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giffgaff vs Three: unlimited data deals, 4G network coverage & speeds

Three vs giffgaff

Our guide helps you decide between giffgaff or Three for your next pay monthly or pay as you go deal, comparing their networks, pricing and extras. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: August 7th 2018.

In our giffgaff vs Three guide

Comparing their mobile networks
giffgaff vs Three mobile network

4G/3G signal across the UK
Download speeds over 4G and 3G
Extra network features like WiFi calling

giffgaff's vs Three's network

Comparing perks and benefits
giffgaff vs Three roaming and benefits

Free international roaming
Loyalty rewards and offers
Tethering / personal hotspot

giffgaff vs Three benefits

Comparing pricing and deals
giffgaff vs Three pricing and deals

Monthly SIM only plans
Unlimited data options
Pay As You Go rates
Phone contracts

Compare giffgaff vs Three deals

Special offer notifications

£5 free credit with a new giffgaff SIM

Latest giffgaff offer

Top up your new SIM with at least £10 or buy a goodybag of the same value and get £5 free credit: only when you order via our special invite page.

See how the offer works > opens in new tab

Three's 100GB for £20 SIM

Three 100GB for £01 a month

This month, Three have the joint-biggest capped data SIM on the market with their huge 100GB for £20 SIM only deal on a 12-month contract.

See all Three's offers > (opens in new tab)

Comparing giffgaff and Three's mobile networks

Three offer marginally better overall coverage than giffgaff

4G3G
Three 4G coveragegiffgaff 4G coverageThree 4G coveragegiffgaff 4G coverage
99%99%98%99%

Three beat giffgaff for 4G and 3G

Three operates its own network that's totally separate from the others (O2, Vodafone and EE). giffgaff runs on O2's network and offer identical coverage to being on O2 directly. Here's how the two's signal compares:

Roughly the same number of people can get Three and giffgaff's 4G

If you look at population coverage stats for giffgaff and Three, you'll see they're basically identical at 99% each. This is only a measure of supplying 4G to UK home addresses.

The new battle between networks is for geographical coverage (places you use your phone away from home like on roads, train lines and in the countryside. giffgaff's host network O2 is ahead of Three on this.

For 3G, giffgaff and Three are about even

When no UK network has universal geographical 4G coverage, 3G signal is still important. Both Three and giffgaff offer very healthy coverage for this. And there's little to split them.

More importantly: check their signal where you'll use your phone

Both Three and giffgaff publish their coverage in all areas of the UK. We'd always recommend checking signal strength before signing up to either:

Three's UK network map

Three coverage checker

Check Three coverage

giffgaff's UK network map

giffgaff coverage checker

Check giffgaff coverage

Our verdict on coverage:

Narrow win for giffgaff

"While stats on who supplies more postal addresses with 4G and 3G put Three and giffgaff neck-and-neck, we'd say giffgaff offer better geographical UK coverage when you take your phone away from residential areas."

Compare pricing and deals

Expect faster speeds on Three than giffgaff

4G speeds on Three and giffgaff

How Three's and giffgaff's speeds compare

Three like to boast how they're the network built for data and that they carry the most data of any mobile provider in the UK. So how do giffgaff compare?

On giffgaff's parent network O2, we'd expect to see 4G speeds on average around 16 Mbps, which is slower than Three's typical speeds around 20 Mbps.

Both speeds are faster than traditional non-fibre home broadband and will comfortably load a regular web page in barely a second but you might find HD videos start to buffer more on giffgaff than you would Three.

Useful links: What Three say about their 4G | What giffgaff say about their 4G

giffgaff may not be as fast as O2 themselves

giffgaff customer speed complaints

A giffgaff customer complains about speeds

One further thing we'd note is that there does seem to be some customer dissatisfaction among people on giffgaff that their data service is slower than when they were on O2 directly (examples here, here and here).

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.

We've approached giffgaff for official comment on this but have not yet received a response.

For the time being, we'd say you need to be comfortable knowing that giffgaff is a budget service that might not offer the full premium experience of joining a full network like O2 or Three.

As giffgaff SIMs are free to order, you could get one delivered and test it for yourself in your phone (you'll also get £5 free credit with your first top up if you decide to use them by order via our invite page).

Useful link: Order a free giffgaff SIM to test via our invite page

Our verdict on speed:

A win for Three

"Three is generally faster than giffgaff's parent O2, plus we have doubts that giffgaff customers get the fastest possible data, which makes Three the more appealing option for people wanting reliable speeds."

Compare pricing and deals

Extra network features: WiFi calling and tethering

Tethering on Three vs giffgaff

How it works on Three

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

Everyone on Three gets WiFi calling

Whether you join Three on pay as you go or pay monthly, you'll get access to their WiFi calling feature that lets you continue using your phone, even if you're somewhere there's no signal.

It's called inTouch and you can install it either as an app you run separately or a software update on your phone. It lets you use your regular mins and texts allowance over WiFi (see all details here).

Not every Three plan comes with included tethering

Tethering is when you use mobile data on your phone to create a mini WiFi hotspot, which you can connect other devices to.

On Three, you can only tether at no extra cost if you take one of their so-called Advanced plans. You can't tether on their cheaper no-frills 'Essential' plans without buying an add-on.

Useful links: More about WiFi calling on Three | How tethering on Three works

giffgaff let you tether but there are some restrictions

giffgaff tethering policy

Read full policy

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

The good thing about giffgaff is you can tether your phone, no matter whether you're on one of their goodybag bundles or you pay as you go per MB.

The only real restrictions are if you're on one their 'Always on' goodybag, which we cover these further down in the 'unlimited data' section of this guide.

giffgaff don't have any WiFi calling facilities

As a low-cost provider, giffgaff don't offer some of the more advanced features you get on the bigger (and more expensive networks). WiFi calling is one example.

Useful link: Read giffgaff's tethering guidelines on their official site.

Comparing giffgaff and Three benefits

Roaming: how giffgaff and Three compare

Three roaming countries

See latest countries

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

Go Roam on Three offers inclusive roaming in  71  countries

As a result of changing rules on roaming, Three now let you use your UK minutes, texts and data allowances in EU countries at no extra cost, even on their cheapest Essential plans. But they still go one step better:

Their Go Roam Worldwide scheme extends free roaming to at least 23 more worldwide destinations ( 71  in total) outside the EU including the USA and Australia. And the list keeps growing with new countries added to the scheme each year.

You'll need to join on an 'Advanced Plan' to get Go Roam Worldwide and if you have unlimited data, you'll be able to use up to 13GB a month in the free roaming destinations.

Useful link: See Three's latest list of free roaming countries at Three.co.uk

giffgaff now include EU roaming in their plans

giffgaff bundles with free EU roaming

See new bundles

plus get our £5 free credit offer
(opens in new window)

From 15th June 2017, new rules meant that every mobile network in the UK have to let you use your UK minutes, texts and data for no extra cost, while abroad in an EU country (see our free roaming guide here).

As of then, all giffgaff's bundles have included this. This is a welcome step as roaming on giffgaff has traditionally been comparitively pricey.

In non-EU countries, roaming is still charged at a per minute, text or MB rate (see latest rates here) with some charges running as high as £5000 per GB data!

If you're most likely to stay in the EU though, their bundles might be cheap enough for you not to worry about worldwide roaming.

Useful link: Compare giffgaff bundles and get £5 free credit

Our verdict on roaming:

A win for Three

"If you're only going to the EU, pick either giffgaff or Three based on pricing. If you're planning to go further afield, check out Three's free countries to see if you'd benefit."

Compare pricing and deals

Unlimited data options: is 'All-You-Can-Eat' data better than 'Always on'?

See the plans

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

Three's All-You-Can-Eat data is closer to truly 'unlimited' data

All-You-Can-Eat on Three means no upper limits on the number of gigabytes of data you can use in a month. There's no extra charges possible for data used on your mobile in the UK.

There are some limited Traffic Management rules that will slow you down if you use your phone for P2P filesharing at peak times (read them here). These don't affect regular users' internet/streaming experience.

You can tether on All-You-Can-Eat deals but only up to 30GB data each month, after which you'll need to buy an add-on to keep going (regular data stays unlimited).

If you go abroad, you won't be able to tether (even in Feel-At-Home locations) and you'll get a limit of 13GB per month to use while you're out of the country).

Useful link: Read more about All-You-Can-Eat at Three.co.uk

giffgaff's 'Always on' can't be described as fully unlimited data

Read explanation

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

The closest product giffgaff has to Three's All-You-Can-Eat is their goodybag with 'Always on' data. This has an unlimited element to it because there's no upper amount of gigabytes to overshoot and be charged extra for.

It can't be desribed as unlimited data though because you don't get all data at the same speed:

Once you've used 20GB at their full 4G speeds, a speed cap is put in place that limits you to downloading at 2G speeds (384 kbps), at most times of day.

If you're a heavy data user, this will be incredibly frustrating as you'll likely overshoot the 20GB limit quite easily.

But if you're just after the re-assurance that you can't be charged for going over a limit, 'Always on' offers a low-cost solution that's typically cheaper than Three.

Useful link: Read full 'Always on' details on the giffgaff website

Our verdict on unlimited data plans:

"While giffgaff's 'Always on' is cheaper, it's hard to call it unlimited data. For no limits using data on your phone in the UK at full 4G speeds, we'd recommend Three."

Compare pricing and deals

Rewarding loyalty: who looks after their customers the best?

giffgaff customers earn money for getting their friends to join too

giffgaff recruiter scheme

Since launching in 2009, one of the ways giffgaff has grown so fast is through their 'refer a friend' scheme, which gives customers £5 each time they get a friend to join the network.

You can order free SIMs from giffgaff to give to your friends. If they activate it and top up with at least £10, they'll receive £5 free credit and you'll get £5 too.

You can take the £5 as free credit, as cash paid twice a year into a Paypal account, or donate it to charity.

This is a clever win-win-win arrangement, where you can earn yourself some money on the side, your friend gets free credit and giffgaff get new customers.

Useful link: Learn how recruiting for giffgaff works

Three's new Wuntu app gets their customers exclusive daily offers

Three's Wuntu rewards scheme

See the offers

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

You may have heard of O2 Priority, which is a reward scheme that gives O2 customers exclusive access to daily offers, discounts and more. Three have recently launched something very similar called Wuntu.

It's not yet as fully developed as Priority and doesn't offer anywhere near the same number of freebies, discounts and exclusive offers that you get with O2 but could still be a handy bonus, if you were more likely to join Three anyway.

It works a lot more like Groupon where offers are sent to you via the app and only last for a certain time.

Useful link: Read how Wuntu works in full in Three's guide

Our verdict on rewarding customers:

A win for giffgaff

"Getting £5 in cash or credit for signing up a friend to giffgaff is a nice touch and could help you pay for the monthly cost of your bundle or more."

Compare pricing and deals

Comparing giffgaff and Three's deals

SIM only: monthly plans and bundles on giffgaff and Three

Use our comparison tool below to see how giffgaff and Three's monthly plans compare:

Choose what you want in your deal:

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Three SIM only plans from £9 a month

Three SIM cards

Three offer around 15 combinations of minutes, texts and data starting from £9 a month for basic plans all the way up to options with unlimited data.

Useful link: Compare all Three SIMs

giffgaff SIM only bundles start from £5 a month

giffgaff SIM cards

On giffgaff, you can choose to buy a 30-day goodybag bundle of mins, texts and data or just pay as you go. The SIM card is free to order and you choose later.

Useful link: Order a free giffgaff SIM

Pay As You Go (PAYG): how giffgaff and Three's rates compare

Three vs giffgaff PAYG rates

Get a free SIM

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

Three offer the lowest-cost payg rates in the UK

If you barely ever use your phone or just want it there as a back up without paying monthly, Three's pay as you go SIMs are an excellent options as they have the UK's lowest rates.

You'll pay just 3p per minute, 2p per text and 1p per MB of data used and the SIM card is completely free to order in the first place.

If you're a very infrequent user, you'll need to make sure you do at least make or take a call once every 6 months to keep the SIM active and not lose any credit you've topped up with.

Useful link: See Three's page about pay as you go at Three.co.uk

giffgaff's rates are more expensive but still cheaper than larger networks

giffgaff PAYG rates vs Three

See all rates

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

Compared to Three, giffgaff's PAYG rates are slightly more expensive at 15p per minute, 5p per text and 5p per MB data but you do get to call other people on giffgaff for free as long as you've topped up in the last 3 months.

To avoid your credit expiring, you'll also need to make or receive at least one call or text every 6 months to keep your giffgaff pay as you go SIM active.

One extra handy feature on giffgaff is they'll let you know if you'd be better off buying one of the bundles if your usage fits one. They'll also let you know if you should move off a bundle too if you're not getting full use.

Useful link: See giffgaff's PAYG rates at giffgaff.com

Phone contracts: giffgaff vs Three

giffgaff phone contracts

See phone range

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

giffgaff's phone contracts are on credit agreements: that's good and bad

You'll find the typical range of phones with giffgaff including iPhone and Samsung Galaxy models, which all come unlocked. Getting a phone on giffgaff is slightly less conventional than other networks.

Instead of a rigid 24-month contract that covers your phone and monthly usage together, theirs are split into two parts: a credit agreement (loan) covering the cost of the phone, and a SIM on a 30-day bundle.

The benefits of this arrangement is you can choose the length of the loan and how much you pay up front, plus you can ditch the giffgaff SIM for another network at any point (you still pay off the loan obviously).

The downsides are you may find it harder to be accepted for a phone contract with giffgaff because it is a loan. giffgaff need to prove they are lending responsibly (just like a bank), so won't accept you if the believe you can't afford the repayments or have a negative credit history that shows you've missed payments or defaulted in the past.

Useful link: See giffgaff's latest phones and pricing

Three's phone contracts are more conventional

Unlocked Three phones

See Three's phones

on their official website
(opens in new window)

On Three, phone contracts are still done in the regular 24-month format, with a joint cost that covers the price of the phone and your monthly minutes, texts and data. All models come unlocked and can be used on other networks.

Compared to giffgaff, this has the disadvantage of being less flexible: you have to wait until the end of your contract if you want to upgrade or leave (or buy yourself out). You also don't get to pick and choose upfront costs.

On the other hand, phone contracts from Three won't necessarily have the same stringent requirements that come with taking out a loan for the cost of your phone. You will still need to pass a credit check though.

Useful link: See latest phones and pricing at Three.co.uk

Don't miss these special offers

£5 free credit with a new giffgaff SIM

Latest giffgaff offer

Top up your new SIM with at least £10 or buy a goodybag of the same value and get £5 free credit: only when you order via our special invite page.

See how the offer works > opens in new tab

Three's 100GB for £20 SIM

Three 100GB for £01 a month

This month, Three have the joint-biggest capped data SIM on the market with their huge 100GB for £20 SIM only deal on a 12-month contract.

See all Three's offers > (opens in new tab)

Other Three comparisons

Comparing Three and EE

Three vs EE

Read Three vs EE guide

Comparing Three and O2

Three vs O2

Read Three vs O2 guide

Comparing Three and Vodafone

Three vs Vodafone

Read our Three vs Vodafone guide

Comparing Three and BT Mobile

Three vs BT Mobile

Read Three vs BT Mobile

Comparing Three and SMARTY

Three vs SMARTY

Read our Three vs SMARTY guide

Comparing Three and Virgin Mobile

Three vs Virgin Mobile

Read our Three vs Virgin Mobile guide

Other giffgaff comparisons

Comparing giffgaff and SMARTY

giffgaff vs SMARTY

Read giffgaff vs SMARTY guide

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