A month ago, the last straw was reached with my current mobile provider, O2. I had long been paying a premium for O2. They genuinely have the best customer service team I have experienced in the UK, and the cost felt worthwhile.
Still, I had started to feel a little troubled about it. They were, quite literally, 30% more expensive than their closest rival (from what I could tell), with less network coverage. The internet went from “unlimited” to a 500 MB cap, which started to become a problem. But still, I kept on as a paying customer … until they started censoring the Internet.
So I began to search for a new mobile provider. And a month later, we’re moving to a whole new age.
Let me walk you through it.
When we look at plans, it all hinges on how I use my mobile service, naturally enough. Plans that work for me do so because they give me enough for my purposes, plus a little buffer. Were I to get 1,000 minutes a month, 900 of them would often go wasted. Not all these plans are necessarily good for you.
I tend to use …
- About 100 minutes a month of talk time. If I’m making a lot of calls, this can get up over 200 minutes. I have only once made 300 minutes of calls in a month. (In related news, my 16-year-old self wonders how I function in my 30s.
- About 10 text messages a month. Seriously. Why send a text message when you can send an email?
- An unknown amount of mobile internet. These days O2 sends me a monthly warning telling me that I’m approaching my limit, and I purposely avoid using my phone’s more bandwidth-heavy functions when I’m away from a WiFi connection. 1 GB a month would probably allow me to relax, but I like to think of myself as “cutting edge” in this area (even if it’s not true), so unlimited internet is definitely preferable.
In addition to my basic needs, there are a couple of principles.
- I will not look at Orange, who chased me away to O2 in 2008 by practically daring me to leave the service. While O2 could someday stop censoring the Internet, and win me back, Orange will never have me as a customer again after treating me like crap.
- I will not sign a contract that is longer than one month in length. Long contracts are for suckers — they take away the phone company’s motivation to take care of you every day. Instead, they need to look after you only when your contract expires. I refuse to be locked in again.
A final piece of criteria is the attitude towards customers. Part of this is customer service — what O2 excels at. The second part is an approach to doing business which puts the customer at the centre of the puzzle. It is with this second piece that O2 has failed. The cap on internet usage and the censorship of certain sites shows me the path they have chosen for their customers is to limit us in ways that are convenient to O2. I would, if possible, like a company that tries to enable me to use their network as I please. One that wants me online with their service, rather than paying a bill but attempting to avoid using my phone where possible.
A search was performed, and candidates emerged.
The Plan: 350 minutes; 300 texts; 500 MB. £15.32
Good: It’s cheaper than O2.
Bad: Bad service. Too little internet. Coverage maps have gaps near my home.
The first place we looked was T-Mobile. Their plan is basically the same as what I have from O2, more-or-less, for about £5 cheaper. Online reviews suggest that their customer service is terrible, even after taking into account that most people write about customer service online in order to complain about slights, real or perceived.
On top of that, their service map shows huge service gaps in my neighbourhood, which would be a pain in the ass.
The Plan: 350 minutes; unlimited texts; 1 GB internet. £15.32
Good: Customer service.
Bad: On the T-Mobile network.
I’m still not sure how this works. Virgin uses T-Mobile’s network. Gives twice as much internet, the same number of minutes, and better customer service. All for the exact same price. Anybody who buys the T-Mobile plan must be nuts.
Still, being on the T-Mobile network means large network gaps near my home, so while they appear to be an attractive option, not for folks in my part of town.
Plan 1: 2000 minutes; 5000 texts; unlimited internet. £25.
Plan 2: 300 minutes; 3000 text; 1 GB. £15.
Good: Potential for unlimited internet.
Bad: Cost of unlimited internet; network coverage.
There were two plans from Three that were both intriguing. Of the major carriers, Three was the only one that provided an unlimited internet plan on a one month contract. At £25, however, it was also the only plan that would have me paying more than I pay right now. The other Three option that was interesting was one that looked just like Virgin, but with out the hole in the network around my house.
Three has two problems. The first is a negative perception of its customer service. It had very mixed reviews on this. Normally I would consider mixed reviews to mean good, but this time one of the bad ones came from somebody I trust.
Possibly an unusual bad experience, yes, but troublesome all the same.
The second was an across-the-board problem reported from all directions. Three seems to overstate the extent of their network coverage. While they purport to cover as much as anybody else, online reviews simply suggest otherwise.
Plan: 250 minutes; unlimited texts; unlimited internet. £10.
Good: Uses O2 network; customer centred; inexpensive; good customer service
Bad: Uses O2 network; pay-as-you-go
I actually looked at several smaller outfits, but Giffgaff impressed. They run on the O2 network, which is a bit of a pain given the reason for the change, and the fact that O2 can still censor my Internet. But Giffgaff is not run with that same philosophy, so it makes the problem easier to bear. (Also, it is less than half the price.)
On the other hand, my area of town seems to have coverage issues with several providers, but my mobile signal with O2 has never been a problem. O2 also has the fastest 3G connections in the country, which is not a bad thing.
The only thing that’s strange about Giffgaff is that it is an exclusively pay-as-you-go network. You can “top up” with a contract-like deal, however — the £10 one above being a good fit for me. Between that and auto top-ups, it isn’t as bad as my previous experience with pay-as-you-go would lead me to believe.
So what am I doing?
It should be obvious from reading the above, I think.
I’ve gone Giffgaff.
If you’d care to follow me to Giffgaff, you can do so by ordering a free SIM here. Full disclosure, if you order a SIM through that link (and activate it), I get £5 free credit. But so do you, so everybody wins.
And how did O2 take my departure?
Like champs, I must say. Another awesome customer service representative took my cancellation call, and was classy and polite about the whole thing. She was so nice, I couldn’t even bear to rant about the whole internet censorship thing.
Which is almost too bad, really.