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Who is O2
O2 is the second oldest and also the second largest mobile network operator in the UK. The network has over 34 million customers and it launched way back in 1985, however under a different name: Cellnet. In 2001, the network rebranded itself as O2.
O2 offers monthly phone and SIM only deals, as well as two different types of pay as you go alternatives. Sadly, you can’t use the service on a traditional PAYG basis anymore. The mobile network has a 5G service just like all the other major carriers in the country, however, at the time of writing this article it covers the least amount of land out of the four. O2’s most outstanding proposition is letting you build a flexible custom plan when buying a handset from its official stores. Customers can choose how much they are willing to pay upfront, how long the contract will be (from 3 months to 36 months) and the amount of data allowance they will have in their tariff.
- O2 Priority app offers great deals.
- Wide range of handset options.
- More than 16 thousand Wi-Fi hotspots & a Wi-Fi Extra perk.
- Custom plans when buying a handset.
- 4G speeds tracking behind competitors.
- O2’s 5G coverage isn’t as wide as other networks yet.
Who is giffgaff
giffgaff is a low-cost virtual mobile network operator powered by the O2 Network. The carrier offers a unique approach to the UK’s mobile market with its SIM only plans called ‘goodybags’. The ‘goodybags’ aim to satisfy all types of customers; the ones who need a low-cost alternative and those that require large data bundles.
Running on O2’s network, giffgaff users get the same 2G, 3G & 4G coverage combined with decent download & upload speeds. At the moment, giffgaff doesn’t have any 5G coverage even though O2 provides this service to its customers. However, giffgaff is running internal tests and aims to launch a 5G service in 2020.
- Offering a unique flexibility with a variety of ‘goodybags’ and PAYG options.
- Easy to switch between SIM Only (goodybags) price plans.
- uSwitch Network of the year winner 2019.
- No credit checks.
- No Wi-Fi Calling, 4G Calling or Wi-Fi hotspots.
- Smaller data plans at a more premium price.
- 4G data speeds capped after 80GB.
Table of Contents
Plans & Pricing
SIM Only Deals
O2’s SIM Only plans are flexible, with customers able to choose from 1 month, 12 months or 18 months contracts with only a few exceptions. The mobile network’s customers also benefit from two great features; O2 Priority deals and over 16 thousand free Wi-Fi hotspots across the country.
As for giffgaff, their SIM only proposition is called a ‘goodybag’. These work on a rolling monthly basis & if you finish one up, you can purchase another without having to wait till the end of the month.
giffgaff’s goodybag deals are good value options for most standard mobile users. The prices for the network’s SIM only deals start from £6/month and customers have seven different goodybags to choose from. The Unlimited data plan is named ‘Always-On-Data’ and it’s priced at £25/month. The best value option if you wish to be on giffgaff is to buy monthly goodybags. After buying your third goodybag consecutively, the network will reward you with 1GB of extra data for every month you continue. Keep in mind though, only the £10, £12, £15 and £20/month goodybags are eligible for this reward.
giffgaff’s ‘Always-On-Data’ plan gives you unlimited downloads with 4G speeds (the network doesn’t have 5G coverage yet), however, the data is capped at 80GB per month. You will have access to the internet even after you pass the data cap, but giffgaff will limit your download speed to 384kbps between 8 a.m. and midnight each day, till your next goodybag starts.
If you want unrestricted download speeds, giffgaff also offers a golden goodybag, which will also have 5G in the near future. The unlimited golden goodybag allows you to roam freely in the EU, and you can use up to 20GB of data per month when you’re abroad.
Half Cooked’s Verdict
giffgaff provides flexibility and cheaper prices than its parent network O2, but you should keep in mind there are no extra features or a reward programme on giffgaff. O2’s deals justify their prices with many extras, including Priority.
Pay As You Go
Currently there are two types of PAYG deals, if you want to pick O2 as your mobile network. These are called Big Bundles and UK & International Bundles. Traditional PAYG doesn’t exist for O2. Both O2 Bundles are pay monthly offers, and they come with a data rollover feature. The starter ‘Big Bundle’, which is priced at £5 doesn’t have internet access, but it’s the only exception, with all other big bundles having data. As the name suggests, the International Bundles are ideal for customers who make international calls. O2 doesn’t offer an unlimited PAYG option with its bundles.
giffgaff doesn’t have any specific PAYG bundles, but you can use the goodybags as a PAYG alternative. They are pay monthly deals and there’s no contract binding you, so you can mix and match . You can also use your credit and utilise giffgaff’s network on a pay as you go basis. Credits will stay in your account until you finish them. You can buy a goodybag with your credits and if the bag finishes early, you can continue using it like a traditional pay as you go SIM. You’ll need to top up at least once every three months to keep the free call feature and once every six months to keep your SIM open for incoming calls.
Voice Calls: 25p/minute to other networks and free to other giffgaff users.
Text Message (SMS): 10p to other networks, free to other giffgaff-to-giffgaff.
Picture Message (MMS): 30p to all networks, including giffgaff-to-giffgaff.
Half Cooked’s Verdict
giffgaff provides a traditional pay as you go basis, while O2’s PAYG deals are limited to monthly payments. This alone makes giffgaff the winner in our eyes, however it also proposes decent rates.
Pay Monthly Phones
Both O2 and giffgaff have a wide range of handsets to choose from, and they are also selling refurbished devices. Both networks offer phones from top level manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung, Huawei and Sony. O2’s ‘Refresh’ feature gives you flexibility and some deals even come at a cheaper price, but giffgaff’s phone deals have more value in them and they’re all unlocked.
Customers get a 12 month long warranty if they buy a refurbished phone on either mobile network. While having a peace of mind for a year is cool, it just can’t compete with EE’s ‘Service Pack’, which is a lifetime warranty service for any device you get from the network’s store. This includes refurbished ones too, and you get it at no extra cost.
Half Cooked’s Verdict
While their handset options look quite similar, O2 takes the win here due to ‘O2 Refresh’ and the option to build your customised plan. We also noticed that some phone deals are cheaper with O2 compared to giffgaff.
Network Coverage & Speeds
2G, 3G & 4G Coverage
O2 is one of the four major mobile network operators in the UK, and giffgaff is a sub-brand of O2, which means it piggybacks off the O2 network. They both offer the very same network coverage and data speeds when it comes to 2G, 3G & 4G. However, you get Wi-Fi Calling & 4G Calling with most O2 deals and giffgaff simply doesn’t support any of these features.
The parent network has over 99% population coverage, but in terms of landmass coverage it lags behind the other three major operators (EE, Vodafone and Three). Looking at Open Signal’s April 2020 report, we see that O2’s average 4G download speed is measured at 16.6Mbps and the upload speed is at 5.8Mbps. This means O2 tracks being its competitors when it comes to download speeds.
Before you order a SIM or a mobile phone from O2 or giffgaff, we recommend you check out the networks’ coverage in your frequent areas.
Read our 4G Networks in the UK – 2020 guide to learn more about how other mobile networks perform and what benefits you get, if you choose them.
Half Cooked’s Verdict
giffgaff is powered by the O2 Network, this means they have the same network coverage when it comes to 2G, 3G and 4G. Given this information we have no winners here.
At the time of writing this article, O2 offers 5G coverage in 75 cities and towns. EE’s 5G network is active in 112 cities & towns, while Vodafone provides 5G services in 57 locations in the UK and also in 193 locations in the EU. Three’s 5G network is quite large in the UK too with 68 cities and towns already included. O2 is lagging behind the other networks, but this of course doesn’t mean the carrier isn’t improving.
While giffgaff is powered by the O2 Network, it doesn’t offer any 5G coverage, at least not yet. The virtual mobile network operator is working on bringing the latest generation to its customers, but there’s no date set in stone. giffgaff actually launched 5G on October 20th, but they ended up pulling the service back for the time being, due to technical difficulties.
O2 ranked second fastest 5G mobile network in the UK at OOKLA’s (speedtest.net) October 2020 tests. The network’s average 5G download speed is at 177Mbps.
To have access to O2’s 5G network you’ll need a handset which supports 5G and a 5G SIM card. You’ll also have to be in O2’s 5G coverage zones.
Half Cooked’s Verdict
It’s a clear win for O2, due to giffgaff not offering any 5G services at the moment.
Voice Call Quality
Checking out the voice call tests done by umlaut (a reliable independent testing body), we see that O2 is ranked third out of the four major operators. The network scored ‘satisfactory’ in these tests. This means the carrier improved quite well, given how it was in fourth place the year before. umlaut says the call setup times of O2 were considerably longer than of EE and Vodafone, but there’s also a noticeable improvement.
Open Signal also puts O2 in front of the Three Network in terms of voice call quality, but just slightly. Running on the very same network, giffgaff would score the same, but MVNOs are rarely tested, if ever.
Half Cooked’s Verdict
Running on the same infrastructure, both O2 and giffgaff offer the same voice call quality.
Wi-Fi Calling & 4G Calling
With Wi-Fi Calling you can make calls even if you don’t have any signal. Rather than using your mobile network’s connection, your phone can make a call via a Wi-Fi network.
And when 4G Calling is enabled on your mobile device, your calls can be carried over 4G. This means you won’t drop down to 3G or 2G during calls.
SIM Only customers of O2 can use both these two features without any extra payment. Remember to check if your phone supports Wi-Fi Calling and 4G Calling (VoLTE). Some android handsets might run into problems if they are not directly purchased from an O2 Store.
Sadly, giffgaff customers miss out on both these perks. giffgaff’s COTO Steve McDonald said the network is looking into Wi-Fi Calling and 4G Calling possibilities for giffgaff but there has been no indication as to when/if these features will become available.
Half Cooked’s Verdict
With giffgaff not supporting either feature, O2 wins this section without a doubt. We’ll update this if giffgaff ever supports Wi-Fi Calling and/or 4G Calling.
With over 16,000 Wi-Fi Hotspots across the UK, O2 allows its customers to get online at no extra cost. All you have to do is to register at one of the O2’s hotspots first, and from that point on you’ll automatically connect to the network’s hotspots when in reach. You can turn this off if you wish. Though these hotspots are actually free for anyone to use, they are still provided by the O2 network.
The actual benefit for O2 users is the ‘O2 Wi-Fi Extra’ feature. It automatically connects your mobile device to O2’s Wi-Fi, when the service is stronger than the mobile network signal you recieve. This means more network coverage and even better voice call quality.
This is yet another perk giffgaff can’t offer. To remain a low-cost mobile network carrier and offer competitive prices, giffgaff has to drop some extra perks.
If you are looking for an even better deal for Wi-Fi Hotspots, then we’d recommend checking out BT Mobile. To learn more about networks which provide hotspots in the UK, you can read Half Cooked’s Free Wi-Fi Hotspots guide.
Half Cooked’s Verdict:
O2 has over 16,000 Wi-Fi hotspots and 7,000 of those support the Wi-Fi Extra perk. Meanwhile, giffgaff doesn’t have any. You can still connect to O2’s hotspots, but they are free for everyone anyway.
Tethering involves turning your handset into a personal hotspot, so other compatible devices can share your mobile data. Tethering used to be limited harshly, but nowadays the mobile network operators in the UK have much better infrastructures and therefore they’ve pretty much lifted all limitations. O2 allows its customers to tether on all plans, including PAYG deals. There are, however, a couple things to watch out for if you are planning to tether regularly and use up a lot of data. You can tether up to 12 other compatible devices per month. Also, if you’re on one of O2’s unlimited data plans, you should be aware that there’s a monthly fair usage limit of 650GB. There’s also a 20GB international roaming data cap within Europe. If you exceed this limit, O2 will charge you at 0.4p/MB.
giffgaff allows tethering on all ‘goodybags’ and pay as you go options. If you are on the network’s Always-On plan, we must remind you that data speeds are throttled between 8am and midnight, if you end up using more than 80GB in a month. When it comes to international roaming on the £25 Always-On goodybag, once you use 80GB of data giffgaff will start charging you 0.36p/MB while roaming in the EU. As for the £20 goodybag, you are only allowed to tether 20GB of your data.
At the moment, we believe the best tethering deals are offered by the Three Network. There are no restrictions to how many devices you can tether to, no speed caps or fair usage limits. On top of that, all Three customers get 71 inclusive roaming destinations.
Half Cooked’s Verdict
O2’s tethering comes with a 650GB fair usage limit, meanwhile if you’re on giffgaff’s Always-On goodybag speed restrictions apply once you use 80GB of data in a month. If it wasn’t for the massive speed downgrade, giffgaff would be our winner, but given the circumstances it’s a win for O2.
Due to changes in EU Roaming regulations, UK customers are no longer charged extra to make calls, send texts or use data within the EU.
Both O2 and giffgaff provide inclusive roaming in 48 destinations in the EU. However, this is as far as giffgaff goes.
If you are travelling outside of O2’s Europe Zone, there’s a chance you may still have inclusive roaming. Some of the more expensive O2 tariffs have the ‘O2 Travel Inclusive Zone’, which increases the number of destinations to a total of 75 by adding USA, Australia, New Zealand and 24 others.You get a daily allowance of 120 minutes, 120 texts and unlimited data, but speed capped data. If your plan isn’t eligible for the ‘Inclusive Zone’ perk, there’s an add-on called ‘O2 Travel’ priced at £4.99 a day. This add on resets on a daily basis at midnight, meaning your unused minutes & texts won’t rollover to the next day.
In the case of giffgaff, as stated above there are no perks or add ons for international roaming. However, the network manages to keep charges fairly reasonable outside the EU and offers cheaper rates compared to O2.
To learn more about international roaming deals, we have a detailed roaming abroad guide.
Half Cooked’s Verdict
O2’s premium deals have 75 inclusive roaming destinations across the world compared to giffgaff’s 48 within the EU. You’re also given a daily add-on option on O2. giffgaff offers better roaming rates, but that’s all.
Priority is a free service, exclusive to O2 mobile customers. It contains a mixture of daily and weekly exclusive offers, and also some other offers which are “Open2All”. These exclusive offers include discounts with high street brands, tickets to gigs and events, and restaurant vouchers.
Refresh splits your O2 pay monthly bill in two parts. The device plan includes the cost of your phone or tablet and the airtime plan is the cost of your minutes, texts and data. Thanks to O2 Refresh, you can complete your device’s payment plan anytime you want and upgrade to a new device if you wish. However, you can’t do the same for your airtime plan.
O2 Bolt Ons
O2’s Bolt Ons are add-ons you can add to your account and pay for them monthly at the same time. They are quite useful when you’re running low on data, minutes or texts. You can also get Bolt Ons for calling abroad or to benefit from some international roaming perks.
Unlimited Data Plans
O2 offers two different unlimited data plans and they are both for SIM only customers. These plans are essentially the same, the only difference is the length of contract. The longer contract is priced at £33/month, locking you in with O2 for 18 months. The shorter deal is for 12 months, priced at £35/month. Both tariffs come with the ‘O2 Travel Inclusive Zone’ perk and 6 months Disney+ membership.
On O2’s unlimited plans, you are allowed to use a maximum of 650GB/month and the network limits your tethering to a maximum of 12 devices. If this is a deal-breaker, you might want to check out our unlimited data plans guide. We can recommend SMARTY and Superdrug Mobile‘s unlimited data plans specifically, if you’re okay with giving up on great extra features O2 offers. They’re both powered by Three’s network, offering similar unlimited data deals. You can read our SMARTY Review and Superdrug Mobile Review to discover what makes them super wallet-friendly.
Being in control and designing a suitable plan for what you specifically need is a great option offered by O2. You can customise your upfront payment and data allowance. You are also allowed to spread the balance starting from as little as 3 months, up to 36 months. O2 lets customers change their tariffs on a monthly basis, so you can have exactly what you need.
If you’re an O2 pay as you go customer (Big Bundles and UK & International Bundles), your unused data will roll over to the next month. This feature only works when you stay on the same bundle though, if you move to a different bundle your data rollover will reset. Bundles must be renewed on the same day they expire, or else rolled over data will be deleted from your account.
O2’s Family Plan will let you add up to 20 more tariffs under one main account. A customer can get up to a 40% discount when they buy additional plans. These have to be pay monthly deals though. O2 also offers £25 Amazon vouchers for bringing in family members. They have to join the network via your referral link, then both you and the family member can get rewards.
You might want to check out our Family Mobile Plans in 2020 guide, before you make your final decision.
The goodybags are probably the most unique offer in the UK’s mobile market. On giffgaff one can use multiple plans in a single month, for example utilise multiple goodybags and then use any leftover credit balance on a per min,SMS or MB basis, like a traditional pay as you go SIM. Your giffgaff SIM will stay active for 6 months, even if you don’t use it at all and it won’t cost you a thing. You can start your next goodybag whenever you wish during this time period. The network will also send you a detailed usage summary and recommend you a goodybag after analysing your behaviour.
1GB Extra Data Boost
To activate the 1GB extra data boost, a customer must be on giffgaff for at least three months. After their third purchase, giffgaff users get 1GB of extra data added to their bags. This perk is only available on the £10, £12, £15 and £20 goodybags.
This is giffgaff’s take on unlimited data plans, however it comes with certain restrictions. Priced at £25/month, this is the most expensive goodybag offering customers unlimited data usage. However, there’s a fair usage limit at 80GB every month. Your download speed will be restricted to 384kbps between 8am and midnight, if you use more than the fair usage cap in a month.
If you’re looking for a low-cost unlimited data plan with no restrictions, we’d recommend checking out SMARTY’s deals. There are no speed restrictions on the network; plus you can still be flexible and jump between different plans every month. You may also want to read our SMARTY vs giffgaff review, if you can’t decide between the two providers.
The network has a programme called ‘Payback Time’ and this has been the backbone of its unique online community over the years. giffgaff will reward you with ‘Payback Points’ when you bring friends and family on board, give helpful advice on the network’s official forums or suggest ideas to make it even better. You can convert these points to cash, phone credit or a donation to charity twice a year. Payouts are in every June and December.
No Credit Check
It doesn’t matter if you’re under 18, have poor credit or perhaps you have recently moved into the UK, you can easily get yourself a giffgaff SIM. There are no credit checks on giffgaff for purchasing a SIM, simple as that. Buying a handset from giffgaff is a different story though. For that you’d have to undergo a credit check.
Online Community Support
While the network’s very own customer support is limited, the online community of giffgaff is quite active and strong. The members are nice and helpful, the forums are well moderated and questions get answered fairly fast. On top of that, being active on the forum and helping others earn you ‘Payback Points’!
Half Cooked’s Verdict:
We can’t deny that giffgaff offers a couple useful unique features and an awesome community, but O2’s extras are just much better. Priority alone makes a huge difference between the two networks.
Half Cooked’s Overall Breakdown
At the end of the day giffgaff is powered and owned by O2 and the parent network makes sure there are a few key differences between itself & giffgaff. The major difference is; O2 has 5G coverage, but we don’t know when giffgaff will launch its 5G.
Also, if you value 4G Calling, Wi-Fi Calling, extras that come with Priority etc. you’ll need to pay more and join O2. If a lower cost option is all you need then giffgaff will suit you better.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are giffgaff goodybags?
Goodybags are effectively a PAYG service on giffgaff. They are prepaid bundles with either topped up credit or automatic renewal via direct debit. They last for one calendar month, but if you use up one, you can start a new bag right away.
What are giffgaff Payback points?
The Payback programme is giffgaff’s way of rewarding its customers. When you do something that helps giffgaff or the community you earn Payback points. You can also earn points by referring friends and family members to giffgaff.
1 Payback point = £0.01
Payback payouts happen twice a year, in June and December.
giffgaff customers can take their Payback as cash, credit, or a donation to charity.
Does giffgaff have 5G?
No, currently giffgaff doesn’t offer any 5G services, but it’s officially announced and it’s coming. The network is having trials at the moment and most likely it will launch 5G before the end of 2020.
When will giffgaff launch 5G?
There’s no set in stone date for when giffgaff will launch its 5G, however, the network is having closed trials. There’s a chance it will launch before the end of 2020.
Which network does giffgaff use?
giffgaff is powered by O2’s network. Being a mobile virtual network operator, giffgaff has to piggyback off a major network. giffgaff is owned by Telefónica (who also owns O2), it was launched on 25 November 2009 in the UK.
Does giffgaff have Data Only SIMs?
No, not anymore. giffgaff stopped this offer some time ago.
Is it possible to get unlimited data on giffgaff?
Yes, giffgaff’s has an unlimited data plan and it’s called “Always-on-Data”. Priced at £25 it’s the most expensive deal giffgaff offers to its customers. However, there’s a catch, as only the first 80GB of data in this plan is at full 4G speeds. The moment you pass the 80GB data cap, maximum download speed will be reduced to 384kbps between 8am and midnight.
Do goodybags rollover?
No, goodybags allowances do not roll over, once they expire that’s it. Each goodybag bundle will last for 30 days and once the time is up any leftover data will be removed.
Does giffgaff offer any free use of social media apps?
No, unfortunately, at the time of writing this article there’s no such offer from giffgaff. We’d recommend VOXI for endless social media usage.
Does O2 have 5G?
Yes, O2 is the third major network in the UK to launch a 5G service. Currently, O2 is the second fastest 5G mobile network provider in the UK, and they also have the second largest 5G coverage.
Does O2 support Wi-Fi Calling?
Yes, O2 offers Wi-Fi Calling as a feature, but to be able to use it you have to be on a SIM Only contract and your device must be compatible.
Does O2 have 4G Calling?
Yes, O2 supports 4G Calling, but you’ll need a compatible phone and you also have to be on a SIM Only plan. Bear in mind that if you didn’t buy your handset directly from an O2 store, you might run into some problems.
Is O2 Priority free, do I need to pay for it?
You don’t have to pay for O2 Priority. It’s a free loyalty programme, but it’s exclusive for O2 customers. You won’t get access to it being a giffgaff customer.
Why can’t I use O2 Priority?
If you are a new O2 customer, you might have to wait for Priority’s database to catch up with you. Till then your number might not be recognised by the app. If you still can’t access the app after a couple of days, contact O2’s customer support.
How long will it take for my number to transfer to O2?
Usually this process takes less than 24 hours. You should be able to make phone calls within just a few hours, but texting will probably take longer. If you still can’t send text messages after 24 hours, you should contact O2’s customer support.
How fast is O2’s 4G?
Open Signal’s April 2020 reports state that O2’s average 4G download speed is at 16.6Mbps and its upload speed is around 5.8Mbps. Open Signal is one of the most reliable testing bodies.
Is it possible to keep your number when switching to O2?
Yes, it is possible and very easy to keep your number. All you need is a PAC (Porting Authorisation Code) code, which will be provided by your old network to you. Then you should send this code to O2 and they will do the rest.
Are O2 and giffgaff the same?
No, they are not the same. O2 is a major mobile network operator and it has its own infrastructure. giffgaff is a sub-brand to O2 and it runs on O2’s network, which makes giffgaff a mobile virtual network operator(MVNO).
Who owns O2?
O2 UK is a telecommunications services provider in the UK and it’s owned by the Spanish multinational corporation Telefonica.