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Rain: the what, why and how of South Africa's newest data-only network

Tue, 31/07/2018 - 07:00

Rain is the latest technological innovation to hit South Africa in 2018. No, we are not talking about the weather, we are talking about Rain, the new data-only network that was recently announced to mobile phone users. 

Rain: the what, why and how of South Africa's newest data-only network

With the distress at high data prices, South Africans have started movements such as #DataMustFall in an attempt to lower the price of mobile data, and Rain is trying to answer these calls for affordable mobile data. Below is the what, why and how of Rain, the newest data-only network in South Africa. 

So, what is Rain and how does it work?

Rain offers high-speed 4G data-only services at a highly affordable price with no contract, no bundles and no expiry date. The single plan that is on offer to customers provides data priced at R50 per gigabyte of data, which is highly competitive when compared to other networks. 

Customers will also only pay for the amount of data that they have used by the end of every month, making it an affordable alternative to other networks in the country. Twenty percent of  the company is owned by billionaire Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Capital Investments (ARC) and former FNB CEO Michael Jordaan is a stakeholder and a director of Rain. This means it has the funds to offer these surprisingly well-priced deals. 

The company has spent the past year rolling out the base stations across the country which support its LTE-A, making their network coverage available in most major cities. LTE-A stands for Long Term Evolution-Advanced, with Long Term Evolution being a wireless technology that is faster than the usual 3G we see on many devices. LTE-A, which Rain offers clients, is relatively new but promises to deliver a true 4G experience. This means faster downloading, uploading and buffering speeds for smartphones. 

At the moment, Rain only offers coverage in major urban areas, with 2100 towers covering a significant portion of the major metropoles in South Africa. Their nationwide coverage is lacking, which could see them struggling to attract customers outside of these areas. Within the next three years, they hope to have up to 5000 towers across the country. 

One of the possible issues with Rain is that it does not offer traditional voice or SMS services, which could be problematic for those who have very basic smartphones or prefer making calls as their form of communication. For those who enjoy using modern apps, you will be able to download and activate data-based applications such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Skype to use for communication. 

Why is it ‘Rain-ing’?

The internet penetration in South Africa is at 54 percent, which is higher than previous estimates that placed us at only 40 percent. Google’s Connected Consumer Study found that 65 percent of South Africans over the age of sixteen are online, which is a huge market looking for affordable data prices.  

The CEO of Rain, Willem Roos, saw a niche in the market and grabbed it with both hands. The niche being the seven million people in South Africa who use their mobile data to access the internet. This number is important, because there are 30.81 million smartphones in use in our country, but only 21 million internet users. And only seven million of these internet users make use of their mobile to access the internet, the rest use WiFi hotspots or the internet at their offices. This means that almost a quarter of these smartphone users cannot afford current data prices. 

Roos wanted to create a concept that was easy to understand and consumer-friendly, hence the simple single-plan offering. Any SEO agency in Cape Town will tell you that putting the customer first is the best way to create a buzz around your product, and ensure they are satisfied. But you also need to think about your competitors, and Rain has quite a few of those. Affordability might propel it above them. 

What does this mean for South Africa’s mobile future?

Rain is still in its startup phase, so we can expect it to have some teething problems. Some preliminary tests done by My Broadband users show that, while the delivery and RICA of the SIM is fast and efficient, the network coverage can leave much to be desired, especially indoors. 

The average download speed for Rain’s service was 21Mbps, with an average upload speed of 14Mbps, and an average latency of 22ms. The peak download speed was 98Mbps. This is a great start for a new mobile network but it does need some improvement.

Rain is an exciting, innovative data-only solution to the very serious data problem that South Africa faces. Our mobile future is looking brighter each day as entrepreneurs create daring new solutions to the problems in the market… and in this time of ‘data drought’ a little Rain can’t hurt.