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giffgaff vs O2: the main differences between the networks

giffgaff vs O2

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Is giffgaff slower than O2? Do you get worse coverage? We look at what's the same and different between them and their benefits. Last updated: 9th November 2022

In our giffgaff vs O2 guide

Special offer news

giffgaff vs O2 networks

Is coverage different on O2 and giffgaff?

We tested both networks in real life to find out

O2 and giffgaff logo with signal bars

giffgaff share the same coverage as hosts O2

Best network for coverage

See the claim

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

giffgaff are a smaller network that use O2’s network to provide signal. In fact, they’re actually owned by O2. But some might expect that being on a smaller, cheaper provider means an inferior network experience.

Thankfully we can say that’s not the case with giffgaff. O2 have the joint-largest network for call signal (3G/2G) of all UK providers, and giffgaff get full access to it. It covers 98% of places where people live.

And you get the same 4G coverage as well. O2’s 4G network isn’t quite as large as EE/Vodafone’s but you should still get decent 4G even in smaller towns. Further out in the countryside you’re more likely to be stuck on 3G.

In any case you should use both networks’ coverage checkers below to see what sort of signal you can expect in your area. Check everywhere you expect to use your phone.

Useful link: How good is O2’s indoor coverage?

5G access is offered on all giffgaff plans

5G on giffgaff is available now

See announcement

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

giffgaff have recently gained access to O2’s 5G network, meaning you get 5G in the same 190+ locations as you would on O2 directly. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

That’s because 5G is still on a street-by-street basis. No network are able to cover their locations completely with 5G, but O2 actually tend to cover their 5G locations quite well, meaning you’re more likely to stay connected.

We’d even say they’re the second-best network for covering their declared locations and they’re also second-best in terms of the sheer amount of declared locations. But EE are still stronger overall, here’s why.

O2’s 5G isn’t the strongest of all networks, it still improves their overall network experience. And it’s brilliant that you get it on both networks on all plans at no added cost. Use our coverage checkers below to see if your local area is covered for 5G.

Useful link: Our picks for the best 5G networks

Use giffgaff or O2's coverage maps to check your local signal

Check at home, at work and anywhere else you use your phone

giffgaff's coverage checker

giffgaff coverage map

Check coverage

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

O2 coverage checker

O2 coverage map

Check O2 signal

using their official map
(opens in new window)

Our verdict on coverage:


“Since you get the same call signal and 4G/5G coverage on both networks there is nothing to compare them on here. Your choice should come down to the different benefits and deals listed further down.”

Compare pricing and deals

Data speeds: are they identical?

If coverage is the same on both, does the same thing go for speeds?

O2 and giffgaff logos with speedometer

We think 4G speeds are the same on either network

Hello 5G O2

5G rollout latest

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Some claim being on giffgaff is slower than O2, but there’s nothing in giffgaff’s terms saying they cap their data speeds and in our own testing we got the same speeds on giffgaff as on O2 in the same areas. So what sorts of speeds can you expect?

According to independent network testers Opensignal, typical 4G data speeds sit around 17.1 Mbps for O2 and the networks that use them. That unfortunately makes them the slowest network for 4G.

That’s still enough for most people’s basic browsing needs and lets you stream HD video quite comfortably. In real life we got speeds beyond 40 Mbps in the city centre and as low as 6 - 7 Mbps in more rural areas.

What about 5G then? According to Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla typical 5G speeds on O2 sit between 110.9 Mbps - 127.97 Mbps. This makes them the slowest 5G network, but those speeds should be more than fast enough for most users.

If you’re looking for the fastest possible data speeds then O2 and giffgaff might be disappointing, but we think either network should be fast enough for most users.

Useful link: O2’s full 4G guide

Our verdict on speeds:

Another draw

“Since we didn’t find any speed caps on giffgaff, we can safely assume the speeds you get on O2 are the same you’d get on giffgaff. No difference here.”

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Other network technology on O2 and giffgaff

What other features do either network offer to keep you connected?

O2 and giffgaff logo with WiFi calling

O2 offer WiFi/4G calling, giffgaff don’t

Wifi and 4G calling O2

See supported phones

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Despite both networks having brilliant call signal coverage, you can still run into signal blackspots indoors. In this case, having WiFi/4G calling as a backup can be incredibly useful.

These features are offered by O2, letting you connect to calls via WiFi and 4G signal where call signal is poor. You can also send/receive SMS messages over WiFi and if you move from WiFi to 4G your call won’t drop.

It’s not our favourite scheme as it can be difficult to get it working with certain Android models not bought from them (see all supported phones here) and it won’t work with their pay as you go “Big Bundles”, but otherwise it’s a pretty good scheme.

giffgaff don’t offer WiFi calling or 4G calling at all. We could see them bring it out at some point as most other low-cost networks now offer it, but until then you might struggle more with indoor blackspots with giffgaff.

Useful link: The best UK networks for WiFi calling

giffgaff and O2 offer lots of WiFi hotspots

giffgaff Wi-Fi underground

How to connect

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

Free WiFi hotspots are a great way to save users a bit of data while they’re on the go, as well as keeping them connected in places that signal can’t reach. Both networks offer a good amount of hotspots up and down the country.

O2 offer around 15,000+ hotspots around the country and even on the London Underground. Only 8000 of these will let you log in automatically, but the WiFi is fast and you get it on both pay monthly and pay as you go.

giffgaff’s scheme includes hotspots on the TFL network as well as access to 7000+ of O2’s hotspots. It is a bit more fiddly to set up as there’s a few instructions to follow, but once you do that it should work fine.

Overall we think O2’s scheme is quite a bit better. You get more hotspots overall and there’s no extra steps to setting it up. It would be an even better scheme if all of their hotspots let you log in automatically.

Useful link: Our picks for the best WiFi hotspot schemes

Our verdict on network features:

Win for O2

“There’s still an advantage to joining the main network O2 over their little brother giffgaff when it comes to the extra network features of hotspots and WiFi calling.”

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O2 vs giffgaff benefits

Roaming compared on giffgaff and O2

Which network is better for travelling to the EU or beyond?

O2 and giffgaff logo with globe

O2 offer EU roaming and some extra worldwide

Roam Like Home banner

Read roaming guide

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

O2 are the only main UK network to still offer EU roaming. On any of their pay monthly plans you’ll be able to access your regular UK allowance in these 49 EU destinations at no added cost.

While abroad you can use 25GB of your data allowance. If your allowance is under that amount then you can use it all. However, we think that’s more than most users will get through on a short trip abroad.

On top of their EU roaming, O2’s premium plans also let you choose access to their Travel Inclusive Zone. This lets you roam in an extra 27 worldwide destinations with a small daily allowance of 120 mins, 120 texts and 150MB data.

Choose Travel Inclusive Zone as your O2 Extra when signing up to any of these:

Once you use up that data your data allowance becomes unlimited, however it is severely speed capped. O2 are our number one pick for the best overall roaming network, and it’s this great mix of EU and worldwide roaming that earns them their spot.

Useful link: O2’s full roaming terms and conditions

giffgaff’s fair usage policy is now very restrictive

Roaming with giffgaff

See costs per country

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

giffgaff have also kept their EU roaming policy in place, offering inclusive EU roaming on all plans. This lets you use your regular allowance of minutes, texts and data in these 37 EU destinations.

But they have made one big change. They now restrict you to 5GB of your regular allowance while you’re abroad. That might be enough for some users, but others will go over that easily and start paying extra for roaming.

And they don’t offer worldwide roaming at all. In all fairness we wouldn’t expect a smaller network to offer this anyway. If you want to go beyond the EU on giffgaff you’ll have to top up at pay at these expensive rates.

Overall with the changes giffgaff have made they’ve become a much worse network for EU roaming. There are other smaller, cheaper networks that let you use much more of your allowance abroad. giffgaff are a bit too restrictive now.

Useful link: Our full giffgaff review

Our verdict on roaming:

Clear win for O2

“With giffgaff changing their EU roaming policy, O2 easily beat them by letting you use more of your allowance abroad. And O2’s worldwide roaming is much better. A clear O2 win overall.”

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Extra benefits on giffgaff and O2

What other benefits do you get on one network and not the other?

giffgaff and O2 logos with a gift

O2 include Extras on their pricier plans

O2 Extras

See the choices

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

O2 are a much pricier network than giffgaff, so it’s not a surprise that they offer a bit more to make their higher costs seem worth it. On their pricier plans this comes in the form of free trials that O2 call “Extras”.

These include free trials to Amazon Prime Video, Music Unlimited and Audible or to Disney+. You get to choose one trial on O2’s more expensive pay monthly SIM only and phone contracts.

These O2 pay monthly plans get you one free trial for at least 1 month:

Typically, the more you pay the longer your trial lasts. The shortest trials last just 1 month while the longest ones last up to 6 months. After the trial you’ll start paying for the service on your bill, so make sure to cancel it if you don’t want that.

Overall it’s a nice little benefit to get on top of their pricier plans, but since they only come on pricier plans we can’t call it a genuine freebie. It’s nice to have, but not earth-shattering.

Useful link: O2’s terms and conditions for their Extras

O2’s Priority rewards scheme is a popular benefit

O2 Priority

What you get

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Larger networks also tend to offer rewards apps as another way of adding value to their plans. O2’s Priority app is certainly one of the strongest of these kinds of benefits and every O2 customer gets access to it.

Typically, O2 offer discounts on high street food, drink and shopping. A few of these are exclusive to the app, but some aren’t. It’s a great way to save some money on a night out if you find an offer that suits you.

Unlike other similar apps, O2’s gives you pre-sale tickets to gigs and sporting events hosted at O2 or O2 sponsored venues (see what sorts of events here).

Vodafone have started introducing something similar with their VeryMe app, but it’s not quite as impressive as O2’s yet. Overall, it’s a great benefit that might just make up for O2’s higher costs if you can get the most out of it.

Useful link: O2’s full guide to their Priority app

O2 offer discounts for adding multiple plans to your account

Family Plan

Family Plan discounts

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Some networks offer extra benefits or discounts if you add extra plans onto your account and O2 is one of them. It’s great for parents looking to take a plan for their kids or a close group of friends looking to save a bit of money.

O2 get you 20% off any SIM only plan and the usage (mins, texts and data) on any phone contract you’ve added on top of your original plan. Bear in mind for phone contracts the discount only applies to the usage, not the phone itself.

You can add up to 20 additional plans and still get the benefit, which is better than some other networks. But we think most people will only realistically add three or four extra plans.

O2 used to offer Sharer plans that let you share data between users, but you can’t get these plans anymore. Overall, O2’s family plan scheme isn’t our favourite but it’s a great way of saving money on multiple plans.

Useful link: How O2’s family plan scheme works

O2 have customer service you can call

Ofcom Mobile complaints per 100,000

See all O2's awards

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

It only makes sense that larger networks are able to offer more avenues of customer service as they can afford to run call centres. O2 are able to offer a lot more ways for customers to get help than giffgaff can.

O2’s call centres are open from 8am - 9pm on weekdays, 8am - 8pm on Saturdays and 8am - 6pm on Sundays. They don’t keep their call centres open as long as some networks, but they’re still open most of the time.

The government regulators Ofcom received 2 complaints per 100,000 customers for O2, which is currently at the industry average. It’s still a very low number and shows that most O2 customers come away satisfied with their service.

And in our own experience we found O2’s over-the-phone service to be very helpful (see our review here). On giffgaff you can only get help using online articles, which is only good if you’re tech-savvy enough to fix things yourself.

Useful link: Our guide to the best customer service networks

giffgaff’s plans offer greater flexibility

giffgaff benefits flexibility

Read About Us

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

The best part of joining giffgaff in our eyes is that when you join them you’re not signing onto a contract. Instead you’re essentially taking a monthly bundle of minutes, texts and data similar to pay as you go.

This is great for two main reasons. Firstly, since you’re paying upfront for your allowance you won’t have to pass a credit check. This is great if you’ve been denied a contract in the past.

Secondly, it means you can switch plans every month or leave giffgaff whenever you like. You can’t change your plan up or down on O2 during your contract, meaning giffgaff are the much more flexible out of the two.

In fact giffgaff are one of the most flexible of all UK networks. If you don’t mind committing to a contract then this won’t mean much to you, but if you want total freedom over your SIM only plan then giffgaff are a better choice.

Useful links: Compare phone contracts | Compare SIM only deals

giffgaff give you money for getting people to join them

giffgaff Payback

How to earn it

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

If you’ve got a friend looking for a new SIM only plan, you might want to refer them onto giffgaff. This is because giffgaff will give you and anyone you bring onto their network extra rewards for doing so.

It’s called their “Payback scheme” and as the name suggests it’s a scheme that gets you money for bringing a friend onto giffgaff. You get £5 payback points for doing this, which you can then turn into cash or free credit on your SIM.

On top of that your friend also gets £5 free credit when topping up with a goodybag worth £10 or more. This credit can be used to buy their next goodybag or for any extras they might want to use.

In the end it’s a win-win-win. You get some free money, your friend gets free credit and giffgaff get an extra customer.

Useful link: giffgaff’s unique special recruiters scheme

Our verdict for extra benefits:

Depends what you’re into

“While O2 offer you ways to get better value out of your plan, giffgaff already offer cheaper plans in the first place. And the extra flexibility giffgaff offer will appeal to some users. Overall which network is better depends what you’re looking for.”

Compare pricing and deals

Prices and plans compared

O2 and giffgaff special offers

Here are the better deals both networks are currently offering

giffgaff and O2 logos with a promotional sticker

SIM only deals on giffgaff vs O2

Which network offers the best value with their plans?

O2 vs giffgaff SIM only deals



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Phone contracts on giffgaff vs O2

Which network offers better value phone contracts?

Phone with O2 and giffgaff logos

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O2 offer great flexibility on their phone contracts

O2 custom plans

Read why

at O2.co.uk
(opens in new window)

O2 offer most of their phones on what they call “Refresh” contracts. These split the cost of paying the loan for your device and your usage (mins, texts and data) plan into separate payments that are rolled into one monthly bill.

This means you can end your contract early by paying off the cost of your device, letting you upgrade your phone earlier than on a “traditional contract”. And you can change your usage plan every month if needs be.

With their Custom Plans you also get the freedom to set an upfront cost how you like it to reduce your monthly bill, choose your contract length between 3 and 36 months to set how much you’ll pay every month.

O2 make it easy by keeping the cost of your phone the same no matter what combination you choose. The only issue is that it may be harder to pass a credit check than on some other networks, but otherwise it’s a brilliant scheme.

Useful link: How to set your O2 phone contract how you like it

giffgaff also offer great flexibility

giffgaff Mobile phones

Read more

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

giffgaff’s phone contracts are similar to O2’s in that they’re offered as finance agreements, with one payment for the cost of your phone and another for your monthly Goodybag (same value as their regular SIM only plans).

This means you still have the flexibility to change your Goodybag up or down every month or even leave giffgaff altogether while still paying off your phone. And you can pay lump sums to reduce your monthly bill or upgrade early.

And giffgaff also let you set an upfront payment and a contract length that suits you. But they’re not quite as flexible as O2 are for this.

giffgaff do tend to offer cheaper contracts overall than O2, but this does come at the cost of less flexibility. It depends on what you’re looking for in your contract which network will suit you better.

Useful link: giffgaff’s full range of phone contracts

Our verdict on phone contracts:

A draw

"If you want an overall cheaper deal you’ll likely be better off with giffgaff. If you want more flexibility you’ll likely want to join O2. Whichever network is better comes down to what you want out of your contract."

Compare pricing and deals

More O2 guides

Other articles about giffgaff