Rain, the data-only network operator backed by Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Capital, has seen its sales more than double since the national lockdown began thanks to a surge in demand from customers confined to their homes.

In an interview with Business Times, CEO Willem Roos said the operator, which was launched in July 2018, had “seen a dramatic spike in growth sinsincee lockdown was announced”.

“Not only do we see existing customers using a lot more data, we’ve also seen a big increase in demand from new customers.”

Roos said rain has seen its customers using 30% more data each month than they would normally do.

With most of SA’s workforce either working from home, or unable to work but wanting to stay connected with family and friends, mobile network operators and other data providers are expected to experience strong revenue growth.

Roos said what also helped “skew” rain's sales figures was that just prior to the lockdown the group had launched a new 5G product to customers, as well as a “24/7" unlimited 4G package.

As it stands, rain is the only operator at the moment offering 5G in SA and was the first in Africa to launch it. 5G is the fifth generation technology that is much faster than what is currently offered by 4G and forms part of the so-called "internet of things”, in which different machines and devices in the home and the working world can interact seamlessly.

Willem Roos, CEO of Rain, expects growing demand for 5G. Picture: SUPPLIED
Willem Roos, CEO of Rain, expects growing demand for 5G. Picture: SUPPLIED

Roos said rain’s major goal this year is the “continued rollout of our 5G network”.

“We’ve made very good progress on our 4G network, but we are very excited to deploy the latest technology in wireless networks, giving super-fast internet to homes and small businesses. That is really the focus for the rest of the year. To continue building out that [5G] network and getting customers on it.”

Roos is expecting a lot more demand for 5G services, given that some kind of social distancing is likely to remain as SA gets to grips with the virus. “We may have social distancing for some time to come and it may permanently change the way people work and operate. They will do a lot more remotely and we believe our 5G is well positioned for this.”

Roos said the additional temporary radio frequency spectrum released by the government in the wake of Covid-19 has also helped rain and other network operators create more capacity to keep up with demand.

“I think you have to commend government for releasing temporary spectrum so quickly. We also got some additional spectrum and it is something we can certainly use to create more capacity. It's not instantaneous, it will take a bit of time to create capacity, but it will certainly help.”

He said the additional spectrum — rain received a further 30MHz — is onlonlyailable until the end of November, or when emergency regulations are lifted.

“According to the regulations we would have to return the spectrum, but I’m sure it would lead into a spectrum auction of somsomert where the telcos should be able to continue to use it.

“There is a lot of capital invested into using that spectrum. It can be economically ververymaging if you don't have access to spectrum afterwards. I think Icasa and government would go into an industry-wide negotiation around the spectrum auction.”

Paseka Maleka, spokesperson for regulator Icasa, said that in terms of Covid-19 national disaster regulations, everyone who had been given temporary additional spectrum would have to return it by no later than the end of November 2020. “That spectrum would be auctioned off in December, as communicated by Icasa previously.”

Roos said rain has no plans to list on the JSE, but didn't rule it out. “Who knows what happens in the future? We may need capital becbecause's a capital-intensive business.”

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