Mobile operator Rain offers an Unlimited 4G 24/7 LTE product that offers uncapped mobile data for R479 per month, throttled at a speed of 10Mbps and limited to 360p streaming quality.
The product was launched on 17 March, days before the government announced the country would enter lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Given its affordable price, many South Africans may have opted for the package in order to stay connected while stuck at home.
Rain spokesperson Khaya Dlanga told MyBroadband the package has been very popular, constituting a significant portion of the company’s sales.
“We believe this is an ideal product for mobile users – particularly in dual SIM phones – as 360p streaming quality is more than sufficient for smaller screens,” Dlanga said.
“As with all our products, the performance of the Rain network has been very good and has coped well with the increased demand.”
He added that if customers were in good radio reception, they would certainly get good throughput.
We decided to check these claims by putting the package through its paces in speed tests, streaming, torrents, and gaming.
Our SIM card was ordered on Takealot for R1 and we selected pick-up as our preferred delivery option, which cost an additional R25. The SIM was ready for collection early the next morning.
Before we could use it, however, it had to be activated on Rain’s website.
After entering the SIM’s unique code, we had to create an account and pay an amount of R479 upfront, after which the SIM needed to be RICA’d.
For this process, we provided a copy of our ID, a selfie taken with the ID, and a proof of address on Rain’s eRICA portal.
The card was activated three to four hours after this and we inserted it into a Huawei B315 LTE router to get connected.
According to Rain’s site, when the SIM is used in a router, it may require manually entering Rain’s APN settings.
However, ours instantly connected to Rain’s network and showed full 4G signal. We connected to it via Wi-Fi from an Acer laptop that was placed about three metres away.
First off, we performed several speed tests on the MyBroadband Speed Test web platform to see what download and upload speeds we could get.
Over 20 speeds tests were conducted during peak traffic times between 18:00 and 20:00 on a weekday evening.
The connection performed slightly better than Rain advertised, as we averaged a download speed of 11.75Mbps, upload speed of 7.30Mbps, and latency of 20ms.
The highest download speed recorded over this period was 12.58Mbps, while the lowest was 10.95Mbps.
Below are the results of the speed tests we performed.
|Rain Unlimited 4G 24/7 SIM Speed Tests|
|Time||Download Speed||Upload Speed||Ping|
We then proceeded to test streaming performance on YouTube and Netflix.
Surpisingly, our video streaming resolutions seemed not to have been limited to a specific resolution but rather by the bandwidth of the connection.
On YouTube, we first attempted to watch a video in 1080p, which resulted in significant initial load times. The video barely started playing before it began to buffer again.
With only 29 seconds of the video buffering every minute, this was a completely unwatchable experience.
Dropping quality down to 720p provided much better results, with the stream loading quickly enough to not to have to buffer.
The connection managed very well at 480p quality, with no buffering at all.
For Netflix, we streamed via the Chrome browser and left the Data Usage setting on Auto.
Using Netflix’s built-in tool, we monitored the streaming resolution on multiple episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
At the start of each episode, the resolution was at a relatively low 768 x 432, which was still higher than the promised 360p streaming quality.
On repeated viewings, after about a minute, the streaming resolution would increase to 960 x 540 and in certain instances, a few minutes later, it would move to 1,280 x 720.
Below are the details – including the streaming bitrate and resolution – which we recorded with Netflix’s playback diagnostic tool.
We tracked latency via in-game tools in Apex: Legends, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, CS:GO, and Escape From Tarkov.
In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s Warzone mode, we were playing with a ping of around 39ms to 60ms, while Escape from Tarkov saw our ping range from 20ms to 40ms.
In Counter-Strike: Global Offensive the latency would fall as low as 26ms and remain relatively stable, climbing to a maximum of around 38ms.
Apex: Legends is the only title of these four which does not offer support for local servers.
Playing on the closest European server located in London showed an estimated latency of 204ms.
Below are screenshots of the various games showing their associated latencies.
Torrents and a VPN
Attempting to download torrents was sluggish, a possible indication that Rain was specifically throttling the service for this use.
We chose to start downloading a 2.8GB file which had plenty of seeds available, and after half an hour, we had only managed to download 102MB with an average download speed of 58kB/s.
To see what type of speeds the package was capable of reaching without throttling, we fired up a paid-for VPN.
We then fired up Surfshark – one of the top VPNs in the world with servers located in South Africa.
Despite connecting via one of these servers, our tests showed much lower speeds than normal downloads and a far higher ping.
However, it resulted in a significant gain in torrent download speeds, with the average speed increasing almost six-fold to 330kB/s.
YouTube streaming was also improved, with 1080p HD and even 4K buffering not being an issue. Even when skipping ahead to unbuffered parts, the video would start playing in less than a second.
Netflix’s streaming resolution remained the same or even worse, however.
The image below shows the progress on the same torrent download after 30 minutes, first without and then with the VPN activated.
It’s important to emphasise that using a VPN is against Rain’s terms of service, as it can drastically reduce the performance of other network users.
These tests were performed in a neighbourhood with plenty of fibre coverage, and experiences are likely to differ based on the demand on Rain’s network in other areas.
These findings may also not be an accurate portrayal of the long-term performance of the Rain 4G Unlimited package.