Cellular connectivity will secure the future of EV charging

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With the growing move towards electric vehicles, there is set to be a huge change in infrastructure for drivers. Filling up will become a thing of the past, to be replaced by charging up.

One of the biggest objections that drivers have towards buying an electric car is range anxiety. Will the car get me to my destination, and will there be a recharging station nearby when my battery is low? To reassure drivers, there is a big push to boost the numbers of chargepoints available.

As an example, the UK currently has around 25,000 chargepoints, a figure that will need to increase tenfold by 2030 to match the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars.

As well as needing to be widely available, a report by the Competition and Markets Authority has set out guidelines for chargepoints – they must be easy to find; charging must be quick and easily paid; costs must be clear; and chargepoints must be useable by any type of electric vehicle.

These attributes all require data to be exchanged, analysed or assessed.

EV charging produces a flood of data

Chargepoints inevitably generate a lot of data each time they are used – this can include the chargepoint ID, the plug-in time and date, unplug time and date, when charging starts and stops and the total drawn in kilowatt hours.

Driver details are also transmitted, such as payment method, account number and amount spent on the charging session. The chargepoint’s owner may also want to capture details about frequency of charging by each driver, as well as the number and type of vehicles using each chargepoint every day.

Data needs also encompass ‘smart charging’, where the charger communicates with the car, the charging facility operator and the power utility to optimize charging. Among other things, this can be used to spread the available energy capacity across active chargepoints, avoiding the need for expensive electrical upgrades.

Connected chargers

Making the best use of this mass of data requires excellent, reliable connectivity – between EV chargepoints, with the user and with the internet.

Three main options are on the table to achieve this goal: hardwired, Wi-Fi or cellular.

Hardwired methods have the speed, capacity and reliability to handle the data exchanges needed, but using them to connect a nationwide network of chargepoints is impractical. With chargepoints expected to be placed anywhere from major shopping centres to small car parks in rural town, the amount of cabling needed would be prohibitive.

Another option is Wi-Fi. Although avoiding extensive cabling and familiar from widespread use, Wi-Fi is also vulnerable to power outages, radio interference and malicious attacks. EV chargers and the data they exchange are a ‘mission critical’ application and need a sufficiently robust connectivity method to provide the reliability needed.

The final option is cellular – essentially, giving each chargepoint access to mobile phone networks to exchange data. With comprehensive coverage, high reliability and robust security, cellular is an ideal solution for chargepoint connectivity.

Benefits of cellular for EV chargers

Rapid deployment

Cellular connectivity is very quick and easy to deploy. With mobile networks already in place and providing coverage virtually everywhere, chargepoints can be installed wherever they are needed. With no restrictions on siting due to lack of connectivity, chargepoints can serve drivers wherever they want to charge their vehicles.

The chargepoints can also connect to the chosen network using a standard SIM card, eliminating the need to connect them to wired networks, such as Ethernet.

Flexibility

Cellular offers a number of options to connect chargepoints. At one end of the spectrum, there is the familiar 3G, 4G and 5G, used by regular mobile networks and offering high data rates. At the other end, the newer Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) cellular is an option.

High data rate cellular is ideal for exchanging large amounts of data between the chargepoints and the cloud. Either 4G or 5G are probably the most suitable for chargepoint applications.

Ease of scalability is another benefit. Cellular networks are everywhere and offer coverage in every place that a chargepoint might be installed. Even underground carparks no longer represent a black spot, as the chargepoints can be reached with small picocells and femtocells.

Using cellular technologies such as eSIM, cellular can provide a very flexible way to keep chargepoints connected and updated throughout their lifecycle.

Reliability

Cellular operators live and die by the reliability they can offer their subscribers. A network that goes down too often will soon suffer an unacceptable level of subscriber churn. As a well-established technology, cellular has reliability baked into its structure. If one cell is experiencing problems, or is seeing a very high traffic density, other cells can step in to take their place. This means that chargepoints are unlikely to experience connectivity outages.

The advent of 5G has also introduced the possibility of network slicing – each company subscriber can have its own virtual network, so data from your chargepoints can be exchanged however you need it. You may need lower bandwidth but low latency for real-time card transactions, in which case network slicing can give you a cellular network that you can rely on to meet your particular needs.

Security

With cellular IoT, security is far less of an issue than with other options. Cellular networks use physical SIM cards to authenticate devices and associate them with a legitimate subscriber, making it easier to trust your data.

By combining this with a properly managed connectivity service and connectivity management platform, private APN controlled network and secure VPN networking, chargepoint operators can be confident that their data is secure from end-to-end.

Building EV infrastructure

Widespread deployment of EV chargepoints requires a combination of device management and a robust connectivity solution. Pelion has partnered with Toshiba and the Data Communications Company (DCC) to look at the issues holding back the greater rollout of EV charging, including security, interoperability and load management.

With its partners, Pelion will outfit a Vestal charge point at DCC’s facility to demonstrate how its technology can be used to create a reliable national charging network that is both scalable and secure.

To be a success, electric vehicle chargers will need to be ubiquitous, easily deployable, reliable and able to send their data securely to the Cloud. Cellular connectivity networks already in place offer all these advantages and ensure that chargepoints can be rolled out with ease to meet the needs of EV drivers.

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