checked, the giffgaff forum had a handful of member posts complaining and speculating about the issue – some people suggested it was an O2 issue but calls from an O2 SIM were working fine for me. It’s now 11pm and there has been no official mention of any outage on the giffgaff blog… not even a “something went wrong, we don’t know what but we’re looking into it” and that is completely unacceptable. As is this Twitter apology which is lacking somewhat:

Not really enough information for a major outage...

It doesn’t matter how good your offering is, how “fluffy” your ethics are or how friendly your staff are, if your service is half-assed then you might as well pack up and go home and that’s my advice to giffgaff “Gaffer” Mike Fairman – drag your staff into a meeting and tell them to up their game…

A network run by its customers probably needs some grown-ups checking the serious bits from time to time too...

If they don’t then pack up your things and go home, there is no room for amateurs here. However, cute your adverts are.

  • Ben Smith

    I disagree with your conclusions, but you’re welcome to your views and I’ll leave them here intact despite the tone.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, that’s nice.

    You guys can be as abusive or petulant in your tone as you like, and some other people have remarked on that, but if someone stands up and points out a slight lack of professionalism in your research, veiled hints of possible censorship might be deployed.

    From the log of a Nokia X6 phone

    24/08 16:39 GPRS, duration 33m41, sent 52kB, received 157 kB

    that is right through the affected time

    and there were also 7 copies of a single sms I sent to this phone from an E51, delivered through the same period – the other phone kept thinking it had failed, and tried sending again, succeeding without noting the fact

    I am not lying about this, but your colleague’s claim that the whole network completely died is either wilfully disingenuous, or wild exaggeration, or perhaps just inattention to detail.

  • Anonymous

    Ha ha, my apologies

    The outage was on the 23rd, but I picked and checked the 24th, as that was the date on the blog, presumably written after midnight

    But there is data use on the 23rd at that time on one phone, and the sent and received messages in the two phone logs

  • Ben Smith

    I really don’t have the energy to discuss this any more, but I’ll make one last plea to you and the other people unhappy with this post and then leave the comments to run…

    - Note any (other) factual information you have on the fault here.
    - Re-read the post and consider all of the issues raised in totality.
    - Take a quick look at our previous giffgaff coverage – by Dan and others – and consider whether there is bias, malice or another unfair agenda here.
    - Consider honestly whether the closing call to improve in this post could still be reasonably be expressed – whether or not you agree with it – in light of all that.
    - If you do, feel free to say why things are good enough (or even better).

  • Anonymous

    I think I’ve already posted a more empirical observation of that network fault than you have.

    One of the posts on another branch of this hints that you guys know more about this but aren’t saying.

    But there is no reply to my request to elaborate.

    As for the totality of the article, well, look at how it constructs itself, building up to a crescendo, adopting the phrase about a last straw, when the writer got so upset that he stopped rationally reporting the facts in front of his eyes and pretended the whole network had fallen over and died.

    Yes, there are some issues, and the network needs to do some work on them.

    And it is doing so, in the words of various members of staff, including Mr Fairman himself.

    - something that you folks don’t seem to have mentioned, in your clamour to characterise it as unresponsive.

    • James Whatley

      How could they possibly know more? To what are you hinting at? Make sense man!

  • Anonymous

    Could you make that first paragraph just a tad more facetious and surreal, just in case some of us still didn’t realise how much you guys like making things up and patronising people.

  • Anonymous

    I think the question should be what are you guys hinting at.

    On other branches of this discussion, there are comments such as

    “Given the absence of screaming though I doubt Three’s entire network
    was down. Localised failures or coverage issues *are* the norm and
    very different to what happened to giffgaff. ”

    And other comments that repeat the original author’s portrayal of a total outage, for example answwering comments about an Orange problem by saying, ahhh, but it still had this or that service

    Well, as I pointed out, not all aspects of giffgaff were down either

    But you guys seem to be trying to hint that giffgaff is keeping a secret, or adopting a tone that you know better.

  • James Whatley


    1. I didn’t write the article. Dan did. ‘What you guys are hinting at’ doesn’t work.
    2. I’ve been on the giffgaff community forums and seen that Dan isn’t the only one who complained about the network being down. It wasn’t just him and (it seems like) it wasn’t localised either. If it wasn’t completely down to you then fair enough. But your log from your X6 was both from the wrong day *and* the wrong time.
    3. Where is Dan hinting that giffgaff are hiding/keeping a secret? I honestly don’t see that bit. Sorry.

    To be honest mate, I’m just trying to find out what exactly is the issue here? That’s all.


  • DanLane

    We’re not hinting at anything, we have no hidden agenda and if you’d like to accuse of something please go ahead.

    If you actually read the article you’ll see that my experience with GiffGaff started positively and went downhill rapidly. The outage was just the final straw and what annoyed me so much throughout each of these instances wasn’t the technical failures but the way they were dealt with by GiffGaff staff. You can argue the toss over what was or wasn’t down until the cows come home but ultimately on each occasion something didn’t work and it wasn’t handled to my satisfaction.

    The only thing we claim to know better is how to handle customer service issues.

  • Jay Fenton

    I think we should just stamp a big FAILURE on this “experiment” and move on to a proper network…

    …sadly, they’re all equally shit at different times of the day.

    (although if I were to choose a gun for russian roulette, it would be the one with the O2 logo on it).

  • Anonymous

    I pointed out my mistake about the log myself within a few minutes, so don’t try and be clever about that.

    All 3 of you are talking in a number of posts each about an outage, amplifying those remarks to say that you use the phrase to mean no service at all, and countering other examples people mentioned by saying that some services remained in those cases

    I’m not the only person to have observed that text messages were shown by the sending phone as apparently not sent, yet were received several times over.

    Only calls were not working on giffgaff.

    And the article author didn’t do any tests to establish that. Or if he did he certainly didn’t bother to mention them.

    I don’t expect a detailed explanation of how the different services on a mobile network integrate with each other, or might sometimes fail singly or severally, but you could at least have checked which bits were working.

    • James Whatley

      1. Irrespective of any mistake you made, I’m just trying to point out that you don’t know what was and what wasn’t working as the ‘proof’ you provided was in accurate. If this is untrue, please go ahead and explain in more detail.

      2. I’m fairly sure I haven’t posted anything about any outage. I’ve commented on a post (like you) that Dan wrote, but that’s all. In fact, I’m almost certain my comments have hardly been about the ‘outage’ at all!

      3. How do you know it was only calls? You weren’t there for Dan’s experiences. Are you accusing him of lying?

      4. From this comment (in the post itself) – “…at around 4-5pm the giffgaff network appeared to completely die for at least 30 minutes. No calls or texts in or out for that whole period.” – that, to me at least, reads like Dan tested the network for a full 30mins both trying to make calls and send text messages.

      5. What do you expect?

      6. Why don’t you use your giffgaff name when commenting?

      7. How’s the community these days?

  • Anonymous

    1. Don’t lie about what I said, please, and that’s your second snipe

    What do you want, a list of text messages? One was sent from one phone at 1636, and received on the other 7 times between 1643 and 1647. Oh, I suppose that’s no good and you want a photo of the log, then you could start up that I’d forged it, yawn …

    3/4. Dan says it the whole network apparently completely died. If he had no signal, he wouldn’t have been able to test those services. Which is it?

    He said he read the forum, yet he doesn’t seem to notice posts remarking about texts still being received ok, or about some erroneously being shown as failed sending but in fact being sent and received several times.

  • DanLane

    I don’t quite understand what exactly it is you want from us… you seem to be arguing for the sake of an argument.

    I’ve already told you and several others in this thread that the issue is with how GiffGaff handles their problems and not with any specific problems (of which the outage you keep dwelling on is only one of several and only gets a brief mention in the article).

    If you refuse to accept the article as a whole in the spirit it was intended then I suggest you stop commenting until you are able to do so in the correct context, we welcome constructive debate but not mindless circular disagreement.

    And for completeness-sake in case you are reading this assuming we’re on some kind of anti-giffgaff crusade – we’re not! We’ve published plenty of positive and neutral coverage of GiffGaff in the past –

  • Anonymous

    the last straw that broke the camel’s back, and provoked the whole article, that is a brief mention?

    whining at after midnight that there isn’t a Twitter update yet?

    including in your article a link to a thread on the site, but failing to read the first post in it, in which someone is receiving text messages?

    open your eyes

  • Anonymous

    p.s. are you that sure that Dan included trying text messages?

    his Twitter post, pictorially embedded in the article, only mentions calls

  • Anonymous

    Tell you what is arrogant and condescending:

    - publicly calling people nutters, which your calm collected friend seems to have managed to do

    After all, what did I do wrong?

    I pointed out what I saw as some errors or exaggerations in the article

    - the network didn’t apparently completely die; I said text messages were still working

    That gets contested to the point I’m very nearly accused of lying for saying it.

    Yet the thread you pointed to on the giffgaff forum was started by someone who was still receiving text messages but couldn’t make or receive calls

    Thus I stick with what I said yesterday, that apparently you didn’t read the place very carefully

    And I suggest now that if your colleagues don’t believe me, perhaps they didn’t follow the link and read the thread either

    All this is merely about some attnetion to detail, of course

    But the customer service issues you are on about, those are mostly just attention to detail as well.

    You had good points, which could have been more constructively made, but I think I agree with Richard who said it was more like a kid with the wrong jelly

  • James Whatley

    Read Dan’s comment before yours. Properly.
    As one might you say: “open your eyes”

  • James Whatley

    What did I lie about? Trust me, I’m really, really not sniping.
    I’d consider getting help if you’re under the impression that the interweb is out to get you; like I said – Dan’s experience was just that, DAN’S EXPERIENCE.

    Please, take your ‘argument(s)’ up with either Dan himself or your therapist.

    The post isn’t about the outage, the post is about the lack of information *as a whole*. Difficult to get your head around, I know. But go on, give it another go.

  • Anonymous

    No info on Twitter?

    Are you sure?

    What’s wrong with this? –

    - which includes a link to an announcement the next morning about this very matter

  • Anonymous

    Very mature, James

    By the way, just why did you delete a comment on that roaming thread from a couple months ago?

    Didn’t like someone else spotting a fourfold increase in tariff on a new product from a firm you recommended?

  • James Whatley

    I genuinely have no idea what you’re talking about.

    1. To what part are you referencing re maturity?

    2. What comment?

    3. What post?

    4. Which firm?

    Good work using a new ID. Ben will just block that one too. You’re a troll. An ugly one at that.

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