Giffgaff kicks out data hungry users

UK MVNO Giffgaff has revealed that it is kicking data-hungry users off its network after discovering that less than one per cent of its customers are accounting for over a third of its total mobile internet data use across its entire network.

The MVNO is a subsidiary of O2 and uses the operator’s network. The company pioneered the use of online forums and blogs to communicate with users, rather than relying on call centres, with the aim of creating an online community that helps fellow users with their customer service needs. The carrier also offers a £10 per month deal which provides unlimited data usage to its users.

However, the firm said that it has been looking into the usage patterns of mobile internet traffic on its network over the past few months, and has decided to put into place some new procedures as a result of its findings.

“As you can probably imagine, the actions of the few using data in this fashion have a couple of major consequences if we allow it to continue,” the company wrote in its blog.

“The first is an impact in terms of resource to Giffgaff. The way in which these users are using their data is simply not economically sustainable for us – both in the cost of the data they are using, and in the business time spent on investigating and working with these cases. This is all time and money we could be spending elsewhere to improve and develop Giffgaff as a service and community for you.”

It said that the second consequence is the impact that those data-hungry users have on the service to its customers who enjoy unlimited mobile internet and use it in a normal fashion.

“As we don’t want either customers or our long term business health to be affected, we’re put into place a new set of checks on people’s patterns of data usage.”

Under Giffgaff’s terms and conditions, all mobile internet usage must be for users’ private, personal and non-commercial purposes. Users may not use their SIM Card:
a) In, or connected to, any other device including modems, dongles or any other way to connect to a PC;
b) Fraudulently;
c) In such a way that adversely impacts the service to other Giffgaff customers.

However, the MVNO does allow users to continuously stream audio and video content.

Those users who have been found to be among the one per cent responsible for the heavy data usage will first have a data bar imposed upon them. If the users want to contest that decision, they can do so, but the operator warned:

“If we do remove the data bar on your account and you continue to use such a high level of data then we will permanently remove your internet access with no exceptions.”

Since the announcement, affected customers have taken to Giffgaff’s online forum to vent their frustrations. One customer, with the username tim74, posted in the operator’s online forum:

“Mine got barred with no proper explanation other than saying I was using too much — with everything seeming to pretty much say I ‘must’ be tethering (I never have), rather than understanding that I was using my smartphone for what it was designed – it has a big screen, which is great for watching videos on. Dealing with the agents gets nowhere, and anything they decide to pass on to the technical team – the technical team appear to file in the bin.”

Another user, rab93, said his usage was capped as he had used “over 2GB” in his first month of being a customer.

“It’s only because it’s a new phone that I’ve been using internet so much as this has been my first month with the phone,” he said.

Giffgaff is not alone in threatening to kick data-hungry users off its networks, parent company O2 announced in 2010 that it would impose data caps on users who abuse its unlimited data plans and also warned that persistent offenders would have their internet connection disabled.



  1. Avatar tim deluca-smith 11/01/2012 @ 5:29 pm

    So assuming customers haven’t infringed the tethered modem rule (etc), is this the fault of the customer or just another example of an operator retrenching on the promise of ‘unlimited’ data?

    We’ve seen several operators do this. It seemed like such a good idea during the subscriber acquisition phase – then the reality of over promising and under delivering sets in.

    If operators don’t want users streaming video 24×7, don’t sell unlimited data in the first place. Most readily admit that 99% of subscribers never exceed 1gb anyway.

    It seems operators are constantly on the back-foot of OTT innovation. Unlimited data, great – but not if you want to use it to watch BBC iPlayer all day. Unlimited data great – but not if you want to use your allowance to tether your iPhone (that’s another £15 please).

    Sometimes I really worry about the transparency of this industry.

    Of course, if Giff Gaff found that this [minority] had breached the T&C’s then fair cop.

  2. Avatar Sarah 13/01/2012 @ 2:06 pm

    One of the major draws to joining GiffGaff was the unlimited data plan – as a Smartphone user the ability to stream TV content as part of my television package was a real bonus… most networks would allow a few hours of streaming before you would go over the limit.

    Having a community spirited network is all well and good but if GiffGaff are going to advertise Unlimited Internet then they cant retract that deal because people are taking them up on it!

    Poor deal Giffgaff.

  3. Avatar eustace.breeze 16/01/2012 @ 3:18 pm

    TBH, I can’t really blame this (until now) to me unknown MVNO (am not located in UK). Cellcos are in a tight spot, it must be admitted: users want to do what handsets enable them to do, and that means great strain on mobile data networks. That calls for more investment, and margins are getting tighter. Not to mention the PR nightmare every time an operator wants to cap something or make a few quick quid on the side, to put it that way. Where and how this will end, hard to say.

  4. Avatar Khairul 20/01/2012 @ 3:00 am

    Mr. Sahota,

    You mention in the article that giffgaff allows continuous streaming of audio and video content.

    May I politely point out the fact that the clause mentioning that has been removed from giffgaff’s terms and conditions; moreover, the removal of that clause is a hot topic of discussion in the relevant discussion on the giffgaff forums, as it indicates the fact that continuous streaming is no longer allowed.

    giffgaff community member

  5. Avatar Dawinderpal Sahota 20/01/2012 @ 4:10 pm

    Thanks Khairul for clarifying that detail – and it’s interesting to know that this is a hot topic of discussion in the forums, it seems “unlimited data” usage is never unlimited at all.

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