During the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I heard about a disruptive start-up that is looking to simplify the mobile data market in South Africa. I couldn’t resist tracking down Rain CIO Pieter Welgemoed to find out what his company is up to.
The first question has to be: what exactly is Rain when it comes to telecoms?
We are a new disruptive start-up, hoping to disrupt the data market for users. We just have an LTE-Advanced network, so we don’t struggle with any legacy. And we are rolling out about 2,000 sites at the moment in order to bring data to everybody.
So, how is Rain different?
That is a challenging question and one we continue to ask ourselves – and we should keep asking ourselves that question. Basically, we want to make it easier for consumers to purchase and get connected to the internet. What we do understand is how many users don’t understand how much data they need or use. They think they will need 10GB, so they buy 10GB and only use four. So we will focus on simplifying these questions: “How much do I use, how much do I waste, how much can I save, what does my bundle include?” and so on.
I see that South Africa is a country where value is critical. Is that a driver – are operators not making it clear how much people are using?
It is too confusing – there are too many options. We want it to be affordable for sure, but also we want to introduce a simpler model. Whatever you use – whether it’s 1GB or 10 or 100 – you need to make it value for money.
What is the model for customer experience?
The key is to make everything transparent. South Africans believe operators take things away from them. They don’t understand data bundles that expire. Why should they expire? We also want to reduce the T&Cs. Obviously we can’t do away with all of them, but we can definitely simplify them.
So, you obviously have to stay nimble – to be agile, to use a current buzzword. How do you do that?
An important part of it is with partners like CSG. We have to be agile. And we accept that we do not always get it right. What we do is respond and go back and change things. We always aim to improve – go out and try it, adapt it, change it and try again. There is no silver bullet.
That is very much a digital service provider outlook – to fail fast and get back on track.
Millennials are tough and unforgiving customers – but they understand if you make a mistake. As long as you fix it, fast, they will forgive you.
What are the new mobile behaviors? What is different about the next billion to be connected to the internet?
We are still trying to figure this out, but it will different to the previous billion. It is not just about price, although they will be very price-sensitive. Their phone is their computer – so all their banking, school, everything will be on it. For sure, the next billion will be different.
Will Rain be focusing on social media, messaging and so on in the future?
We are working out which areas to focus on. The future is data, ultimately, but we need to understand and present the need for voice. Some say it will disappear, but in Africa people say voice is not disappearing. I always use the example of a dentist – they tend to have a receptionist, so you need to phone them to make an appointment, as they probably don’t have new communication apps. So, voice will be important, whether it is over 2G, 3G, an OTT app or full VoLTE.
There is definitely a thrill about voice communication. It cannot be underestimated. In Asian markets, initially, everyone wanted to talk. It was all they wanted to do, then they moved on. So there must be a niche for voice, albeit digital, and then other services.
How does partnering with companies like CSG allow you to be flexible? How are you going about billing for all this?
We have a great relationship with CSG, they are almost more than a partner. It gives us flexibility and allows us to be responsive. We can decide when you bill, how you bill, whether it is a subscription or product. We are moving away from bundles – 100 minutes or whatever. We don’t want to put the customer in a corner, where this month he uses 100 minutes, next month 200, who knows. You can’t penalize him. We still don’t have the answer, but we always come back to simplicity.
What have you taken up from their product set?
We started with their big BSS engine, which is good and very configurable. It integrated well with our network and we use it for provisioning, services, managing policies and so on – ‘this line, this speed’ etc – and we can restrict [the customer’s] speed and protect him when he reaches his limit. And it can be his choice to be slowed down.
What about pay-as-you-go?
We do prepaid, but not in the old-fashioned sense. We don’t do vouchers, for example – they are too complex, at least in the beginning. Our customers join online, provide banking details, and there is no long-term commitment. If the customer doesn’t like us, he can easily move on so our aim is to get him to like us, so then he will stay!