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GiffGaff gaffe charity spaff to quell miffed riffraff

Begging for forgiveness cheaper than building redundancy

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GiffGaff, the O2-owned mobile network that collapsed for eight hours last week, will give £10,000 to a customer-selected charity to say sorry, and promises free calls next time its service goes titsup.

The outage started at 10am on Friday when leaking water took out the operator's authentication and billing server aka the grandly titled Service Delivery Platform (SDP).

The server was down until just after 6pm on Friday, but GiffGaff managed some mitigation by granting punters unmetered calls during the afternoon. That's something it promises to do quicker next time, in lieu of buying a redundant SDP server, and it's going to chuck £10,000 to a good cause by way of apology.

In common with GiffGaff's policy of letting customers make all the unimportant decisions, there's a poll to select the lucky recipient of the ten grand. Macmillan Cancer Support is the current favourite and voting is open until the end of the week.

More interesting, and important, is how GiffGaff is going to prevent an outage like this happening again. Customers might not be invited to make the decisions, but there is an admirable openness in the company's attempt to explain its reasoning. Building a redundant SDP would be very expensive, especially considering how rarely it would be used, but the alternative of giving away connectivity during an SDP outage is cheaper and should keep customers in touch with the world.

That worked on Friday, but it took about three hours to implement once the decision had been made. So GiffGaff is putting in a button to make it instant next time, and promises to flick that switch quickly when necessary.

That deals with the SDP issue, and it seems a suitable solution, although customers are up in arms about the lack of personal compensation and the fact that they've not been given a head (ideally on a plate) on which to take out their anger.

GiffGaff is a feel-good brand owned by Telefonica, which operates as O2 in the UK. It has proved an interesting experiment as customers can gain free minutes and texts by selling the service, and providing technical support to other GiffGaff users, but it is also a small operation lacking the economies of scale enjoyed by a proper network operator.

It's been interesting to watch GiffGaff give up its unlimited voice and text plans following abuse by a minority, and seeing customers debate how to deal with the same issue on data connections. Yet reliability is more important than any of those things and GiffGaff is going to have to sort that out if its going to have any customers left to debate the details. ®

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