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SMARTY vs giffgaff: how their coverage, 4G speeds & deals compare

giffgaff vs SMARTY

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We compare the important differences between the giffgaff and SMARTY mobile networks to see if it's worth switching to either. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 4th May 2020.

Special offer notifications

giffgaff hidden £5 free credit offer

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.

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Network coverage, speeds and extras

Is coverage better on SMARTY or giffgaff?

We look at which has the best signal across the UK

Mobile signal bars with giffgaff and SMARTY logo

Overall coverage is better on giffgaff

SMARTY and giffgaff host networks

The most important thing when choosing a mobile provider is to check their coverage in the places you'll actually use your phone: at home, your journey to work/school etc (use SMARTY and giffgaff's maps here).

But if you do look at the national coverage statistics for each network, giffgaff come out on top for calls and texts, with more of the physical landmass of the UK with 2G/3G signal than SMARTY.

But for 4G data, it's much closer run. While giffgaff are slightly ahead in bringing it to the places people actually live, SMARTY are narrowly in front when you look at getting 4G data away from residential areas.

We also expect indoor call signal to be better on giffgaff than SMARTY, because they use lower frequencies that can get into buildings more easily. So it's a varied picture between the two and we wouldn't rule either out.

Useful link: Use both their network maps

We think SMARTY will have 5G before giffgaff

SMARTY 5G is coming banner

Latest 5G news

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If your phone's 5G-ready, neither giffgaff or SMARTY are currently options to get a 5G plan for it, despite both their host networks O2 and Three having the newer technology.

Out of the two, only SMARTY have explicitly said they'll be adding 5G at some stage, even if they've not been specific about when. giffgaff have remained silent on when and whether they'll have 5G.

It's still early days for 5G coverage. You're looking at a city-by-city basis on both parent networks still. And within those places, it's not like 5G is available in every area. It's usually focussed on busiest places.

We could be wrong and giffgaff could surprise us. But they were slow to add 4G when it first came out and they tend not to get all the network features of O2 to avoid competiting with them.

Useful link: All networks with 5G

Network maps

Don't just check at home but everywhere you'll use your phone


SMARTY network map

Check coverage

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giffgaff network map

Check coverage

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Our verdict on coverage:

Win for giffgaff

"Across the entire UK, we'd still say giffgaff use a bigger network than SMARTY. The differences are less important in towns and cities but out in the sticks, you'll get more blackspots on SMARTY"

Compare pricing and deals

Is data faster on SMARTY or giffgaff?

We look at the speeds you can expect on both

Speedometer with giffgaff and SMARTY logos

SMARTY are on a faster network than giffgaff

SMARTY powered by Three banner

Read more details

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While giffgaff have the advantage for coverage, it's SMARTY that should provide faster 4G speeds on average. That's what independent network testers Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla have found.

They've taken millions of measurements on people's smartphones via giffgaff and SMARTY's host networks and found that O2 (used by giffgaff) typically delivers 16.95 - 18.00 Mbps, behind Three on 20 Mbps.

Our own testing couldn't find any speed differences between being on SMARTY vs Three directly but we suspect giffgaff might be slower than O2 on average, so their measurements could actually be below O2's.

For basic browsing and social media, the difference shouldn't be too noticeable. More demanding stuff like big downloads and streaming are likely to be a better experience on SMARTY than giffgaff.

Useful link: SMARTY's traffic management policy

Our verdict on data speeds:

Win for SMARTY

"While both networks will sometimes beat the other for speed, overall the general picture is that data speeds are typically faster on SMARTY than giffgaff."

Compare pricing and deals

Extra network features

Which has more ways of keeping you connected?

WiFi calling symbol with SMARTY and giffgaff logos

No WiFi calling or 4G calling on either

Three WiFi calling

See Three's scheme

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Both SMARTY and giffgaff are owned by larger networks and are run at arm's length as low-cost no-frills providers. Three and O2 have kept in a few feature differences to leave a reason to join them direct.

You don't get WiFi calling on giffgaff or SMARTY (although SMARTY do hint it could one day be coming here). This technology lets your phone make/take calls over WiFi when there's poor mobile signal indoors.

The similar technology 4G calling (or VoLTE) is also not available on either. 4G calling offers HD audio quality and increases the chance of getting a signal by having more frquencies available (not just 2G/3G).

So you'll need to rely on conventional phone signal on both giffgaff and SMARTY or services like Whatsapp if you've got WiFi but either network's mobile signal can't make it indoors.

Useful link: See all networks with WiFi calling

giffgaff get you more free WiFi hotspot access

giffgaff free WiFi on the Undground

How to connect

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Getting free WiFi access that logs you in automatically whenever you're in a range is a great way to keep your data usage down and could let you buy a smaller, cheaper plan than if you had to rely solely on mobile data.

SMARTY don't include any free hotspot access with their deals (even though their parent Three gets you free WiFi on the London Underground). giffgaff customers do benefit from their association with O2:

Follow giffgaff's instructions on their website here and you can access free WiFi on London's TFL network and also the O2 WiFi network, which has some 16,000 free hotspots on high streets and at transport hubs.

If you live or work in the capital, it's a useful feature on giffgaff vs SMARTY. But for the rest of the country, it's probably more just of a nice-to-have for when you run out of data. There's loads of free WiFi now anyway.

Useful link: Costs for going over data limit on SMARTY

Our verdict on network features:

Minor win for giffgaff

"In offering at least some free WiFi, giffgaff have a slight edge over SMARTY, who have no extras to keep your phone connected more of the time. You'll have to decide whether it's important for you."

Compare pricing and deals

Where to next in this article?

Perks and benefits

Benefits on SMARTY vs giffgaff

Both are low cost, so what extras do you get with either?

giffgaff and SMARTY logos with a giftbox

Money off if you don't use all your data on SMARTY

SMARTY's data discount

How it works

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SMARTY was launched with a unique benefit no other network offered. They'd pay you back for any data you'd not used, at the same price you'd paid for it in the first place - as a discount off next month.

It used to apply to all plans. But SMARTY have since launched some with large data allowances and unlimited data, which don't pay you back. Look out for ones marked "Data Discount" if you want the benefit.

All these plans pay you back if you don't use all the data

It means you'd never overpay for data you hadn't managed to use up. And if you ever need more data on those plans, it costs the same to buy as it would as part of your plan too (£1 per GB).

It's a great benefit for small data users, who use less than 3GB a month. And giffgaff don't have anything similar like data rollover. If you don't use your data on giffgaff, it's gone.

Useful link: Our full guide to SMARTY's data payback scheme

SMARTY offer discounts for groups and families

SMARTY group plans banner

Read full details

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giffgaff are only set up for individuals to join. You can't manage multiple plans from one account. And there's no built-in monthly discounts for family or data sharing schemes. You can earn £5 for getting them to join though.

SMARTY on the other hand are the only real low-cost network to offer Group Plans with a 10% discount for each member in the group. And you can get that for up to 8 people in one group.

It probably works best for families or people who know and trust each other really well, because the group owner becomes in charge of all the plans and payments. But you could join with friends to make savings.

There are few ins and outs about how to manage the group plans (read SMARTY's help guide here for more details) but if you're looking for value, getting a discount off already-cheap plans is a real strong point in the case for joining SMARTY vs giffgaff.

Useful link: Read SMARTY's help guide for more info

Earn rewards for getting people to join giffgaff

giffgaff rewards

How to earn it

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There might not be any actual group plans on giffgaff but you can get rewarded for referring other people you know to join them through their Payback scheme.

It's lets you earn £5 every time you get someone you know to join giffgaff. You either share a special tracked link they can order through, or you can order SIM cards yourself and give them out yourself.

Your friend also gets £5 free credit when they top up with a £10 or buy a £10+ goodybag (plan), so there's something in it for both of you. If you're entrepreneurial, you could end up covering the cost of your own plan.

These kind of schemes are getting more popular with mobile networks, as it's a great way for them to recruit new customers without having to pay for advertising and SMARTY have something similar.

Useful link: Full details on giffgaff's recruiter scheme

SMARTY give you free months for getting people to join

SMARTY refer a friend scheme banner

How to do it

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While it's not quite as good as giffgaff giving you cold hard cash, SMARTY do have a refer-a-friend scheme that can save you a few pounds on your mobile bill every now and then.

When you join, SMARTY give you a unique tracked link that you can send out to people you know. When they order via it, you and your friend will get a free month's plan - regardless which one you're both on.

There's no upper limits on how many people you can recruit. And you don't actually have to know the people either. If you could get that many people to join, you could get a full 12 months free if you wanted.

Like we say, some sort of cash reward is always better but who would say no to free months?

Useful link: Full details and terms

Our verdict on extra perks:

Win for SMARTY

"SMARTY have definitely put more effort into offering unique benefits than giffgaff, who've not really changed anything about their basic offering in almost a decade of trading."

Compare pricing and deals

How roaming on SMARTY compares with giffgaff

Is one better than the other for going abroad?

A globe with SMARTY and giffgaff logos

giffgaff include EU roaming with all their goodybags

Roaming on giffgaff banner

See all costs

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Like every mobile network with any roaming, giffgaff let you use your UK minutes, texts and data for no extra cost while in the EU, so that's a bit of extra value you get.

You won't get 4G data in every country you go. And it's difficult to nail giffgaff down on where they offer the service. But everything does work out of the box with giffgaff.

There's no other inclusive roaming outside the EU on giffgaff and their pay as you go rates are pretty eye-watering. You wouldn't want to use your phone as normal outside Europe (see costs per country here).

Useful link: The best networks for roaming

SMARTY's roaming is 3G only and has to be set up manually

SMARTY activate roaming banner

How to activate it

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You get the same EU / EEA inclusive roaming on SMARTY that you do with every mobile network. But while you're abroad, your phone will only connect to 3G data, which is alright for doing things like map checking etc.

The main weakness with SMARTY's roaming is that you have to manually set up your phone for it to work. The SIM card doesn't configure the settings automatically. Follow the instructions here before you leave.

If you don't do this in advance, you could end up abroad without your phone working, without going onto WiFi first and finding the instructions (this happened to us when we were testing for our SMARTY review).

Elsewhere in the world, SMARTY have a top up and pay as you go system. The rates are generally cheaper than giffgaff but aren't cheap by any stretch. They've got no inclusive worldwide roaming like their parent Three's Go Roam.

Useful link: SMARTY's full price guide

Our verdict on this topic:

Minor win for giffgaff

"giffgaff having 4G in some countries and the fact that roaming just works out of the box puts them slightly ahead of SMARTY, although for the occasional short hop to continent either will do."

Compare pricing and deals

You can avoid overspending on SMARTY and giffgaff

Extra costs on giffgaff and SMARTY

Unlimited streaming with selected plans & servicesSee extra costs

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There’s an added benefit to buying your monthly plan of minutes, texts and data up front each month, which is what you do on SMARTY and giffgaff: you can avoid accidentally overspending.

On other networks' pay monthly plans, you set up a direct debit and if you use any extra premium services or go over your limits for minutes, texts or data, you’ll be charged extra at the end of the month.

On SMARTY and giffgaff, you don’t have to set up a direct debit. So if you run out of minutes, texts or data, you just won’t be able to use that service until you buy an add-on or new bundle.

Note: on giffgaff if you have topped up with more credit than your plan costs, any extra usage WILL be taken from that credit. So if you’re worried about overspending, don’t top up more than you plan to use.

Useful link: Compare giffgaff and SMARTY plans using our deal finder tool

Where to next in this article?

Plans and prices

SIM only plans compared on SMARTY and giffgaff

Which has better value for money SIM deals?

A SIM card with giffgaff and SMARTY logos
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giffgaff Always On plans vs SMARTY's unlimited data SIMs

SMARTY Unlimited data offer banner

Same price, none of the restrictionsSee full deal

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SMARTY have an 1-month unlimited data deal that goes directly in competition with giffgaff's Always On plan. We think there's a cut and dry winner.

giffgaff's Always On is hard to call unlimited data (and giffgaff don't), because there actually limits on it. Only your first 80GB works at their full 4G speeds. After that you only get 2G speeds 08:00 - 00:00.

Compare that with SMARTY's new unlimited data plan here and the winner becomes clear. You can use as much data as you like in the UK, tether your phone and there's no speed restrictions in this country.

And when you consider you're getting all that for less than giffgaff's Always On, SMARTY's unlimited plan comes out as the way more competitive option. We'll have to see how giffgaff respond!

Useful link: Full information on SMARTY's unlimited plan

There’s no credit check on giffgaff SIMs or SMARTY

Credit checks on SMARTY and giffgaff

You only need a UK debit or credit card to joinHow billing works

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For many this will be completely irrelevant because you’ll get accepted onto most networks anyway. But if you’re only just 18, have just come to the UK or have been declined elsewhere listen up:

Neither giffgaff or SMARTY require you to pass a credit check on SIM only. This is when a mobile network looks at your record of paying other telecoms or utilities providers and judges if you’re likely to pay your bills.

That’s because you buy your plan of minutes, texts and data up front on SMARTY and giffgaff, using a UK credit or debit card. So there’s no direct debit to set up and no risk of people not paying.

In short, as long as you’ve got a UK credit/debit card, there’s no reason you’ll be blocked from joining SMARTY or giffgaff.

Useful link: How billing works on SMARTY | How it works on giffgaff

Special offers on SMARTY and giffgaff

Here's how you can get some extra value with each

Special offer ribbon with SMARTY and giffgaff logos

£5 free giffgaff credit with your first £10 top up

giffgaff free credit offer

Get £5 free credit

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On SIM only, giffgaff don't really tend to have big discounts or promotional plans ever. But you can get £5 of free credit when you first sign up.

Use our special order link here, top up with at least £10 (or buy a goodybag for £10 or more) and giffgaff will automatically add £5 of welcome credit to your account.

If you're after a smartphone, you can use the £5 free credit offer. See giffgaff's latest phone contract pricing here.

Useful link: Get free credit on giffgaff now

Where to next in this article?

Making your mind up

Tips on deciding between SMARTY and giffgaff

SMARTY vs giffgaff

Decide what you value most

On the face of it, giffgaff and SMARTY are pretty similar low-cost pre-paid SIM only providers with some overlapping benefits.

To decide between the two, take a look at the lists below and judge what's most important for you.

If it's price, use our deal finder tool above to compare their plans against each other.

SMARTY are generally better for...

Flexibility and fairness if your data usage changes each month

If you live in an area with better coverage than giffgaff

Faster expected 4G download speeds

Unlimited plans without limits

Jump to

giffgaff are generally better for...

You want £5 free credit when you join

If you live in an area with better coverage than SMARTY

You want to be able to use your phone abroad automatically

See free credit offer

Where to next in this article?

SIM Sherpa can help you find your next SIM only deal

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