So where are we now?

I finally cracked, and ordered a new iPhone 5 from Three, here in the UK. And asked Three for a new Femtocell up front. 

After FOUR weeks of arguing, they finally sent me one. The moral of the tale is NEVER try and do anything that Three dont already do. They are the most inflexible organisation known to man.  

Femtocell installed, fairly happy. Not a great coverage in the house, but at least my phone works now. Coverage elsewhere is surprisingly good - during the Dander for Dosh, I got coverage for all bar one hour. Whilst walking 80 miles alongside Loch Ness.  

The following Sunday at the Marykirk Raft Race - no coverage.  

London, however. Excellent. Reliable network. Far better than the O2/GiffGaff/Tesco nightmare. 

So there you have it. 

And now GiffGaff is fixed. For now.

Thanks to @QuirkyBean - a member of the community  support team for GiffGaff, its fixed now. Clearly, the agents couldnt fix this and required someone to pick up my pleas for help off Twitter. I'm still deciding if this is a social thing or just a broken support thing. The twitter conversation went list this (its in reverse order, so start at the bottom and work up): 


This doesn't include the various 'Hey GiffGaff, Why doesnt support work' on twitter or on their forum - clearly they didn't work. And neither did asking for this to be fixed on a number of different support incidents.

To conclude:

1. GiffGaffs' web site is mildly broken. Things disappear and reappear (my fault calls), accounts become disconnected from the phone (but not visible on the back end) and depending on browser, certain functionality doesnt work. From the 'try a different browser' mantra that they try on every new fault call, its well known and well documentented as not working, and they wouldnt be stalling for time if there was a fix imminent. It'll probably remain broken. 

2. GiffGaffs' support appear to be incentivised to close the calls as quickly as possible, regardless of success. They have a number of well worn excuses , and you have to anticipate and bypass these. From my interactions, they have absolutely no idea what you see on the GiffGaff web site, and are so used to idiot questions that they'll just shut stuff down they dont understand or believe. You can't send screenshots on fault calls, and you have to use their categorisation (which doesnt include 'broken web site' or 'cant buy package' or 'dont close my help calls without fixing the issue'). So just blog 'em somplace and send in the links. 

3. GiffGaff appears to measure itself on social media and interaction. Hitting their twitter account, and the account of their founder - @GavT (Gav Thompson) appears to be a hot button way of getting their 'social team' involved. It fixed the issue in under an hour, as opposed to me howling at the moon (at their support agents) for another month.

4. Getting a SIM card out of GiffGaff is a long and troubled experience. My advice is to order the maximum every time, and by the time you get them, you might use them all. Until they fix this, expect a 7-14 day wait for them, which in this day and age, is inexcusable. Their assurances that they cannot do anything, nor enable any other SIM cards that had got lost and returned, will not fill you full of confidence.

5. They have their own 'MyGiffGaff' iPhone app, which appears to be written by a single developer and relies on charityware. Given that this app is how many iPhone users will actually set up their APN settings, this is a huge ommission, and something GiffGaff should address immediately. 'We dont do apps' they might whine, whilst at the same time we all know that O2 employ a number of south-bank based mobile application shops on a almost continual basis. For gods sake GiffGaff, pay the man a decent living salary and have him do something wonderful.

6. No matter how many times O2 employees go onto the GiffGaff facebook page and claim otherwise, GiffGaff is a wholy owned subsiduary of O2, and their founder - Gavin Thompson is still there as the innovations manager. He thought that a web 2.0 version of a telecoms provider would be a good thing to do. (This 'ran by you' is complete flannel and only confuses the least web literate)

Gavin isnt wrong. Most of the interactions we have with telecoms providers are broken, and lead to immense frustration. However, given the stream of failure that GiffGaff demonstrates, it demonstates that dinosaur telecom companies appear unable to innovate and deliver a decent user experience in terms of web site. Something the rest of the world appears to have soved by 2005.

Its a shame, as it could really be an innovative new product in this staid, flatlining mobile market. Pity they skimped on customer service and delivery.

I'll stick with them for the moment, on the grounds that I can't be bothered moving elsewhere. Assuming it all keeps working.

Screenshots for GiffGaff Support

Because you dont believe me:


Amazing. Its my fault. Right. So here's my billbuchan account with GiffGaff:

And lookee. Same machine, same browser, different login:


See the difference? The second one has the abillity to manage that phone number, and the first does NOT. Thats what I've been saying to you for over a MONTH now.

And just to be absolutely clear, as it appears difficult to communicate this idea. The billbuchan account was correctly associated with number ending 285 correctly to start with, I ported the number, I bought a goodybag. And then it disappeared. Just check the billing history (as you should have done right from the start).

Can you see why I'm completely frustrated with this? Crap service from O2 no longer shocks me - check the rest of this blog - but to the level where I have to spell things out multiple times, underlined in crayon? 

Give me strength.

So which network to choose?

Here in Ruralshire, its a choice between the O2 network and the Vodafone network. I've tried both companies directly before, and would rather die. So how about MVNO's - Mobile Virtual Network Operators? I've tried GiffGaff and cannot recommend them to anyone I'd like. So how to find a list of all MVNO's here in the UK?

There's a wikipedia entry for that

And since I'm completely sick of O2, lets focus on those MVNO's that run on top of the Vodafone network. And it has to run mobile data. So that leaves us with:

  • Asda Network. Approx £15/month for 250 mins and 500mb data
  • TalkMobile (Owned by the Carphone Warehouse). Approx £12/month for 400 mins and 750mb data. No unlimited data. 
  • TalkTalk. But we can forget immediately about them.
  • BT Mobile. Not again. They were terrible the first time.
  • Tru - which looks interesting for lots of US/Australian/Netherlands travel. In country numbers, local data rate access. But has high consumer data costs. If I were travelling a lot, then this would be very attractive.
  • Wolves Mobile - which appears to have a very high data tariff. £112 per gig. Dealbreaker.
  • Ovivo - Very cheap. £5/month for 250 mins and 500mb data. But supported by advertising. Dealbreaker. 
    NOTE. Ovivo have now went bust. Bigger deal breaker (updated 27/3/14)
  • Bemilo - A mobile network aimed at parents supplying phones for kids. Not what I'm looking for. And it has the most annoying homepage in the word. No, really, go see. And turn the speakers right up. 

So I want: 

  • Something like unlimited internet, lots of free monthly minutes, the ability to manage it via the web, an easy way of getting SIM cards. And far cheaper than going to Vodafone directly.
  • Service. I have to be able to either walk into a shop and speak to someone intelligent (unlikely) or at least call and get it fixed. The GiffGaff model only works when you have no issues.
  • Roaming. I dont want to be ripped off by roaming.

So far, nothing really fits the bill, but TalkMobile is at least supported by Carphone Warehouse (who my friends assure me are very good) and Asda comes highly recommended. (I cant believe I'm saying that either).

I think a wee trip to Aberdeen to the Carphone Warehouse store to pick up some SIMs is now in order.

GiffGaff ? Give them a miss.

Its been over four weeks since I could manage my phone via their website, and their so-called customer service agents cant fix it. They close down calls without permission, they take 24 hours or more to respond, and keep loosing the trouble tickets.

I guess if nothing went wrong, they'd be fine. But it has, and they're not. 

As always, you get what you pay for. And this is just unbelievably bad. 

Example: Today:

Hi William,

Good to hear from you so soon.

I have just checked your account under the username of 'billbuchan' which has a SIM registered next to it under the number of 07768385285.

As this is the case you might be trying to log into the wrong account can you please get back to me with the SIM serial number so I can check if you have 2 accounts open.

Speak soon!

Matt @ The giffgaff team

I think its time to transfer to another provider. Again.

GiffGaff are idiots.

I lasted two months with Three. They said they'd provide a femtocell. They lied. So I moved to GiffGaff. They're a thinly disguised 'ran by you!' network ran by O2. I guess its their brand for low-cost SIM's. 

So with GiffGaff, you have to order a SIM from their website. Which I did, and transferred my phone. Fine. Then I ordered three more SIMs - for SWMBO, Squid and my mifi. Guess what.

5 WEEKS later, I finally get another three working SIM's. They use TNT to provision the SIM's - it takes at least three working days before they send them out. And for some reason, my SIM's never arrived. And then some arrived - but were disabled.

It turns out that every time you order new SIM's from GiffGaff, all outstanding SIMs are disabled. So I now have EIGHT disabled SIM's and four working ones. In five weeks. Their online support basically said 'We cant enable these sims - order some more'. And another week was wasted. Think I'm kidding?


In the meantime, in this blizzard of SIM's that dont work, my own account has been disconnected from my phone. Their answer? Clear your browser history. Yeah. Right. No. 

Would I recommend them? For a tenner, you get so-called-unlimited internet - yet to be tested, and free GiffGaff to giffGaff calls and texts. So it's far cheaper than the £150 a month I was paying with O2. 

But so far ? No. They're idiots. Their customer service doesnt.

After almost a month...

And having been in contact with the CEO's office (again), the twitter feed (again) and finally the network team, O2 have concluded that they cannot fix the bandwidth issues in Harbour Exchange Square and have let me out of my contract early so that I can go with another network provider.

Friday, in the Marykirk Hotel, I tried my three mifi 3g->wifi device. And it worked. And we got over 1mb/s internet speed. In Marykirk. Rural Scotland. Various other mates have went three recently, and have had a fantastic experience - unlimited bandwidth, zero cost tethering. Rural 3g support seals the deal.

So thats the end of my dialliance with O2. Its been far more pain than pleasure, being mucked around and lied to from start to finish.

I wont be sad to say - its over.

---* Bill

O2 apologises for 'network snags'.

Over at the Financial Times, (and now the Telegraph, The Register, Macrumours, the iPhone Blog, and Yahoo) Ronan Dunne (claimed to be the Head of O2) is interviewed:

The head of O2 has apologised to customers who could not make phone calls because the mobile operator’s London network was overwhelmed by bandwidth-hungry smartphones.

Why is O2 the only person surprised that iPhones actually use the 3g data network? In the years that O2 had a monopoly in selling them, they could have easily restricted sale in order to manage network growth. Instead they're blaming the customers for using the devices as they have been sold. Has anyone at O2 actually seen an iPhone ad, where they use network bandwidth? Two things: 

  • Dont blame the customers for buying your products
  • Blaming customers for 'data hungry' smartphones, when they're used in exactly the manner you have advertised them, smacks of big tobacco blaming their customers for getting lung cancer by misusing cigarettes. Disingenous at best.

Mr Dunne said O2’s network difficulties had been caused by an “explosion” of demand for data services on smartphones but insisted the problems were largely confined to London.

Well, a quarter of O2's million iPhones are within the M25. O2 have the worst (in terms of coverage, management and bandwidth) 3g network in the country. So yeah, folks outside London cant even get 3g. No wonder O2 think that the problems are focused on areas where they serve 3g.

Some O2 customers have periodically been unable to make or receive phone calls, or download material to their handsets, because the network was clogged up by smartphones.

How can the network be 'clogged up' with smarphones. Was it a surprise to O2 how many smartphones are in use ?  Does the part of O2 that bills £35 a month to smartphone users not talk to the part that actually has to provide this premium service that it is charging for ? I really feel like a valued customer now, being described as a clog.

“Where we haven’t met our own high standards then there’s no question, we apologise to customers for that fact,” said Mr Dunne. “But it would be wrong to say that O2 has failed its customers en masse.”

Its not wrong to say that. Its factual. O2 have failed their customers en-masse by not managing their 3g network. They started off with the worst 3g network (in terms of coverage) and have (In my humble opinion) trousered the money that should have went to investing in infrastructure. Who was in charge of that decision? Mr Dunne? 

There's a million pound bonus question. Who was in charge of the policy of not investing in the network? If I were a real journalist, I might ask that question.

He added that “any short-term blip” in O2’s “network reputation” would be “more than addressed” by three solutions to the difficulties.

A 'blip' implies a short period of time. Is six months a short period of time ? This is how long the network was unable to service any 3g device in our area. Is that a blip ? Or is it half a year?

Their reputation is shot with all the existing O2 customers. Providing a premium-cost phone and data service, and then failing to allow that device even to accept incoming calls, is a failure of monumental proportions. When the carrier has screwed up the network so that phones don't work - its game over.

O2 has been working with Nokia Siemens Networks, its infrastructure supplier, on software modifications that will ensure it can better manage the combination of voice and data traffic on its network.

This is 'IT Terminology' for 'Screaming at the supplier', 'Reading the manual' and 'finally listening to the network architects who told you years ago that this wouldnt work'.  Now that its a full-blown crisis, no doubt beset by seagull management (flies in, makes a lot of noise, shits over your desk and flaps out again), the cheque book has finally been diverted from Management Jollies and Fat Bonus's to 'stuff that makes our business work'. Hurrah. It'll take months, if not years for this to work.

Second, it is installing 200 additional mobile base stations in London, which will increase the traffic load the network can bear.

That'll take years. It took them six months to increase bandwith on an existing base station at an existing location. 

And third, O2 is liaising with handset manufacturers, including Apple and Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, to learn about applications that could place heavy demands on the network.

IT talk for 'Screaming at the supplier', 'rehiring the network specialists we thought we could lay off' and 'reading the manual'. Nothing will come of this, for sure.

One thing that worries me is that there is no mention in his list of remedies for folks - such as us - who had long-standing network bandwidth issues at the local base station - and who have suddently burst into life. almost like someone finally plugged the network cable back in. Why did this take six months of complaints to the Chairmans office and my MP  to resolve ? 

Now, if I were a shareholder of O2, here's the question I'd ask: Who's managing O2's network ? Because, as a customer right now, I'd answer 'no-one'. 

What will be the effect of this ?

There's now a backlog of quarter to half a million pissed off iPhone users, who quite frankly have been badly treated in terms of 3g coverage, 3g bandwidth and customer service. They could all - en mass - complain to Oftel or OTELO - and get out of their lock-in contracts in a heartbeat, and transfer onto any other 3g carrier. According to Oftel charts (previous article), EVERY OTHER carrier has a better 3g network. 

If I were a shareholder - and thats the only people that O2 appear to listen to - I'd be aware that there will probably be a mass defection from O2 starting in Q1, that is going to flatten any O2 results for years to come. The share prices will plummet. 

O2 may still be able to save this - a massive 'we are sorry' campaign backed by line rental refunds might buy back customer loyalty. But I see no appetite for that from O2 right now. They've gotten used to treating the customers badly, and gotten used to trousering the money.

You can only fool some of the people some of the time, and the wheels are starting to fall off the O2 vehicle now.

The Financial Times talks about Vofafones' iPhone tariff.

The Financial Times talks about the new Vodafone iPhone offering and tariff here, and says:

Vodafone signalled that it would seek to compete with other mobile operators selling the iPhone – Telefonica’s O2, France Telecom’s Orange and Tesco – by stressing the quality of its network.


O2 has run into some significant problems with its network in London

Ouch. And lets face it, Vodafones' customer service has got to be better than O2's.

A new response to O2

I sent this to O2 today:


From: Bill S Buchan/HADSL

To: "Alley Jonathan \(UK\)" [REMOVED]

Cc: Gregoriou Lucy (UK) [REMOVED]

Date: 11/12/2009 12:02

Subject: Re: FW: O2 customer service. (HADSL)

Jonathan, thanks for your concern. Things have moved on.

We've (55 people and counting) now went public with the complaint, and written to 10 different press or authority names including my MP. I've had a telephone interview with T3 already, my MP is writing to Mr Key, and I'm in discussion with Tesco's CEO's office.

And on monday this week - the 3g service here at Southwark Street started working. All of us tested, and were very happy with results. We decided to give it several days, as we've seen the service work for a single day. This lasted till Thursday morning, where it was down completely till 2pm (no incoming calls, no 3g). Its back again this morning, but variable.

The scary thing - as you have found out - is that no-one within O2 seems prepared to actually state when (and I mean an actual date, not some woolly 'Perhaps the end of December, maybe') a fix might be actioned. Its as if the Network team don't communicate with the rest of O2. They certainly don't communicate with us customers.

Is the issue resolved ? Partially.

If network service is consistent from now on, then we're happy. There's only 

  • The subject of compensation for 3 working days a week (at least) lack of service at this location since June. 26 weeks, 3 days a week - 78 days downtime. 
  • The continued inability of O2 to give any form of customer service on this issue.
  • An explanation as to how an entire postcode area can receive such terrible service for six months, and no-one at O2 knew about it, or could do anything about it.

I'll also copy in Lucy at the Chairmans office, so she's kept in the loop. Give the way that the network team seem to give the chairmans office the run around too, I'm sure she'd be glad of an update.

---* Bill

The Tesco iPhone has been launched.

And at £20 a month for a one year contract and £320 up front for a 16gb 3gs, seems far cheaper than the O2 offering. Starts on Monday 14th December. More info from El Reg over here.

Interestingly it includes free Wifi with BT Openzone. Given O2's lack of network capabilty, this is quite a smart move. O2 is tied with TheCloud, and there's just far fewer hotspots around. (And of course, attaching to a BT Openzone and trying to open the Cloud via BT just doesnt work.)