Rain’s fall from grace

Rain used to be a consumer champion with high customer satisfaction rates, but it has now been rated the worst service provider in South Africa with deteriorating network speeds.

This raises the question of what happened at the mobile operator and why online consumer platforms are littered with complaints from subscribers.

To understand Rain’s fall from grace, you have to go back to 2017 when Rain launched its first commercial LTE products in partnership with Internet Solutions.

Armed with a new 4G network and truckloads of unused network capacity, Rain offered users packages ranging between 55GB and 120GB per month.

It was an instant hit at a time when fibre-to-the-home was still not available in most neighbourhoods.

The euphoria was, however, short-lived. A year after its launch, Rain suspended the sale of its fixed-LTE products due to capacity constraints on its network.

Network congestion hurt the performance of its own mobile data products and that of its roaming partner, Vodacom.

This problem has never really disappeared, but Rain managed the network congestion fairly effectively while it was growing its network.

This all changed when the lockdown hit. Millions of people were suddenly forced to work from home and rely on the Internet for their entertainment.

This created an urgent and immediate need for fast and stable home Internet connections, and the ISP and mobile data market boomed.

Rain was one of the biggest beneficiaries of this increased demand, with sales quadrupling during the lockdown.

This rapid subscriber growth came at a price – network congestion reached problematic levels and the company’s support channels collapsed.

Rain subscribers were furious. Their Internet access became slow and erratic and they could not get answers from the company on when their connection would be fixed.

While Rain has been trying to address these problems, network congestion and poor support continue to frustrate subscribers.

Rain’s network performance and ISP rankings

When Rain launched its first fixed-LTE products in 2017, it was ranked as one of the top Internet service providers (ISPs) in South Africa.

As its network started to become congested and slowed down, however, the company slid down the rankings.

Rain’s deteriorating network performance is clearly illustrated in MyBroadband’s quarterly mobile network performance reports.

After Rain launched its first mobile data products, it had an average download speed of 23.38Mbps – in line with MTN’s 26.98Mbps.

At the time Rain’s average network speed was significantly higher than the smaller operators Telkom and Cell C.

Fast-forward two years, and Rain’s average download speed is now by far the lowest in South Africa.

While the other mobile operators have increased their network performance – which is expected because of network and technology enhancements – Rain’s performance has decreased.

In fact, Rain network performance has declined every single quarter since the company first launched its mobile products.

The charts below show Rain’s average download speed and ISP rankings over the past three years.

To put Rain’s network performance in perspective, we included a chart of MTN’s average download speed over the same period.

Rain’s average download speed

Rain’s ISP ranking

MTN’s average download speed

Rain CEO Willem Roos explains

Rain CEO Willem Roos explained the objective for its 4G network is not to provide the fastest network experience, but to provide unlimited data products at workable wireless broadband speeds.

The reason for the average download speed on Rain’s network declining, Roos said, is the introduction of Rain’s 24/7 unlimited product which is limited to 10Mbps in Q1 2020.

The majority of Rain users are on this product.

Since 2018, Rain has increased the number of 4G towers from 2,000 to more than 6,000 today. However, the average number of users on the network has increased at a much higher pace, which will lead to lower average speeds.

“We continue to add significant capacity to our network – particularly on the 2,600MHz band – and as such we are confident that users will continue to have an acceptable experience,” he said.

“You do have to note, however, that average speeds will remain around 10Mbps given our product structure.”

“For the 5G network we do aim to achieve excellent network speeds, with our average consistently remaining over 200Mbps for customers on our premium package,” Roos said.

“Again, speeds are limited to 30Mbps on the cheaper standard package.”

Roos added that they have experienced network configuration issues which have impacted performance on the 5G network.

“We have made very good progress in addressing the configuration problems, and as you noted in your recent test in Cape Town specifically,” he said.

“Although Rain still has much room for improvement, we have made significant progress.”

Customer support

Roos said Rain’s incredible growth, coupled with the COVID-19 lockdown pandemic issues, has “no doubt experienced significant challenges in delivering good customer service”.

“We have made significant progress in this regard by appointing more than 130 staff in our customer service centre, with plans to increase this further.”

He said they have made good progress in improving customer-facing systems.

“Where we had a significant backlog in addressing customer queries, we now have almost no queries that remain outstanding for longer than 48 hours,” he said.

What Roos finds heartening is that in spite of having no contracts on their products, their subscription collection and cancellation rates are better than expected.

“The vast majority of Rain customers are receiving a good experience and excellent value for money. Importantly, unhappy customers are not tied in by onerous contracts,” he said.

Now read: Rain gets nailed for misleading download speed claims

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Rain’s fall from grace