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: 14th June 2022.
In our giffgaff vs Three guide
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Comparing giffgaff and Three's mobile networks
Coverage compared on Three and giffgaff
Do giffgaff or Three have better signal around the country?
✔ giffgaff have a better overall mix of coverage
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.
For 4G the difference is marginal. They’re about the same in terms of overall geographical 4G coverage and for built-up areas, there’s essentially no difference between them (see 5G differences below).
A lot depends on where you use your phone and whether you travel around a lot. Urban livers will be fine on both. More rural might prefer giffgaff. Use their maps below to check in the places you'll use yours.
Useful link: What Three's Big Network Build involves
✔ Three have 5G in the most UK locations
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Every plan on Three is sold as 5G, even their pay as you go. Phone contracts for models that don't have 5G as a feature still have 5G on the SIM if you swap it out. giffgaff sell specific 5G plans but are 4G otherwise.
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.
Even still, we found that on the edges of 5G connection that giffgaff’s 5G 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
"We only put giffgaff slightly ahead because of their better call signal coverage, meaning you’re less likely to be in a total blackspot. But heavy data users might prefer Three’s superior 5G."
Data speeds: giffgaff and Three compared
Is 4G faster on Three or giffgaff?
✔ You get faster 4G speeds on Three than on giffgaff
Concentrating on 4G data, independent network testers Opensignal have clear results showing that typical download speeds are faster via Three's network than the O2 network that giffgaff use.
They say that average speeds on Three are about 25.2 Mbps while average speeds on giffgaff are a more-pedestrian 17.1 Mbps. With O2 they’re the slowest network in the UK for 4G according to Opensignal.
In any case, both networks have good enough 4G for your basic social media and browsing needs, especially if you’re in a built-up and populated area. Both will suffer in rural areas.
Useful link: Our guide to the best 5G networks
✔ Some giffgaff customers suspect their speeds are capped
The above speed predictions are based on being on O2 directly vs Three, rather than being on giffgaff themselves.
The consensus among their customers seems to be that giffgaff have a lower bandwidth (share of the network) than full O2, so you get a slower speed. This isn’t something we’ve ever been able to experience ourselves in tests.
It might be the case that giffgaff may be slower for you, it really depends where you are. We can’t definitively point to any evidence of a speed cap, all we can say is you can take out a SIM and return it within 14 days if speeds are too slow.
Useful link: Read giffgaff customer forums
Our verdict on speed:A win for Three
"Three have faster average 4G and 5G speeds than giffgaff. We can’t really say if giffgaff are speed-capped, but either way they’re generally the slower of the two networks."
Extra network features: Three vs giffgaff
How they keep you talking and browsing in more places.
✔ Three have WiFi calling, 4G calling and free hotspots
The main 3G signal that Three uses to bring you phone calls and text messages is on high frequencies that can sometimes struggle to get indoors if you're not near a transmitter or live in an old building with thick walls.
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 good about Three's WiFi calling is that it supports loads of phones (check their latest list here). It also works on pay monthly and pay as you go plans.
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 don't offer the same extra features
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It's a good job that the lower frequencies that giffgaff's 2G and 3G calling signal is broadcast on are better for decent indoor coverage, because they don't have any of the extras that would otherwise improve it.
giffgaff still don’t offer either WiFi calling or 4G calling, with no indication that they’ll bring them out any time soon. The only way to make calls with no signal is by using apps like WhatsApp and Skype, which isn’t always possible.
You will at least now get free WiFi access on the Underground and at 8000 O2 WiFi locations on giffgaff with all their deals. You'll have to download to the giffgaff app and play with some settings but you'll be automatically connected after that.
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
"It makes sense that joining a main network gets you more features, but a lot of cheaper networks now offer WiFi calling and 4G calling, so giffgaff can’t really make that excuse. It is nice that they offer some hotspots though."
Comparing giffgaff and Three benefits
Roaming: how giffgaff and Three compare
Can giffgaff match Three for roaming?
✖ Three no longer include EU roaming
Like the other major networks (except O2) Three no longer offer inclusive EU roaming, meaning that you’ll have to pay a daily rate of £2 a day to access your UK allowance in the EU and £5 beyond the EU.
This daily rate will be applied in these 71 destinations. Beyond these you’ll have to pay as you go at some pretty steep rates (find their full guide to prices here). If you just want to go to the EU, Three’s sub-brand SMARTY still offer inclusive EU roaming:
That’s already a bit unfortunate, but you’re also limited to 20GB of your regular allowance in the EU and only 12GB beyond the EU if it’s over that amount. It’s annoying to be limited when you’re already paying to access your allowance.
It’s a shame really. Three’s Go Roam used to be our favourite scheme for EU and worldwide roaming, but now it’s completely gone for new customers.
Useful link: See what we thought of Go Roam
✔ giffgaff still offer inclusive roaming in the EU
While EU roaming might now be locked behind a daily rate on Three, giffgaff still offer inclusive EU roaming on all of their plans. In fact, most smaller networks still do offer roaming and it’s mainly the major networks pulling it.
They don’t really do anything special with their roaming, but it works automatically in these destinations and you can use up to 20GB of your regular allowance. That should be enough for even medium length trips.
You’ll get 4G anywhere it’s available too. But if you go beyond the EU you’ll definitely want to turn off roaming or curb your data usage.
Charges in non-EU countries can run as high as a ludicrous £2000 per GB (so check costs before you leave to avoid burning straight through your credit). Stick to roaming in the EU on giffgaff.
Useful link: giffgaff's roaming fair usage policy
Our verdict on this topic:A win for giffgaff
"For short trips to the EU you’ll definitely be better off with giffgaff, as you don’t have to pay anything to access your allowance. Trips beyond the EU will be expensive on either, but maybe a bit cheaper on Three."
Benefits you get on giffgaff but not Three
Advantages to joining giffgaff over Three
✔ Earn money for bringing mates onto giffgaff
Since launching in 2009, one of the ways giffgaff has grown so fast is through their refer a friend Payback scheme, which gives customers £5 each time they get a friend to join the network.
If you take a free SIM to give to a friend or family member and they top it up with at least £10, they’ll get £5 free credit and so will you.
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.
And giffgaff also offer what they call “member perks”, which are special offers on certain apps and mobile products. These are free for all giffgaff users. But some are time limited and you’ll have to cancel or you’ll end up paying for them after the trial is over.
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.
Useful link: Make money recruiting for giffgaff
Benefits you get on Three but not on giffgaff
Reasons you might join Three over giffgaff
✖ Three have almost become a no-frills network
Three used to be our favourite of all networks, despite their smaller network coverage and average speeds. This was because of all the extra benefits that helped sweeten the deal. But now things have changed:
They got rid of their Go Binge scheme last year. This gave you an unlimited data allowance on capped plans to use with specific streaming apps. You could watch them as much as you liked without using data.
You also don’t get their easyJet Hands Free benefit that let you take extra luggage anymore. But they do have a new rewards scheme called Three+ that gets you a limited range of special offers on high street shopping and restaurants.
Other than network features like WiFi calling, it's getting hard to justify joining Three over giffgaff, for benefits nowadays.
Useful link: Our guide to all free streaming data schemes
Our verdict on other benefits:Basically a draw
"Both networks are now basically no-frills networks. Three+ is a nice replacement for their Wuntu app, but it’s still in development so there’s not as many offers. We like giffgaff’s scheme but it won’t be useful to everyone."
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
Use our comparison tool below to see how giffgaff and Three's monthly plans compare:
Our verdict on SIM only plans:No clear winner
"If you want the flexibility of a 1-month contract then giffgaff are definitely the better choice for price. But if you want a larger data deal and don’t mind a longer contract then Three seem a little more competitive."
Unlimited data options on Three and giffgaff
Is Always On as good as Three's unlimited data?
✔ Unlimited data on Three is less restricted
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.
It’s very unlikely that if you used your plan for every second of every day that it would be enough to make them suspicious. You’d have to use thousands of GB for that, which just isn’t really possible in one month from one user.
The only real restriction for unlimited data users 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 get unlimited data on Three with a phone contract, a pay monthly SIM only deal, or even as a pay as you go add-on too (you'll sometimes see it branded as All-You-Can-Eat data).
Useful link: Read our unlimited data plan rankings
✔ giffgaff offer two types of unlimited data plan
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With giffgaff you can choose between their Always On or Unlimited plan. Both get you unlimited data, but with Always On once you go over 80GB of usage your speeds will be heavily restricted.
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.
Otherwise, giffgaff have a pricier unlimited data plan that’s truly unlimited, you won’t have any speed caps at all. Here are the current prices of both deals:
Useful link: Read full 'Always on' details
Our verdict on unlimited data:A win for Three
"It’s odd to see Three working out cheaper than giffgaff here. Unless you want their restricted Always On plan, unlimited data is almost always more expensive on giffgaff, even against Three’s 1-month contract unlimited data plan."
Phone contracts: giffgaff vs Three
Which network has better deals on smartphones?
✔ giffgaff's contracts offer more flexibility
giffgaff base their phone contracts on credit agreements (essentially loans) to cover the cost of your phone combined with the monthly cost of taking out one of their Goodybags (minutes, texts and data).
Although you have to take a Goodybag in your first month, after that you can just keep paying giffgaff for the phone only and use another network's SIM in it. Or you can change plans each month too.
You also get to 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 offer some genuinely great flexibility.
Three's phone contracts are more conventional 24-month ones with no finance - although some models do have a 36-month finance option now too. These are more about spreading the cost than giving flexibility.
Useful link: See full giffgaff phone range
✔ giffgaff and Three compete closely on price
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Basing your phone contracts on finance normally lets mobile networks offer cheaper deals than those that don't, mainly for accounting reasons for the network. So how do giffgaff compare with Three?
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).
Our phone comparison tool here lets you choose just giffgaff and Three phone deals to compare. The best way to find out is to use that to find the model you're after.
You can also get a Three phone contract via third party resellers like Fonehouse, Buymobiles.net and others who buy phones in bulk and can sell you contracts at a reduced price vs going directly with the network.
Your experience will be no different when going via a reseller. We include them in our comparison tool too, so give it a go.
Useful link: Compare phone deals
Our verdict on this topic:Win for giffgaff
"giffgaff generally offer cheaper prices due to their cheaper SIM plans, and you get a great deal more flexibility with them. That said, make sure you understand the agreement you’re getting into with giffgaff before signing up."
Basic pay as you go: Three vs giffgaff
How they compare if you just want to pay per minute, text and MB data
✔ Three's rates are generally cheaper than giffgaff’s
Three have now got rid of their popular 321 plan, which offered nearly market-leading basic pay as you go rates. In our comparison of the cheapest pay as you go SIMs, Three now come third for value ahead of giffgaff.
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:
It's pretty good for infrequent users. You just have to do something that costs money at least every 180 days (like send a text) to keep the SIM active. Otherwise credit never expires.
You also get all the network benefits of being on Three, like 5G data and WiFi calling. For roaming you’ll still pay the same daily rate as pay monthly customers would. It’s hardly an inferior experience than being on pay monthly.
Useful link: Full details on Three's pay as you go SIMs
✔ giffgaff's rates are more expensive than Three's
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Compared to Three, giffgaff's basic rates are a little pricier but are still the cheapest option on a provider using O2 network (O2 scrapped their Classic PAYG tariff):
You have to make a chargeable action every six months in order to keep your SIM active, but so long as you do that then credit never expires.
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 Three
"You get more benefits by being on pay as you go on Three, while also having cheaper overall rates. giffgaff don’t do enough to really make their scheme worth it."