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giffgaff review: what's the appeal of joining their network in 2020?

giffgaff logo, a SIM card and a phone icon

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We rate everything you get when you join giffgaff on SIM only or a phone contract, including their 4G coverage, data speeds and added benefits. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 9th April 2020.

Overall rating

SIM Sherpa rates giffgaff as average ★★☆☆☆ (2/5, average)

"When giffgaff first launched in 2009, there's no denying they were a game-changing force for good, with their flexible low-cost plans on the high quality O2 network. But fast-forward to 2020 and they've been caught up.

There are loads of low-cost providers doing the same thing as giffgaff, many with better perks, easier-to-reach customer service, faster data and lower-cost plans with bigger allowances too.

giffgaff are still a good choice for anyone that knows they need to be on the O2 network for coverage but is reluctant to commit to long contracts. But they're not the obvious first choice they used to be."

The 3 best bits

1) Excellent UK coverage
2) Ultra flexible phones and SIMs
3) Lower cost than O2 directly

The 3 worst bits

1) No WiFi calling / 4G calling
2) Online-only customer service
3) Slow data speeds

In our giffgaff review

giffgaff's mobile network

Coverage: giffgaff using O2's network is a good thing

giffgaff's coverage checker

Check reception where you'll use your phoneUse network map

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

giffgaff were set up by O2 as a project to create a low-cost, no-frills mobile provider partially run by its own customers. Fairly obviously giffgaff use the O2 network as a result.

Coverage for calls and texts is a particular strength for giffgaff's host network. They've got the joint largest amount of the UK's landmass covered for these. It means you'll rarely be in a total blackspot on giffgaff.

For 4G data, they do lag slightly behind EE and Vodafone in terms of how much of the physical country is covered, meaning poorer rural 4G. But in places where people actually live, there's no real difference.

Before joining any network, we'd always say it's wise to check signal on their official map first. And don't just look at home. Think about your route to work or school. And anywhere else you'll regularly take your phone.

Useful link: giffgaff's about us page

Our coverage rating:
★★★★☆ (excellent)

Rank:
Joint 2nd

Not as good as:
EE, BT Mobile

Better than:
Three

Data speeds: the disadvantage to giffgaff using O2

giffgaff branded globe with 4G

All plans have 4G as standardRead their 4G guide

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

While coverage on giffgaff is up to the same standard as most networks, the typical speeds you can expect for 4G downloads is slower. That's not our opinion, it's from the results of independent testers.

Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla take millions of speed measurements on volunteers' phones up and down the country. They measure typical speeds on O2 at 16.90 - 16.95 Mbps. That's 50% of the fastest provider EE.

giffgaff's host network O2 already have their 5G network live. And other providers that use O2 now offer 5G (Sky Mobile and Tesco), so what about giffgaff?

It's hard to say, as we don't have insider information. But our gut instinct would be that it may be some time before we see 5G on giffgaff. It's still a premium feature and giffgaff aren't set up as a premium network.

From a business perspective, it makes sense for O2 to keep some differences built in to O2 and giffgaff's products, else everyone would join the cheaper network and they'd make no money.

When 4G came out, there was a gap of a few years between O2 and giffgaff. We wouldn't be surprised if it was the same this time too.

And there's also customer reports that giffgaff customers receive a smaller chunk of the bandwidth to being on O2 directly, which could result in slower results than this too. Our own spot checks couldn't confirm this.

Either way, giffgaff are perfectly suitable for people who mainly use their phone for social media, browsing and music streaming. If you're a gamer or ultra high definition video watcher, they might not be suitable.

Useful link: Our guide to networks with the best 5G

Our speed rating:
★★☆☆☆ (average)

Rank:
Joint last

Not as good as:
EE, Three, Vodafone

Same as:
O2, Tesco, Sky

Call technology: no WiFi calling on giffgaff or 4G calling

We've rated the networks with WiFi callingRead our guide

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

Fortunately, giffgaff's signal that carries phone calls and SMS text messages is actually on pretty good frequencies for getting through building materials and indoors (read our indoor coverage guide here).

But if you're unfortunate enough to be somewhere the signal can't get in, there's no backups on giffgaff like WiFi calling or 4G calling. You'll just be unreachable or have to use apps like WhatsApp if you have WiFi.

For us, WiFi calling is becoming a must-have on any good network. It's where you can connect to the mobile network via WiFi, instead of conventional signal. And just make/take calls as normal with no extra apps.

If you're looking for a low-cost alternative to giffgaff on O2 with WiFi calling, it's worth taking a look at Sky Mobile. They regularly have decent offers on SIMs and their phone contract pricing is often market-leading.

Useful link: Our guide to the networks with WiFi calling

Our WiFi calling rating:
☆☆☆☆☆ (poor)

Rank:
Joint last

Not as good as:
Three, BT, EE, iD, Vodafone, O2, Sky, Virgin

Same as:
All others

Free hotspots: giffgaff get you free WiFi on the Underground

WiFi and TFL logos with a mobile phone

Free WiFi at hundreds of stationsHow to connect

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

If you pay as you go or just want to take the smallest cheapest monthly plan you can, it's handy when mobile networks give you free WiFi access to avoid using mobile data out and about.

We've listed and ranked all the mobile providers with free WiFi hotspot networks here. And giffgaff will now appear on there, because you get free access to the WiFi on London's TFL network.

It's not quite as simple to get on it with giffgaff as it is with other mobile networks but if you follow these instructions, you can stay connected even where you're below the surface away from mobile signal.

You'll also get free automatic access to O2's network of WiFi Extra hotspots in restuarants, transport hubs and shopping centres, if you download the giffgaff app and switch the feature on.

Both offer more ways to stay connected and keep your data usage down, so a thumbs up for giffgaff here.

Useful link: How to get free WiFi on giffgaff

Our free WiFi rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
Joint 3rd

Not as good as:
BT, Virgin, O2

Better than:
Three, EE, Vodafone, Sky and all others

giffgaff benefits

giffgaff's main benefit is their flexibility and lack of contracts

giffgaff benefits on a black background

giffgaff's main selling pointsRead About Us

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

When you sign up to giffgaff's SIM only plans, there's no contract. You just register a payment card and then choose to top up, or buy a "Goodybag" plan each month (you can do this manually or set it to auto-renew).

That means there's no credit check to join them in the first place. And it means you can change plans each month. Or choose not renew and take a break or leave giffgaff entirely, with no notice.

Their phone contracts are similar. They're based on finance and you can choose from multiple upfront costs and contract lengths. The phones are unlocked. And you're not tied to staying beyond your first month.

All that arguably makes giffgaff the most flexible mobile network in the UK. It's a strong reason to join them, if you're a commitment-phobe or you've been hit with early exit fees before from other networks.

Useful links: Compare phone contracts | Compare SIM only deals

Spending caps: giffgaff's plans are naturally capped

giffgaff's out of bundle costs screenshot

Avoid spending on added extrasSee extra costs

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

It's now compulsory for pay monthly mobile networks to let you put a cap on how much extra spending you're willing to do, above and beyond the basic cost of your plan.

Extra costs can be things like international calls, non-inclusive roaming, premium rate numbers, picture messages and a few other things. See full list of extra charges on giffgaff here.

giffgaff aren't technically a pay monthly network. But as long as you don't have any topped up credit on your account, it is impossible to spend more than what your goodybag cost. Just keep the auto top-up feature off.

If for some reason you did have some spare credit left on your account from previous top ups, there is no way to avoid accidentally using it up on extras other than keeping an eye on what you're doing yourself.

Useful link: Why you can and can't cap spending

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Rank:
TBC

As good as:
TBC

Better than:
TBC

Roaming on giffgaff is pretty standard EU only

Flags of roaming destinations

Only the bare minimum EU roamingSee all costs

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

Like most other networks, giffgaff give you inclusive roaming within the EU. That means you can use your regular UK minutes, texts and data there without paying more (there's a fair usage policy on some plans).

And receiving calls and texts is free while you're there too.

That'll suit more people just fine for the odd holiday in Europe but if you regularly go further afield it gets really expensive, fast (latest rates here). We've listed the best networks for worldwide roaming in our guide here.

We can't really complain too much about giffgaff not offering more inclusive roaming. They're priced like a no-frills network and none of their similar competitors offer anything better either.

Useful link: Using your phone abroad help guide

Benefits you don't get with giffgaff but can get elsewhere

SMARTY's unused data

Money back for unused dataHow it works

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

To help you make up your mind, it's worth looking at what you don't get with giffgaff that you could be getting from similarly-priced low-cost networks. Here's what you'd miss out on:

Data rollover is a popular benefit where you keep unused data for later to avoid losing what you've paid for. giffgaff don't have it but SMARTY will pay you back for what you've not used as a discount off next month.

There's no clever free streaming data or social media schemes, where you get unlimited data for certain activities that doesn't come out of your regular monthly allowance.

And there's nothing really for families or shared plans. You can't manage multiple plans from one account nor get discounts on your monthly plans for taking out multiple deals.

Useful link: Our SMARTY vs giffgaff guide

giffgaff's pricing and deals

SIM only plans on giffgaff

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Special offers on giffgaff

Take advantage of this joining deal

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

giffgaff free credit offer

Get £5 free credit

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

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

Pay as you go on giffgaff

giffgaff's basic tariff works out as alright value

giffgaff's topping up screenshot

How to top up

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

You don't have to buy a monthly bundle on giffgaff, you can choose to pay as you go the "traditional" way, where you top up with credit and anything you use comes out of that at a fixed rates.

giffgaff's basic pay as you go rates are the cheapest of any network using the O2 network:

It's not the very cheapest basic pay as you go tariff in the UK (that title goes to 1pMobile's 1p everything deal).

But if you top up with at least £10 every three months, you'll get free giffgaff to giffgaff calls. And your credit will never expire, as long as you do something chargeable (like make a call) at least every six months.

Useful link: All giffgaff payg rates

Phone contracts on giffgaff

What we like about them

Phone contract benefits listed

Read more

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

giffgaff split their into a finance agreement (loan) for the cost of your phone, paid back monthly. And a monthly goodybag of minutes, texts and data (same as their SIM only). Add them together for your total deal cost.

This has the benefit that you can switch goodybag from month-to-month according to your usage. And you can even cancel it altogether after your first month and just pay for the phone and join another network on SIM only.

You can also play with the contract lengths and upfront fees when you first sign up according to your budget. And if you want, you can pay the loan of quicker but not slower than originally agreed.

Phone prices work out more expensive than buying outright (but contracts always are, mobile networks are businesses), though cheaper than average networks. Their range includes the latest iPhone and Samsung models.

Useful link: giffgaff's latest phone range

What's not so good...

Screenshot of our phone comparison tool

Compare phone deals

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

Because giffgaff's phone contracts are based on finance, they have to be able to show government regulators that they're lending money responsibly, to people who can afford the repayments - similar to banks with loans.

That means giffgaff's credit check to get accepted for a phone contract is likely to be a lot more stringent than other networks (we have no insider information though). If your record's not good, don't expect to be accepted.

It also means it can be more serious for your credit file if you miss a payment and/or find you can no longer afford to keep up with it. So think carefully about how affordable it is before you join.

Because there's so many different combinations of upfront, contract length and plan on giffgaff, it can be a faff to get an accurate comparison, use our phone deals tool to compare their whole range against other networks.

Useful link: Compare mobile phone contracts

Customer service

giffgaff only offer online customer service

Ofcom customer service league table

giffgaff don't feature in the figuresSee latest report

at ofcom.org.uk
(opens in new window)

Despite having an estimated two million customers, giffgaff don't feature in the complaints data from government regulator Ofcom, because they're not technically a pay monthly mobile provider.

That's unhelpful, because this is our normal measure of customer service. If people have to escalate a problem to Ofcom, it shows a network is bad at dealing with inevitable issues.

We will say that if you're someone who likes to pick up the phone or go into a store face-to-face to get help, you're not going to like giffgaff. They're customer service is all provided online. They have no call centres.

Instead there's a system of community forums and an ask-an-agent feature. It's not a live chat, you submit a question and you get an answer when they get round to you. Many will find this frustrating.

It's part of giffgaff's model to keep costs down for them and you. But if you're not confident online and self-serving giffgaff aren't your ideal choice.

Useful link: How to get help on giffgaff

SIM Sherpa can help you find your next SIM only deal

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