Vodacom’s relationship with Rain is under investigation, with concerns that Vodacom is unlawfully accessing Rain’s spectrum and offering access to infrastructure on a discriminatory basis.
A primary concern is that Rain’s spectrum is used by Vodacom subscribers, even when Vodacom has good coverage in an area.
There is also no indication to a Vodacom customer that they are roaming on Rain’s network, and it is not possible for subscribers to disable roaming on their phones.
Considering the concerns, it is understandable that Cell C and MTN have complained to ICASA and the Competition Commission about the Vodacom-Rain deal.
Rain CEO Duncan Simpson-Craib dismissed the concerns, saying they went through a thorough legal process to ensure they were 100% within the regulations.
He said Rain wants other operators to roam on its network and hopes to “reach agreements in the near future”.
The roaming agreement
Vodacom said its agreement with Rain provided the opportunity for subscribers to roam on the Rain network, giving them better coverage and less congestion.
Vodacom opted not to apply roaming tariffs to this, and a Vodacom subscriber consumes voice and data allocations from their prevailing tariff plan.
This means subscribers pay the same amount for usage, irrespective of whether they use the Vodacom or Rain network.
Vodacom said advances in technology allow roaming in a transparent manner to a subscriber.
This provides a more elegant solution, as long as there is no possibility for bill shock due to higher tariffs on the “foreign” network.
As the Vodacom tariff plan remains unchanged for roaming, this removes the need for customer to manage the roaming setting manually.
The result is a transparent service which Vodacom said has resulted in happier subscribers.
No roaming icon
What is curious about Vodacom roaming on Rain’s network is that it appears to a user as the Vodacom network.
The reason for this is that the same mobile network code (and mobile country code) is broadcast for Vodacom and Rain’s spectrum.
Vodacom said Rain – and not Vodacom – transmits the Vodacom public land mobile network (PLMN ID) from its base stations, in addition to its own RAIN PLMN ID.
This is a function of the 3GPP standards, which allow a network to transmit up to five PLMN IDs, in addition to its own.
The capability is therefore not unique to the Vodacom-Rain agreement and has been deployed by operators globally.
Rain can broadcast other operators’ PLMN IDs on its network if more roaming agreements are reached.
Vodacom said advances introduced by 4G and the evolution of the 3GPP standards made more efficient methods of implementing roaming possible.
The ability to provide seamless roaming to subscribers between networks is one of the advantages.
“There is also no requirement to see the roaming icon while on the Rain network, as there is no difference in tariffs,” said Vodacom.
No carrier aggregation
Carrier aggregation is a valuable feature of LTE-A, as it increases peak speeds and network capacity by combining fragmented spectrum allocations.
Vodacom said carrier aggregation is not currently implemented on any sites using Vodacom and Rain’s spectrum.
This means a Vodacom subscriber can attach to either the Vodacom or the Rain network, but not both at the same time.
Roaming customers on the Rain network can, however, aggregate between Rain’s frequency bands – 1,800MHz and 2,600MHz.