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Orange vs giffgaff

7 September 2011 by superlative

I have been trying out a SIM card I got from the mobile network giffgaff for the last week or so, to see how it compares to the service I get from Orange.

Basically I have been with Orange for about four years, but the reception I get from them is a bit rubbish. The data connection I get when using the internet on my phone is awful, and it yo-yos up and down from HSDPA to 3G to 2G to no Gs at all. Coupled with that, Orange introduced the extremely useful function last year of customers being able to use the T-Mobile network as well as their own – which would be a benefit, were you able to get anything other than a 2G connection on it. So once your phone hops onto T-Mobile you get capped at 2G, and it’s really difficult to force your phone back onto Orange.

Since we moved into our basement flat, my reception at home has been terrible and I have to leave my mobile in strategic positions round the house to make sure it has a signal. My reception at work has always been pretty poor, and again I have to leave my phone in the right place on my desk otherwise it drops off the network entirely.

All in all, it makes my phone very hard to use for data, and given it’s a smartphone that’s kind of the point.

So, as some of you may remember from previous posts, I have become a lot more proactive in the last year or two about taking my custom elsewhere if I’m not getting good enough service. I changed bank and I changed broadband provider, and now I’m thinking I might change mobile provider as well.

giffgaff is a not so well known network that runs on O2’s infrastructure. It is similar in that way to companies such as Tesco Mobile and Virgin Mobile, which don’t actually have their own masts and instead pay to use those of one of the big proper networks.

giffgaff sells itself as ‘the mobile network run by you’, in that it is a kind of community where members offer technical support to each other and customers are fairly tech-savvy and don’t need a lot of help from the company itself. For this reason they don’t offer telephone support of any kind, and that helps them to keep their costs down. If you look for a phone number on their website you won’t find one, or at least I haven’t managed to so far.

They also offer an unusually cheap pay as you go package.

At the moment, I really don’t spend a lot on my mobile. I buy the handset separately, so I do spend a bit on that, but month to month Orange has worked out very cheaply indeed. I’m on their Dolphin PAYG tariff, and if I top up by £10 in a month I get a free bundle of 400 texts and 100Mb of data to use. I never use that many texts, and 100Mb is sufficient just about for me given I only really use my data allowance on the way to and from work. After I have exhausted my bundle or my month is up, I still have the £10 of credit left that I put on it, and with it I can buy an ‘Extra’ (another bundle basically) of unlimited texts for £5 that lasts for a month, and another one of 250Mb of data for £5 for one month. My only other expenditure goes on the very occasional calls I make that require me to top up by a little bit more every now and then.

But in total and on average, I would estimate I’m only spending about £7.50 per month on using my phone, which is really good.

BUT it’s not so good if your reception is crappy and you can’t actually use the phone half the time.

So I have been doing a comparison with giffgaff, and here are my results so far:

Reception at home: not dissimilar, I still have to leave the phone in the right places. The signal is perhaps marginally stronger.
Reception at work: much, much better. It stays on the network most of the time, and I can actually carry it round with me and it still works! It’s stupid that this is unusual for me, but it is.
Data connection to and from work: AMAZINGLY BETTER. It basically stays on HSDPA the whole way, and only occasionally does down to 3G. It’s really fast, and generally very stable.

How does it compare on price?

Well giffgaff is pay as you go too, and they call their bundles ‘Goodybags’. All networks have to make up stupid names for their bundles, apparently.

A £10 goodybag on giffgaff gets you:
250 UK minutes to any mobile or landline
Unlimited UK texts
Unlimited data

To get unlimited data on pay as you go is really unusual, and to get free minutes to any network is pretty unusual too. That goodybag would easily cover all my usage, and would allow me to use my phone a lot more for things like streaming music than I have ever been able to before. I’d have to buy a goodybag every month, so I’d be looking at spending a small amount more £10 every month rather than around £7.50.

I did a little experiment yesterday to see how much data I’d use on my phone if I really used it. I left it on Orange, with 77Mb of data allowance remaining, and then I streamed Google Music all the way to work while tweeting every so often. I got to work, and my WHOLE allowance was gone and I’d spent £2 of credit! I was shocked that it was so much, and that was even streaming using a crappy connection that kept cutting out. So if I wanted to do that all the time, there is no way I could do it on Orange, I would need an unlimited data package like giffgaff.

Reading all that back, it sounds like yes I should switch to giffgaff. I’ll be spending a bit more, but other than that I haven’t really found a downside. I just get a bit jittery about committing to something like this, in case I regret it later. But I can probably transfer my number back to Orange in future if I really want to, can’t I? Yes I probably can.

So it looks like giffgaff it is then.



  1. Maff says:

    I had read up on giffgaff a while back and thought it was a good idea. I love the sound of that goodybag though – amazing. Have you considered trying the other networks first, just in case? You wouldn’t need to bother with O2 or Tesco, as they’re the same, but T-Mobile, Vodafone and even 3 may surprise you. 3 is getting quietly stronger, I’m finding, and it isn’t as bad as people say. Voda is usually vastly better, but vastly more expensive. And crap. If you mooch around enough on the internet, you can get free SIMs for most networks.

    If its your number you’re worried about – you can indeed move it back. It’s your number and you can do what you like with it.

    giffgaff does sound like the best option for you, but still seems ridiculous that you can’t get a signal at home. What network is Chris on?

  2. superlative says:

    Chris is on Orange too, because he’ll generally let me research such things and then go with whatever I pick.

    I do get some signal at home, but I have to leave my mobile at the front or back of the flat. The middle is a big deadzone because it’s essentially underground.

    I hadn’t really thought about the other networks. I don’t like Vodafone because they fucked me off in 2005 and I *really* bear a grudge. That was why I changed to Virgin Mobile.

    Then when I moved into my current job in 2007, I had zero reception at work (I think Virgin uses T-Mobile’s network), so I had to switch to Orange.

    So… I guess the only one that might be worth trying and that I don’t hate is 3. I might see if their prices are competitive.

  3. Maff says:

    Looks like you’ve tried them all then. Virgin is indeed on T-Mobile, so that’s no good for work. 3 are usually good for data… their PAYG does all you can eat. Think that’s £15pm tho :/

    I’m not sure that if traditional networks don’t work in the middle of the house, that 3 would be any better. Worth a try I guess? SIMs are free…

  4. Helen says:

    The only comment I have is that giffgaff is a really silly name. It sounds like a Basement Jaxx song.

    Carry on.

  5. superlative says:

    You wish you could be on giffgaff. You probably have to be on Femicom, the network for ditzy females.

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