giffgaff vs Three: compare coverage, 4G/5G speeds and benefits
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We look at the differences between Three and giffgaff on pay monthly and pay as you go plans to help you decide which is best for you. Last updated: 7th July 2023.
In our giffgaff vs Three guide
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Comparing giffgaff and Three's mobile networks
Coverage compared on giffgaff and Three
Which network has the better overall mix of coverage?
✔ giffgaff have the better mix of 4G/3G/2G signal
Three are one of the major UK network operators, meaning they use their own network. On the other hand, giffgaff piggyback on O2. There are advantages and disadvantages to both:
The O2 network giffgaff use is better for calls and texts. Indoor coverage is stronger thanks to the frequencies they use. And they have the joint-largest amount of the country's landmass covered for calls/texts.
There’s not a huge difference when it comes to overall 4G data coverage. Rural 4G is basically just as good on both and there’s essentially no difference when it comes to urban 4G (read about 5G below).
Urban users usually will be just fine on either network, rural users will generally prefer giffgaff for their better call signal. But use both networks’ coverage checkers below just to make sure.
Useful link: What Three's Big Network Build involves
✔ giffgaff also have more 5G live locations
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All of Three’s deals include 5G, even their pay as you go bundles. The same is the case for giffgaff, despite their lower costs vs other networks. As long as you’re on a 5G-ready device you’ll get 5G on either network.
Both networks focus their 5G coverage areas within those places on the busiest parts only. It's not like the entire city or town has it. Out of the two, O2 (giffgaff) probably cover larger parts.
But be aware, we found speeds on the edges of 5G connection can actually be slower than 4G! You can order a giffgaff SIM to see how their 5G is in your area and return it within 14 days if you’re not satisfied.
Useful link: Latest news on Three's 5G rollout
Use their network maps
Avoid disappointment and make sure you're happy with either's reception near you
giffgaff signal map
using their official map
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Three's signal map
using their official map
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Our verdict on coverage:Win for giffgaff
"giffgaff and Three are basically tied for 4G coverage, but giffgaff have much more widespread call signal, more 5G locations and typically better coverage within these locations. But it’s still worth checking signal in your area before joining either."
Data speeds: giffgaff and Three compared
Which network has the faster 4G/5G speeds?
✔ Three offer faster 5G and 4G speeds than giffgaff
For 4G data speeds we use results from independent tests Opensignal. They take measurements using millions of volunteer phones around the country. They show speeds on Three are typically faster than on giffgaff.
They say that typical speeds on Three are about 30.7 Mbps while average speeds on giffgaff are a more-pedestrian 16.8 Mbps. With O2 they’re the slowest network in the UK for 4G according to Opensignal.
Both provide good enough speeds for streaming HD videos and basic social media and browsing. But users wanting the fastest possible speeds will prefer Three both for 4G and 5G.
Useful link: Our guide to the best 5G networks
✔ giffgaff customers used to suspect speeds were capped
The above speed predictions are based on being on O2 directly vs Three, rather than being on giffgaff themselves.
However, in the past some giffgaff customers have complained about slower speeds than O2 and have suggested that giffgaff have built-in speed caps vs being on O2 (here for example).
But in our real life tests we’ve always found nearly identical speeds on our giffgaff and O2 SIMs. We’ve found no evidence of any speed caps on giffgaff.
We’re hoping that these instances are more to do with settings on people’s phones and we’ve noticed the issue doesn’t get raised as much nowadays on giffgaff forums as it used to.
Useful link: Read giffgaff customer forums
Our verdict on speed:Easy win for Three
"Three are by far the fastest network for 5G and have some very healthy 4G speeds to boot. giffgaff unfortunately use the slowest UK network for 4G and 5G. For data intensive activities, Three are the better choice."
Extra network features: Three vs giffgaff
How do either network help you stay connected
✔ Three include WiFi calling, 4G calling and free hotspots
Three broadcast their 3G call and text signal on high frequencies, meaning it can struggle to get into buildings. That’s especially the case if there’s any obstruction between you and the nearest mast.
To help with their indoor coverage, Three offer WiFi calling as a feature on all their plans. This lets you make/take calls over WiFi signal instead of call signal (3G/2G). They also offer 4G calling which does the same with 4G signal.
What’s even better is that Three support lots of devices for WiFi calling, so it should be easy to get it working. And you can send texts over WiFi/4G and transfer from a WiFi call to a 4G call without it dropping.
If you’re a London commuter, you might be interested in Three’s free WiFi on the Underground scheme, which will log you in automatically to over 250 hotspots. You won’t get hotspots anywhere else in the country though.
Useful link: Three's network features guide
✔ giffgaff have WiFi hotspots, but no WiFi calling
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giffgaff are one of the few networks that still don’t offer WiFi/4G calling at all. At least their 2G/3G signal is good at getting into buildings, but there’s no features to help if you still get indoor blackspots.
There are some indications that they’ll bring it out some time in the future, but nothing solid. For now the only way to make calls without signal is via apps like WhatsApp, which is no good for incoming calls to your number.
You do get access to 8000 of O2’s WiFi hotspots on the Underground and around the country though. To do this you’ll have to get the giffgaff app and follow the instructions here to connect automatically.
So it’s a really no-frills experience on giffgaff. They’re basically just useful for minutes, texts and data. It is nice to get some hotspots, as you can save a bit of data. Otherwise they’re fairly barebones.
Useful link: How to get free WiFi on giffgaff
Our verdict on extra network features:Clear win for Three
"You’d expect to get more features on a main network like Three and you do. Once giffgaff get access to these then this will be a lot closer, but for now Three take this one."
Comparing giffgaff and Three benefits
Roaming: how giffgaff and Three compare
Which network is better for using your SIM abroad?
✔ giffgaff include EU roaming but with strict data limits
While EU roaming might be a premium benefit on Three, giffgaff still let you roam in these EU countries on every one of their deals. Many small providers still offer it, while lots of larger networks have removed theirs.
But giffgaff have changed their fair usage policy down to 5GB (used to be 20GB) meaning your data usage is much more capped while abroad. If you go over that you’ll have to pay for data at their standard UK rate.
There are no one-off data add-ons or any ways of getting around the fair usage policy. It can be incredibly frustrating if you need to use a lot of data abroad, since at their standard rate data can get expensive quickly.
That goes for roaming outside the EU, as you’ll have to pay these steep rates (1GB can cost £2000!). But in any case, you’ll get 4G while in the EU and roaming works like it should. A decent scheme overall.
Useful link: giffgaff's roaming fair usage policy
✔ Three now offer ways to get roaming included again
Three are one of the many UK networks to remove inclusive EU roaming from their regular pay monthly plans. But they do offer it on premium plans, but otherwise it’s £2 a day to roam in the EU and £5 beyond the EU.
Massive data users might find the 20GB monthly usage cap in the EU annoying and only 12GB beyond the EU. But if you’re away for a week or two, that’s more than most people would ever be using at home anyway.
Three’s roaming has improved a bit with these changes. But you are still limited in how often you can roam and you’ll still have to pay a premium price to get these roaming passes in the first place.
Useful link: See what we thought of Go Roam
Our verdict on this topic:A win for giffgaff
"We think most people will think about EU roaming first and it’s only giffgaff out of the two that offer roaming there, without buying a more-premium plan. Three are better for worldwide though. Your decision depends on where you’re going."
Benefits you get on giffgaff but not Three
Here’s what giffgaff get you that Three don’t
✔ Free credit for referring friends to giffgaff
Since they were established, giffgaff have offered their customers £5 for each friend brought onto their network. Your friend will just need to top up with £10 credit and you’ll both get £5 free credit on top of that.
You can take the £5 as free credit, as cash paid twice a year into a Paypal account, or donate it to charity. You can also earn payback for helping out on giffgaff's customer forum by answering questions.
In the end it’s a win-win-win agreement, as you can make a little money on the side, your friend gets extra free credit and giffgaff get new paying customers.
And giffgaff have what they call “member perks”. These are special offers on mobile products and apps. Each giffgaff user gets these for free, but some are only temporary so be sure to cancel once the trial is up.
Useful link: Make money recruiting for giffgaff
Benefits you get on Three but not on giffgaff
Here’s why you might join Three instead of giffgaff
✔ Three have a handy rewards app and more
Three don’t offer nearly as many benefits as they used to. But there are a few things you still get for joining them that can help you get better value out of your plan. Their Three+ rewards app is offered on all plans.
This gives you access to exclusive special offers on high street and online shopping as well as restaurants and more. And you can even get presale tickets to certain events at Three hosted arenas.
And you can get some nice extra benefits on their higher end Premium and Plus plans, which include a subscription to Paramount+ and an extended warranty on your phone (if you’re on a Three phone contract).
We’d still say the reason you’d buy a Premium or Plus plan is for the roaming passes. But these benefits can help you make the most of your plan and get a bit better value on what are already good value deals.
Useful link: Our guide to all free streaming data schemes
Our verdict on other benefits:Basically a draw
"Neither network offer any hugely unique extra benefits. Three do offer a couple of small ways to get better value out of your plan, while giffgaff are cheaper in the first place while giving you extra rewards for referring friends. We call this one a draw."
Comparing giffgaff and Three's deals
Special offers on giffgaff and Three
What's in each network's promotions this month?
SIM only: pay monthly plans on giffgaff and Three
Compare deals with our comparison tool below:
Our verdict on SIM only plans:No clear winner
"giffgaff are definitely more competitive on smaller plans and offer more flexibility with their 1-month deals. But Three are very competitive on larger plans, especially on longer contracts. It comes down to what kind of plan you want."
Unlimited data options on Three and giffgaff
Are giffgaff’s Always On and Unlimited plans as good as Three’s?
✔ Fewer restrictions on Three’s unlimited data deals
Looking at Three’s terms and conditions on their unlimited data plans you can see that they will monitor your data per month just in case you’re not using your plan for personal use.
But even if you used your plan for every second of every day that wouldn’t be enough to make them suspicious. To do that you’d have to use thousands of GB, which isn’t realistic for one normal user to use up in one month.
The only real restriction is when you’re roaming. You’ll be limited to 20GB in EU destinations and 12GB in worldwide destinations while paying to access your allowance. Other networks let you use more than that.
You can take an unlimited data plan on a Three phone contract, as a standalone SIM only contract or even as a Pay As You Go add-on (they’re sometimes branded as All-You-Can-Eat data).
Useful link: Read our unlimited data plan rankings
✔ giffgaff have two kinds of unlimited data deal
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giffgaff offer two ways of getting unlimited data. You can take an Always On plan or a regular unlimited plan. You get unlimited data on both, but your speeds will be restricted if you use 120GB on an Always On plan.
And they're pretty severe. Taking your 4G down to 2G-like speeds for the majority of the day. If you want unlimited data, because you know you're a heavy user, Always On isn't for you.
If you want a truly unlimited data deal with no speed caps you can get this on giffgaff, but at a higher cost. Here are the current prices on both kinds of plan:
Useful link: Read full 'Always on' details
Our verdict on unlimited data:A win for Three
"Strangely, Three are actually the lower cost network for unlimited data. That is unless you take an Always On plan. Otherwise, Three almost always work out cheaper for unlimited data, even on their 1-month contracts."
Phone contracts: giffgaff vs Three
Which network has better deals on smartphones?
Upfront: (Any upfront cost)
Monthly: (Any monthly cost)
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✔ giffgaff and Three offer very flexible phone contracts
giffgaff and Three both base their phone contracts around finance agreements (loans) where the cost of your phone and usage plan (mins, texts, data) are split payments that come together to make your monthly bill.
Both let you choose an upfront payment when you first pay in order to lower the monthly cost, and you can pay off the loan faster with lump sum payments whenever you want. They both offer some great flexibility.
You can leave giffgaff and use another networks’ SIM in your phone if you want. Or you can change your giffgaff plan month to month as well. On Three you’ll have to stay on your usage plan till it expires.
Finally, both let you choose a contract length of 12, 24 or 36 months. This lets you suit your contract to your budget and the cost of your contract should remain the same no matter your choice.
Useful link: See full giffgaff phone range
✔ Three and giffgaff are closely competitive on price
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Phone contracts based on finance can usually be lower cost than regular phone contracts, largely due to accounting reasons for the network. But what does that mean for Three and giffgaff’s phone contracts?
It depends on your usage (mins, texts, data) plan. On giffgaff their smaller data plans are generally much more competitive, but on larger data plans Three start to give giffgaff a run for their money (especially for unlimited data).
But if you want a cheaper deal you can take a Three phone contract from third party resellers like Fonehouse, Buymobiles.net and others. They buy phones in bulk and as such can sell contracts at a lower cost.
Your experience will be no different when going via a reseller. You can compare phone deals on Three and giffgaff directly using our phone comparison tool as well as comparing the price of going via a reseller.
Useful link: Compare phone deals
Our verdict on this topic:Win for giffgaff
"giffgaff offer a bit more flexibility with their phone contracts by letting you change your usage plan month to month and they tend to be more competitive on price. It’s worth comparing per device, but we think most customers will prefer giffgaff."
Basic pay as you go: Three vs giffgaff
Here we’ll go over which network is better for paying as you go
✔ Three’s Pay As You Go rates are higher than giffgaff’s
Three increased their Pay As You Go rates a while ago, meaning they’re now one of the more expensive options for topping up with credit and paying for your usage. But they’re the only main network to still offer this.
While their pay as you go is largely aimed at pushing you to buy monthly bundles, you can still top up your SIM with credit and pay out of that at these rates:
That will get expensive fairly quickly, even for infrequent users. And you have to make a chargeable action (like sending a text) every 180 days to keep your SIM active. If you do that your credit will never expire.
You get all the network benefits of being on Three, like 5G and WiFi calling. For roaming you’ll still pay the same daily rate as pay monthly customers. It’s hardly an inferior experience than being on pay monthly.
Useful link: Full details on Three's pay as you go SIMs
✔ giffgaff have cheaper rates than Three
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With Three’s changes to their Pay As You Go rates, giffgaff are now the better option between the two for paying as you go. Their rates are higher than some networks, but are the cheapest on O2’s network:
You have to make a chargeable action every six months in order to keep your SIM active. As long as you do that your credit will never expire.
One benefit is that if you have friends or family on giffgaff then you can call them for free. This does help make up for their pricier per minute costs.
Useful link: All pay as you go rates on giffgaff
Our verdict on this pay as you go:Win for giffgaff
"While you get WiFi calling with Three’s Pay As You Go, giffgaff provide the overall cheaper rates. We think most users will prefer giffgaff for Pay As You Go, but there are better options available."