Electric car numbers are growing rapidly in the UK and across the world. Tesla has just become the most valuable carmaker in the world, overtaking Toyota, despite the latter selling around 30 times more cars last year and earning more than 10 times the revenue.
Hype aside, however, the only way is up, says Paul Marshall, CCO and co-founder of Eseye. It’s estimated that electric vehicles will account for a fifth of total sales in Britain, by 2026. Considering more than 2.3 million cars were sold in 2019, that’s a substantial number of electric vehicles (EVs) being purchased. And with the market becoming increasingly competitive – the UK government plans to ban sales of all diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040 – Internet of Things (IoT) and EV charging companies are constantly seeking ways to gain a competitive edge. One of the ways to get in front is through the connectivity of EV charge points.
Connected charging points
EV charge points need to be connected for many reasons, from processing payments and developing entire new ecosystems around the charge point, to reporting errors and communicating availability to drivers. But off-the-shelf connectivity products are not designed with EV charge points in mind, so are only ever a basic solution. The result is imperfect connectivity, and only a maximum of 90% uptime. That may sound quite high, but for every 10 charges, that’s one unnecessary delay – and one annoyed customer. Over a 10-15 years lifetime across thousands of chargers – that’s a big margin for improvement.
Those that get the design stage right, however, can gain a significant edge. A device with 90% connectivity will require users to wait to reconnect for one in 10 charges, causing delays and annoyance. A device with 99.8% connectivity will have the same wait just two out of a thousand times, which most will find acceptable. So, it’s clear that there are significant advantages to be gained by focusing on improving EV charge point connectivity.
The benefits of getting EV connectivity right
Since charge points aspire to run for a decade or more with minimal human intervention, which is of course extremely beneficial for businesses, it is crucial that they have reliable, uninterrupted connectivity.
Poor, or even average, connectivity reduces utilisation, equalling a huge cost. If it takes a minute to establish connectivity, then that adds up to a lot of downtime, and therefore lost revenue over a year. If a charge point has a reputation for being temperamental or slow to connect leading to queues, people will also soon switch to competitors.
In the short term, EV operators want assets to be as profitable as possible, as soon as possible. Operating such long-term business models in a fast-moving, early-stage market, comes with a risk of being made obsolete by new innovations. The sooner the asset pays back, the more attractive the business case.
Poor connectivity can hit the bottom line
As utilisation increases, poor connectivity could mean several million pounds in lost annual revenue, as small losses are scaled up across thousands of chargers. Charge points are effectively losing revenue for every minute they are not in use. If business is lost due to small delays or user frustration, the point of profitability is prolonged. And the longer the delays, the higher the risk it will become redundant before it becomes profitable.
Better connectivity minimises the small daily delays that add up to big annual opportunity costs. Across an estate of 5,000 charging devices, just one lost customer a day due to poor connectivity could amount to lost revenue in excess of £7.5 million, per year.
Additionally, where charge points are provided as a service to local authorities, building complexes or car parks, service level agreements (SLAs) will often require high levels of availability. Better connectivity will give charging companies an edge when bidding for such contracts and reduce the risk of penalties from falling below agreed SLAs.
Ultimately, reliable connectivity is key to future-proofing. It is impossible to predict exactly what the future will hold, but having high quality, reliable connectivity from the start is the best bet against an unpredictable future.
The design stage is key
As mentioned, the design aspect of the chargers is vitally important in gaining a competitive edge. Most people’s experience of connectivity is mobile SIM cards. Consumer SIM cards deliberately drop connections to idle devices, so operators can maximise utilisation of networks. This makes sense across billions of intermittently used devices, where no one minds a short wait for the connection to re-establish when they turn on their phone.
But for IoT devices whose profitability relies on continuous connectivity, this is a suboptimal solution. Building a highly advanced and agnostic cellular IoT connectivity network is key to delivering the quality of service that will help maximise charger uptime and company profits. In practice, this means that when EV drivers identify themselves at the charge point with an RFID or credit card it works instantaneously, without taking a minute to re-establish a connection.
It is almost inevitable that over the next decade there will be more opportunities from data and IoT connectivity, so building a system that is ready for this change is critical. This extends to being prepared for changes in connectivity infrastructure. When one looks back over the last 10 years, it is astounding how much the mobile network landscape has changed beyond recognition and will do so again.
A connected IoT device installed for the long term needs to plan for such changes and have tools in place to remotely modify their system. Design should reflect expected advances in mobile connectivity, and build in flexibility to adapt to other technological and regulatory changes such as the latest eUICC SIM standard, and 5G or Narrowband-IoT networks. Such innovations have changed the connectivity landscape, with Narrowband networks becoming the new method of communicating with ‘things’, and 5G to connect the world and devices on a scale that has never been seen before.
The opportunity EV connectivity presents
Connectivity is not just a technical consideration – long-term business models depend on it. Good, reliable connectivity often goes unnoticed. But poor connectivity causes delays to deployment, leads to unnecessary downtime, reduces revenu growth and alienates customers – all potentially damaging long-term brand value. As EVs become mainstream, and the industry matures, better connected charge points will be the more commercially attractive proposition.
EV charging companies have an opportunity to aim high when it comes to connectivity, in order to deliver the best long-term service for their customers. They should grab this, by building highly connected devices which work everywhere, all the time, and will continue to work as mobile networks, data flows, connected transport and customer expectations evolve.
The author is Paul Marshall, CCO and co-founder of Eseye.