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giffgaff’s “always on” data: what does it actually mean?


Virtual network adds a new piece of nonsensical jargon to mobile tariffs: "always on" data

Mobile phone networks love a euphemism when it comes to selling mobile data. We’re all now familiar with the concept of “unlimited” data coming with loosely defined limits, but giffgaff has thrown another piece of jargon into the pot with the launch of its new tariffs: “always on” data. 

On the face of it, “always on” data seems like a pretty poor boast. It’s not like Vodafone or EE switch off their mobile data overnight, after all. However, giffgaff is using the term to describe an unlimited data tariff that gets severely throttled if you stray over a predefined data cap.

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“Always on” data is part of the company’s new £20 per month goodybag, which will be on offer to customers from the beginning of September. It will be the only tariff the company sells that doesn’t come with a fixed data cap. Instead, customers will get their first 6GB of data each month at full 4G speeds. Once they’ve chewed through 6GB, the customer’s data connection is throttled to only 256Kbits/sec between 8am and midnight for the remainder of the month. They can use as much data on the throttled connection as they like. 

“Most Unlimited members don’t use anything like 6GB so the only differences will be that they can now enjoy 4G at no extra cost and can use their first 6GB for tethering,” says a community announcement on the giffgaff website

To be fair to giffgaff, 6GB is still a generous monthly data allowance, especially for only £20 per month, including both unlimited calls and texts. And precious few tariffs now permit tethering to laptops or tablets, even when you’ve get a pre-defined data cap. 

The 256Kbits/sec choke could pose problems, however. Spotify’s “Extreme” music streams demand 320Kbits/sec, for example, while YouTube playback could certainly stutter or drop to low-quality streams at the restricted speeds.

giffgaff, which is a virtual network that piggybacks on O2, previously offered separate tariffs for 3G and 4G data. The company’s new tariffs are merged, meaning there’s no longer a price premium for 4G, although customers on the old 3G tariffs now often have to pay more for an equivalent amount of data on the new set.  

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