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giffgaff review: what's the mobile network's appeal in 2021?

giffgaff logo, a SIM card and a phone iconVisit

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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 February 2021.

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 2021 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

giffgaff's mobile network

Coverage: we like that giffgaff use O2's network

giffgaff's coverage checker

Check reception where you'll use your phoneUse network map

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O2 launched giffgaff as a means to create a low-cost, no-frills mobile provider partially run by its own customers. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that giffgaff use O2’s network.

A particular strength for giffgaff’s host network is their coverage for calls and texts. O2 have joint largest amount of the UK’s landmass covered, so you’ll rarely be in a total blackspot on giffgaff.

When looking at country wide coverage for 4G data, they do lag slightly behind EE and Vodafone. This means poorer rural 4G. But there’s no real difference in the more built up places, where people actually live.

We recommend checking the signal on their official map before you sign up. Ask yourself where you’re likely to take your phone - route to school, work, friend’s house?

Useful link: giffgaff's about us page

5G is now live on certain giffgaff plans

giffgaff 5G announcement

Tick textSee announcement

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When 4G first came out, there was a gap of a few years between O2 and giffgaff. We previously predicted that it would be a similar gap between O2’s 5G going live and giffgaff launching theirs.

We are happy to inform you that 5G is now live on giffgaff. They launched their service in February 2021 and have updated their coverage checker here with all 5G locations. - the same 150 towns and cities across the UK you get on O2

It’s worth noting that having 5G in a particular place doesn’t mean the entire town or city is covered with it. And we’ve found areas on the outer edge of a covered area have 5G that’s less useful than 4G speed-wise.

Getting 5G on giffgaff is fairly simple, but you need to have a 5G ready phone and not every plan comes with it. You’ll need to pick one of their so-called Golden Goodybags, which are naturally the most expensive ones.

Useful link: Check giffgaff 5G in your area

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

Joint 2nd

Not as good as:
EE, BT Mobile

Better than:

Data speeds: the disadvantage to giffgaff using O2

giffgaff branded globe with 4G

All plans have 4G as standardRead their 4G guide

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When comparing giffgaff to other networks, you’ll find that coverage is mostly up to the same standard. However, according to the result of independent testers, you can expect slower-than-average typical speeds for 4G downloads.

Using volunteers’ phones, Opensignal and Speedtest by Ookla take millions of nationwide speed measurements. They found that at 16.95 - 18.00 Mbps, typical speeds on O2 reach 50% of fastest provider EE.

And although our own spot checks didn’t confirm this, there are giffgaff customer reports suggesting you receive a smaller chunk of the bandwidth to being on O2 directly. This could mean even slower results.

If you mainly use your phone for browsing, music streaming and social media, then giffgaff are perfectly suitable for you. But, gamers and those that watch ultra high definition videos might need to look elsewhere.

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

Our speed rating:
★★☆☆☆ (average)

Joint last

Not as good as:
EE, Three, Vodafone

Same as:
O2, Tesco, Sky

Call technology: giffgaff don’t support WiFi calling or 4G calling

We've rated the networks with WiFi callingRead our guide

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

But, if you find yourself without a signal, you’ll have no backups like WiFi calling or 4G calling. You can use apps like WhatsApp if you’re lucky enough to have WiFi where you are. If not, you’ll simply be unreachable.

We think that any good network should include WiFi calling. It lets you connect to the mobile network via WiFi, instead of conventional signal and allows you to make/take calls as normal with no extra apps.

If you prefer a network that offers WiFi calling, then Sky Mobile is a good low-cost alternative. Their phone contract pricing is often market-leading and they also have decent regular offers on SIMs.

Useful link: Our guide to the networks with WiFi calling

Our WiFi calling rating:
☆☆☆☆☆ (poor)

Joint last

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

Same as:
All others

Free hotspots: free WiFi on the Underground with giffgaff

WiFi and TFL logos with a mobile phone

Free WiFi at hundreds of stationsHow to connect

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It’s handy when mobile networks give you free WiFi access. It stops you from using your mobile data and is especially useful if you want to keep your spending as low as possible.

See our list and rankings of all the mobile providers with free WiFi hotspot networks here. And, because you get free access to the WiFi on London's TFL network, giffgaff will now appear on that list too.

Other networks are easier to get on with than giffgaff, but follow these instructions to stay connected even when you're below the surface away from mobile signal.

Free automatic access to O2's network of WiFi Extra hotspots in restaurants, shopping centres and transport hubs is also included if you download the giffgaff app and switch the feature on.

Thumbs up to giffgaff for providing two good options to stay connected and keep your data usage down.

Useful link: How to get free WiFi on giffgaff

Our free WiFi rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)

Joint 3rd

Not as good as:
BT, Virgin, O2

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

giffgaff benefits

Flexibility and lack of contracts are giffgaff’s main benefits

giffgaff benefits on a black background

giffgaff's main selling pointsRead About Us

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There’s no contract when you sign up to giffgaff's SIM only plans. You’ll have to register a payment card and then choose to buy, or top up a "Goodybag" plan each month. This can be done manually or via auto-renew.

This is great for anyone that wants to avoid credit checks or likes to have the flexibility to change plans each month. It also gives you a way out without notice - whether you want a break or to leave giffgaff entirely.

And although their phone contracts are based on finance, you get a similar flexibility when it comes to choice of contract length and upfront costs. The phones are unlocked and you’re free to leave after your first month.

You could say that this makes giffgaff the most flexible mobile network in the UK. So, if you’re a commitment-phobe or you’ve been burned by early exit fees in the past, then this might be the network for you.

Useful links: Compare phone contracts | Compare SIM only deals

Spending caps: plans are naturally capped on giffgaff

giffgaff's out of bundle costs screenshot

Avoid spending on added extrasSee extra costs

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

International calls, non-inclusive roaming, premium rate numbers, picture messages are all included in the list of extra charges, which you can find on giffgaff here.

Technically, giffgaff aren't a pay monthly network. If you don't have any topped up credit on your account, it is impossible to spend more than what you’ve spent on your goodybag. Just keep the auto top-up feature off.

And if you did have some spare credit left on your account from previous top ups, you’ll struggle to avoid accidentally using it up on extras. The only way to do it is to keep an eye on your own usage.

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

Our rating:
★★★☆☆ (good)


As good as:

Better than:

Standard EU only roaming on giffgaff

Flags of roaming destinations

Only the bare minimum EU roamingSee all costs

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giffgaff offer inclusive roaming within the EU. So, just like most other networks, you can use your regular UK minutes, text and data whilst in the EU without paying more (there's a fair usage policy on some plans).

You’ll also be able to receive free calls and texts while you’re there.

For holidays in Europe, you’ll be just fine. But if you regularly travel further afield, you’ll quickly notice how expensive it gets (latest rates here). See our list of the best networks for worldwide roaming in our guide here.

We can’t be too disappointed that giffgaff don’t offer inclusive roaming though. When looking at similar networks, none of them offer it either. And, giffgaff is a no-frills provider, so we can’t really expect too much.

Useful link: Using your phone abroad help guide

Benefits you get elsewhere but not with giffgaff

SMARTY's unused data

Money back for unused dataHow it works

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We think that everyone should make informed decisions, so to help you with this, we’ll take you through a list of benefits that you’d get with other low-cost networks but not with giffgaff. Here's what you'd miss out on:

Data rollover is a popular benefit that adds value to your deal by giving you another chance to use your unused data. giffgaff don't offer this, but SMARTY pay you back for what you've not used as a discount off next month.

Free streaming data or social media schemes are also non-existent. So, getting unlimited data for certain activities that don’t come out of your regular monthly allowance is something that you’ll be missing out on.

And you’re also out of luck if you want a family or a shared plan. giffgaff won’t let you manage multiple plans from one account, nor do they offer discounts for taking out multiple deals.

Useful link: Our SMARTY vs giffgaff guide

giffgaff's pricing and deals

giffgaff’s SIM only plans



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Added features

Deals on offer at giffgaff

Take advantage of this joining deal

giffgaff’s pay as you go tariff

giffgaff's basic tariff works out as alright value

giffgaff's topping up screenshot

How to top up

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On giffgaff, you can choose to pay as you go in the "traditional" way, where you top up with a certain amount of credit and anything you use comes out at a fixed rate. You don’t have to buy a monthly bundle.

When looking at mobile providers that offer pay as you go using the O2 network, giffgaff's basic rates are the cheapest:

But, nationwide, it's not the very cheapest basic pay as you go tariff. 1pMobile's 1p everything deal gets that title).

But you'll get free giffgaff to giffgaff calls if you top up with at least £10 every three months. And if you use your phone to make calls or anything else that’s chargeable at least every six months, your credit will never expire.

Useful link: All giffgaff payg rates

Phone contracts on giffgaff

What we like about them

Phone contract benefits listed

Read more

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A phone contract on giffgaff is based on two things - a finance agreement for the cost of your phone (paid back monthly) and the price of your monthly goodybag of minutes, texts and data (same as their SIM only).

This gives you more flexibility and lets you switch goodybag from month-to-month to suit your needs. And after the first month, you can even cancel it altogether: still pay giffgaff for the phone but join another network on SIM only.

When you first sign up, you can also play with the upfront fees and contract lengths to suit your budget. And if you’re in a position to do it, you can pay the loan off quicker (but not slower) than originally agreed.

Getting a phone on contract works out more expensive than buying it outright (mobile networks are businesses) but giffgaff are cheaper on average. The latest iPhone and Samsung models are included in their range.

Useful link: giffgaff's latest phone range

What's not so good...

Screenshot of our phone comparison tool

Compare phone deals

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giffgaff’s phone contracts are based on finance, so just like banks with loans, they have to show government regulators that they are lending money responsibly to people who can afford the repayments.

Their check to get accepted for a phone contract will probably be a lot stricter compared to other networks (we have no insider information though). So, don’t expect to be accepted if you have a bad credit record.

And, if you miss a payment or can no longer keep up with your bills, it could also be more serious for your credit file. So before you join, we recommend thinking really carefully about how affordable it is.

With so many different combinations of upfront costs, contract length and plans 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 provide online customer service

Ofcom customer service league table

giffgaff don't feature in the figuresSee latest report

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giffgaff have an estimated two million customers, but as they aren't technically a pay monthly mobile provider, they don’t feature in the complaints data from government regulator Ofcom.

We usually use this data to measure customer service, so not having it is unhelpful. A big indication that a network is bad at dealing with inevitable issues is the volume of problems that have been escalated to Ofcom.

giffgaff don’t operate call centres, so if you’re someone that likes to pick up the phone or go into a store to talk to someone in person, you’re not going to like the online only support on offer.

You’ll have access to community forums and an ask-an-agent feature. Unfortunately, this isn’t a live chat and you’ll only get an answer to the question you submitted once they get round to you.

This is giffgaff’s way of keeping costs down for everyone. But we’d say that if you're not confident online and you like the human side of customer service, then self-serving giffgaff aren't your ideal choice.

Useful link: How to get help on giffgaff

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