Giffgaff is latest kid on mobile network block

Giffgaff, the people-powered UK mobile phone network that went into beta test at the end of 2009, is now fully operational and open for business.

Running on the O2 network, the new provider promises "no call centres, contracts, shops or big budget TV advertising", essentially bringing down overheads and reflecting those savings in its price plans.

To replace traditional network services, giffgaff relies on the community, offering users points for actions, such as helpdesk style advice for other members, vocing opinions on how it should be run, and extolling its benefits through word of mouth. These points can then be exchanged for cash or a donation to a charity of the community's choice.

The whole shebang was inspired by Wikipedia and other Web 2.0 ideas: "In my opinion, the power of the community can now run the best encyclopaedia service on the planet and be the motivating force behind a successful presidential election campaign," says founder Gav Thompson, who is also head of brand strategy at O2. "So, for a significant minority of people who aren’t turned on by big companies and big brands, we are of the opinion that giffgaff can harness the power of the community to run a simpler mobile network where people get rewarded for helping out."

And to illustrate the point, the company launched its goody bags scheme after consulting its beta test community: "A great example of how giffgaff is run by its community is the launch of goodybags, our price bundles which are truly unlimited," says Mike Fairman, CEO. "We asked our community what they wanted, and received 285 responses, which helped to guide the development of the product.”

The goodybags are monthly bundles that give a variety of unlimited texts and or UK minutes for one-off payments: £5 buys unlimited texts for a month, £10 100 UK minutes, unlimited UK texts and mobile Internet, £15 300 UK minutes, unlimited UK texts and mobile Internet, and so on.

Normal calls to mobiles on other networks are 8p per minute, texts are 4p, while calls and texts to other giffgaff members are totally free. Mobile Internet is also free to all customers until the end of June.

It's easy to sign up to giffgaff, just order a free SIM card from giffgaff.com, top up with £10 and you're good to go. You'll need your own handset, of course, and it'll need to be unlocked (or on the O2 network), but there's no contract to sign.

Oh, and by the way, giffgaff is a Scottish word that means mutial appreciation or mutial giving. So there you go.