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Three vs giffgaff: Super-fast 5G At No Extra Cost or Flexible Goody-bags?

In this article we compare giffgaff and Three across a number of different areas to help you pick the right network. Read on below for Half Cooked’s full breakdown.


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Who is Three

Despite being the youngest out of the major network operators like EE and Vodafone, Three is one of the most well-known and widespread cell phone networks in the UK. The carrier made itself quite relevant through great features like 5G at no extra cost and ‘Go Roam’, which is available to all customers for free and offers them inclusive roaming in worldwide destinations including the USA. Three is also synonymous on the UK’s mobile market with great unlimited data plans and competitive prices with key extra features. Three is the first network to launch a 3G service in the country.


  • Has the most 5G coverage in the UK
  • Competitively priced SIM deals
  • WiFi Calling & 4G Calling
  • Free-roaming in 71 destinations
  • Truly unlimited data plans


  • No 2G coverage
  • 3G and 4G are weaker than their competitors

Who is giffgaff

Having launched in November 2009, giffgaff is one of the oldest mobile virtual networks in the UK. giffgaff uses O2 as its network provider and comes with a unique approach to the UK’s mobile market with its flexible ‘goodybags’. The network’s customers get excellent 4G coverage, combined with decent download speeds thanks to O2’s widespread network coverage. They also offer 5G, but it’s only available on Golden Goodybag tariffs at the moment.


  • Unique flexibility with goodybag deals
  • Easy to switch between SIM only plans and PAYG
  • 5G coverage and speeds
  • Unlimited plans
  • No credit checks


  • No WiFi Calling or 4G Calling
  • Smaller plans are at the more expensive end of the market
  • Data cap on Always-On plan

Plans & Pricing

Three’s pay monthly plans are available in 1 month, 12 month or 24 month contracts and like the other networks the longer you commit to the carrier the better rates you get. All of Three’s pay monthly plans come with unlimited minutes & text, as well as 5G coverage, 4G Calling, Wi-Fi Calling and ‘Go Roam’ at no extra cost. Thanks to ‘Go Roam’ Three customers can roam freely in a total of 71 destinations worldwide.

giffgaff only offers one set of SIM Only deals called goodybags, and they come with unlimited minutes & texts. You can also purchase a new goodybag in the same month, if you end up finishing your data allowance.

giffgaff’s goodybags are a good value option for most standard mobile users and the carrier used to be unrivalled in regards to flexibility and competitive prices. However, with many new virtual networks constantly growing and improving, giffgaff started to lag behind. If you are on a tight budget or a student looking for a good SIM only deal, you might want to check out our best student SIM plans in the UK.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

giffgaff’s lower-end to mid-end deals are a bit better than Three’s but the more data you seek the better Three’s offers get. Plus, we can’t just focus on prices alone. Three’s pay monthly tariffs provide much better value.

Pay As You Go

Three is offering four different PAYG packs, including one with an unlimited data allowance. Three PAYG customers also get free 5G service & the ‘Go Roam’ proposition is available on all four offers. Sadly, there’s no data rollover feature, nor extra data for PAYG customers. You may want to check out Sky Mobile’s ‘Roll’ scheme. ‘Roll’ saves your unused data for up to three years and if you want, it’s possible to convert the rolled over data to reward points & discounts. If you want to learn more about what the carrier offers, make sure to read our Sky Mobile Review.

TARIFFMinutes & TextsDataPrice
Three PAYGUnlimited5GB
Three PAYGUnlimited10GB£15.00
Three PAYGUnlimited100GB£20.00
Three PAYGUnlimitedUnlimited£30.00

It’s also possible to use Three’s network as a traditional PAYG service. The network’s rates are below.

Calling Rates
Voice Calls - Special Rate Numbers10p/minute - 45p/minute
Messaging Rates
Text Message (SMS)10p
Video & Picture Messages (MMS)40p
Data Rates

If you don’t use your mobile device as often,giffgaff offers you a decent enough PAYG alternative. giffgaff’s PAYG rates are at 25p/minute,10p/text and 5p/MB data. To keep your SIM Card active you have to top-up at least once every six months and that’s it. You may also combine goodybags and PAYG for your usage.

Alternatively, you can also have a look at SMARTY’s offers. You have to renew your plan monthly to keep your SIM active, but the network offers the most competitive prices out there, plus you can get money back for your unused data. Read our SMARTY Review to discover the carrier’s other unique offers.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

giffgaff in its core is a PAYG service, but you can also use the network on a traditional pay as you go basis. The same applies for Three with slightly better rates. We believe this is a tie, but we’re counting goodybags as PAYG tariffs.

Pay Monthly Phones

Three’s phone deals are generally wallet friendly, plus you can split your phone bill and airtime bill on Three. The network proposes a limited selection when it comes to contract length. You can find a wide range of handset options including budget friendly brands all the way to your flagship Apple releases. However, if you’re looking for a flexible phone deal we strongly recommend checking out O2. We’d also suggest you to read our O2 Review to learn more about the network.

Some MVNOs don’t sell phones but giffgaff isn’t one of them as you can purchase a handset directly from giffgaff’s store. However, you’ll have to purchase a goodybag at least for the first month. The store’s handset options include the majority of the mobile phones available in the market including Apple, Samsung, Huawei and many others.

If you are looking for cheaper alternatives, giffgaff is selling refurbished phones too. You may buy a handset outright or choose one of the instalment options starting from 6 months, followed by 12, 18 and 24 months. All the phones are unlocked so you don’t have to stick with the network.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

giffgaff’s selection is wider, plus you can get your hands on budget friendly smartphones thanks to giffgaff’s refurbished deals. Three’s phone deals aren’t bad, but we prefer giffgaff’s more flexible deals with wider variety.

Network Coverage & Speeds

Three provides 4G coverage to over 99% of the population, however, the operator’s landmass coverage isn’t that great, especially compared to EE or Vodafone. Powered by O2, giffgaff also offers 4G to over %99 of the population, but also suffers from relatively weaker geographic coverage. While both networks get the basics right and provide decent 3G coverage across the country, Three doesn’t offer any 2G services. 2G is not as popular anymore, but it’s still a good fallback option for voice calls & texting in some rural areas. EE is the largest mobile provider with the best 4G network and yet still uses 2G for voice calls.

Looking at the April 2021 speed test performed by Open Signal we see that Three’s average 4G download speed is tracking at 19.3Mbps and upload speed at 6.8Mbps. While giffgaff itself wasn’t tested, we can see that its parent network O2’s 4G download speed was measured at 17.3Mbps and upload speed was at 6.7Mbps. These download and upload speeds are enough to stream your favourite TV series or YouTube videos, as well as many other activities.

As always, Half Cooked strongly recommends you to check out each network’s coverage map before you make your final decision. EE is second to none in terms of network coverage and data speeds, so you might want to read our EE Review and discover more about the carrier.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

Three and O2 offer similar 3G & 4G coverage, and while Three is a tiny bit ahead of O2 in terms of download speeds the difference isn’t that significant. O2, therefore giffgaff also has 2G coverage. This is a slight win for giffgaff.

5G Coverage

Three claims to be the fastest 5G network in the UK, and that may very well be true. They have 140MHz of usable 5G spectrum and they are utilizing 100MHz of it to provide 5G coverage in the UK. This is more than all the other networks in the UK. Available 5G spectrum is surely one of the key factors, but there are also others to consider. Three launched its 5G network at the end of February 2020 and currently it’s live in 194 cities and towns. This means Three’s 5G can be found in more locations than any other network in the UK, but their 5G coverage per location is behind EE and O2. EE provides 5G coverage in 160 locations. The great thing about Three’s 5G is it comes at no extra cost, and is available to all customers including PAYG.

giffgaff is using O2’s 5G coverage, which is available in 193 cities and towns at the time of writing. It’s also the second fastest 5G service in the UK, per Opensignal. However, the only way to get 5G coverage from giffgaff is to choose one of their Golden Goodybags, which are a little more expensive than their regular tariffs.

Three’s average 5G download speeds are around 116Mpbs, meanwhile O2 5G averages around 129Mbps, again per Opensignal’s April 2021 network tests.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

Since Three’s 5G is superior and it also comes at no extra cost, and available on all of their deals, they are the winner here. giffgaff’s 5G deals are very limited for the time being.

Voice Call Quality

The latest network tests performed by umlaut and Open Signal suggest that O2 (in this case giffgaff) overtook Three. EE is still ranked as the best, but Vodafone seems to be catching up.

O2 may have taken over Three, but the difference isn’t that significant. O2’s voice call results were only slightly better than Three’s. O2’s overall voice call quality score is ‘satisfactory’, while Three scored ‘sufficient’.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

With O2 taking over Three and improving at a faster rate recently, the win in this category goes to giffgaff. We’d like to remind you to use coverage maps for each network again to make sure you get the best service in your frequent areas.

Wi-Fi Calling & 4G Calling

4G Calling (Super-Voice to Three customers) is a free service with which you can make and take calls over a 4G network. This feature eliminates most indoor blackspots so you can stay connected and make clearer calls in more locations.

Wi-Fi Calling is also a high definition voice service. With Wi-Fi Calling you can use your internet connection to make and receive calls over a Wi-Fi network. This means you can stay connected even when you don’t get any phone signal.

These two features complement each other and improve your overall voice call quality, but your handset must also be compatible with them. Three customers get these perks at no extra cost, but sadly neither is available on any of the giffgaff plans.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

Another unopposed win for Three, due to giffgaff not offering 4G Calling or Wi-Fi Calling. The network might include them in the near future though. If that happens we’ll update this section.

Wi-Fi Hotspots

Three Mobile customers can get free Wi-Fi on the London Underground at over 250 stations, but that’s all there is. You don’t get anything special in terms of free Wi-Fi hotspots.

Most MVNOs don’t offer free Wi-Fi and giffgaff is among the ones which don’t offer any.

If you want to save data by using free Wi-Fi Hotspots, the best network for you would be BT Mobile. BT has over 5 million free Wi-Fi hotspots & a further 13 million in other countries. You can also read our free Wi-Fi hotspots in the UK guide to see your other options.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

It’s a win for Three, but you don’t get much with Three either. If free Wi-Fi is a must have for you, check out other networks like BT Mobile, O2 or Virgin Mobile.


Tethering means turning your mobile phone into a personal hotspot so you can share your mobile data with other devices such tablets, laptops, other smartphones etc.

Nowadays mobile network providers are quite lenient with tethering. You can freely tether on both Three and giffgaff. Three also doesn’t restrict your download speed or set a data cap. With giffgaff things are a bit different. If you have the Always-On data tariff, your download speed will be capped once you reach 80GB per month. The speed reduction is quite drastic as you’ll experience a reduced data speed of 384kbps from 8am to midnight. By today’s standards it’s pretty much unusable.

If you’re planning to tether on a regular basis you may run out of data if you’re not careful. It might be worth checking out our unlimited data plans in the UK guide.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

No restrictions, no data caps and no limitations to tethering, Three takes the win here. Plus Three offers some of the best unlimited data plans in the UK.

International Roaming

Mobile network operators in the UK must provide inclusive EU roaming, no exceptions. Thanks to this you can take your minutes, texts & data with you on your travels.

At Half Cooked we rate Three’s ‘Go Roam’ highly, mainly because it’s included in all deals for free. With Go Roam you get inclusive roaming in 71 countries. You can click here to see the full list. Don’t forget to make sure to check what rates may apply, when travelling to countries which aren’t covered by Go Roam.

Alternatively, you can have a look at Three’s ‘Data Passport’ deal. For £5 a day and you’re allowed to use your mobile data freely. The daily allowance that comes with Data Passport ends at midnight, UK time.

On the other side of the comparison, giffgaff doesn’t seem to offer anything interesting. You get basic EU roaming in 48 destinations and that’s all. If you opt to use the carrier’s PAYG and use credit instead, data, calls and texts will be charged at giffgaff’s PAYG UK rates. Of course this is only for roaming in the EU. For other countries make sure to use giffgaff’s roaming charges calculator so you won’t face any bill shocks.

If you’re travelling a lot make sure to read our roaming abroad guide, we’ll make sure you don’t miss out on any of the great roaming schemes available to take advantage of. You might also want to check out Vodafone, as the network’s ‘Global Roaming Plus’ perk offers inclusive roaming in 81 destinations.

Half Cooked’s Verdict

Three’s Go Roam is the best base roaming offer in the UK, hands down. It’s better than all other premium offers by other networks except Vodafone.


With Three’s ‘Go Roam’ customers can use their minutes, texts and data allowance in 71 destinations across the world at no extra cost. Best part is it’s available on all tariffs and you don’t have to pay any penny.

Go Binge (Expired)

Three Go Binge is no longer available.

All the pay monthly phone deals & SIM only plans with 12GB data or more will allow you to use apps like Netflix, Apple Music, Snapchat, Soundcloud, Deezer and TV Player without burning through your data. You may still need subscriptions to use these services, the network only covers your data.

Unlimited Data Plans

Three is famous for its unlimited data plans. They come in 1 month, 12 months and 24 months contracts. It’s also possible to purchase an unlimited PAYG data pack.

Unlike most other networks in the UK, Three’s unlimited data plans are actually truly unlimited. There are no speed restrictions or data caps.

TariffData, Minutes & TextsPRICE
Three AdvancedUnlimited - 1 month£26.00
Three AdvancedUnlimited - 12 months£16.00 (Half Cooked Deal)
Three AdvancedUnlimited - 24 months£10.00 6 Months - £20 from month 7
Three PAYGUnlimited£30.00

5G at No Extra Cost

When you get a contract handset, a SIM only or a PAYG tariff from Three, it will always come with 5G data speeds, wherever available and at no extra cost. Three’s 5G network is live in 68 cities and towns in the UK, and the number is steadily increasing.

Existing Customer Offers

Three doesn’t offer a reward system or some amazing deals to their existing customers, but there are still some discount options here and there. When you’re purchasing additional SIM plans you might save about £2 a month. Having said that, we think Three offers competitive prices as is and they might work out cheaper than other networks under a family/group discount anyway.

giffgaff’s Features

Back in the day giffgaff was the go to low-cost mobile network, but nowadays the competition is stiff. Networks like VOXISMARTY and iD Mobile are offering better value for your money, but giffgaff still stands out with it’s unique flexible offers.

On giffgaff you can use more than one plan in a single month, running out of data doesn’t mean you have to wait till the end of month. You can also set a date for when your next goodybag will start once your current one finishes up. Your SIM will stay active for 6 months even if you don’t use it or top-up.

1GB Extra Data Boost

giffgaff’s data boost is available on the £10, £12, £15 and £20 goodybags. The 1GB data boost is added to your plan automatically when you’re with giffgaff for at least three months consecutively. The boost won’t kick in until you use all your regular data though.


‘Always-On-Data’ plan is giffgaff’s name for its unlimited data tariff. This isn’t a true unlimited data plan though, as it comes with a data cap at 80GB. Once you have used 80GB of data, the download speed will be restricted to 384kbps between 8 a.m. and midnight for the rest of the month.

If you’re looking for a wallet friendly unlimited data plan, we think you should have a look at SMARTY’s unlimited data plan. Alternatively, if you want endless social media data and 5G coverage in and outside the UK, you can have a look at VOXI’s unlimited data offer too. Make sure to read our VOXI Review to learn what else you can get.

Payback Time

The Payback Time scheme is a reward programme for the network’s customers. giffgaff members can earn ‘Payback Points’ when they bring their friends/family on board, give helpful advice on giffgaff forums or suggest ideas to make giffgaff a better network. Twice a year they can convert their ‘Payback Points’ to cash, credit or a donation to a selected charity. Payouts only happen in June and December.

No Credit Check

One of the best things about giffgaff is there are no credit checks when getting a giffgaff SIM card. Even if you’re under 18, have poor credit or recently moved into the UK you can get a giffgaff SIM. Phone deals, on the other hand, are not included. For a phone plan you’ll have to undergo a credit check.

Online Community Support

Over the years giffgaff has developed a very active online community of customers and giffgaff team members alike. These people are super helpful and they answer any questions others may have. Providing help to others may earn you Payback points.

Half Cooked’s Verdict:

While giffgaff has some unique perks, they are no match compared to all the extra stuff you get with Three. 5G at no extra cost, more inclusive roaming destinations, 4G Calling & Wi-Fi Calling to name a few.

Half Cooked’s Overall Breakdown

Three’s price plans offer way better value for money than giffgaff’s goodybags, and you get more variety. giffgaff is still the more flexible option though.

Both networks are good, but Three is definitely the better choice between the two. However, make sure you select the one with the best coverage in your area.


Does Three really provide free 5G?

Yes, Three’s 5G is available to all customers at no extra cost. The network also claims to have the fastest 5G data speeds but it’s yet to be proven.

Does Three have 2G?

No, Three doesn’t provide any 2G coverage. The network completely relies on 3G and 4G for voice calls as well as texting. 5G is for data only.

Does Three offer free 4G Calling?

Yes, Three offers a free 4G Calling service available to all customers. However, your device needs to be compatible with this feature.

Does Three have free Wi-Fi Calling?

Yes, Three provides free Wi-Fi calling to all customers as long their device supports it.

Does Three have data rollover?

Sadly, neither pay monthly nor PAYG customers don’t get to enjoy a data rollover feature with Three. They are the only major network in the UK without a data rollover scheme.

Is Three’s 5G the fastest in the UK?

Three has the largest amount of 5G frequency spectrum, and according to Opensignal’s test results, Three 5G download speeds average around 116Mbps.

Where can I use Three’s Go Roam?

Three’s inclusive roaming feature, Go Roam, is available in 71 countries across the world.

Why is my credit going down even though I have a goodybag?

You might be making international calls, sending picture messages (MMS) and/or calling premium numbers that are not included in the goodybags. These actions will use your credit rather than your bag.

I can’t buy a goodybag, why?

You probably still have data left in your current goodybag you are using. You must have less than 100MB of data on your current goodybag for the new one to kick in. If you purchase a goodybag when you have more than 100MB data, the new one will be queued but won’t activate before the previous one expires.

How to activate a SIM on giffgaff?

Head over to giffgaff.com/activate. It should take only a few minutes. In some specific situations it may take up to 24 hours according to giffgaff’s customer support.

How can I check my giffgaff balance?

Login and click on giffgaff’s dashboard and the page will automatically display your credit balance.You may also dial *100#. To check your plan you must dial *100*7#.

Can I keep my phone number if I switch to Three or giffgaff?

Yes, you can keep your current phone number if you decide to switch over to either Three or giffgaff. All you have to do is get your PAC Code from your current provider. Activate your new SIM, and provide the PAC Code given to you to your new choice of network. It shouldn’t take longer than a couple hours, at max a day.