When managing multiple EV charging stations, it helps to grow at scale with what we call a “single box solution.” Instead of installing individual SIM cards in every EV charging station, one managed cellular router can be used to track and maintain every charging station from one central dashboard. Learn more in our recorded webinar hosted by Matthew Lilya from Ventus, a Digi Company, and Jason Doiron of Earth X.

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Individual SIMs vs Centralized Connectivity: The Single Box Solution for EV Charging Stations

May 06, 2024 | Length: 54:44

When managing multiple EV charging stations, it helps to grow at scale with what we call a “single box solution.” Instead of installing individual SIM cards in every EV charging station, one managed cellular router can be used to track and maintain every charging station from one central dashboard. Learn more in our recorded webinar hosted by Matthew Lilya from Ventus, a Digi Company, and Jason Doiron of Earth X.

To learn more, visit the Digi Industrial Router product page, check out Ventus Wireless, and learn about Digi Remote Manager®, Digi’s comprehensive platform for managing enterprise, industrial and transportation deployments.

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Follow-up Webinar Q&A – Centralized, Single-Box Solutions for EV Charging Stations

Digi International co-hosted a recent webinar on simplifying EV charging infrastructure with Earth X and Ventus Wireless, a Digi Company. The Q&A session that followed the webinar provided some excellent insights.  If you have additional questions, be sure to reach out.

Moderador: Mitch Sinon, Director de Marketing, Digi International

Presentadores: 

  • Jason Doiron, CIO, Earth X
  • Matthew Lilya, VP of Business Development, Ventus Wireless, a Digi Company

Jason, this question is about what your Earth X chargers look like. You mentioned that everybody will have their own charging cable, that will be connected to the station. Are you able to give us any other details on what a charger looks like, or is that going to be saved for the launch?

Jason: Yeah. Unfortunately, we're saving it for the launch. I cannot share it. But I can give you a little bit of high level what that's going to look like. So, or better yet, what it does not look like, I think is equally as important. So, it does not look like a gas station pump. You will not find retractable cables. You won't find any cables, as a matter of fact, because, as I said earlier, you're going to bring your own cable. BYOC is the conversation that we are having. We're very unique in that, in the U.S.

We're not the only ones that are doing that. I wouldn't call them necessarily competition, but we do have another company in the New York, Boston area that has deployed some bring-your-own-cable, or BYOC chargers. We pulled this concept from Europe. During my journey of roaming through 10 to 15 countries over the last couple of years in Europe, I saw that consistency, which is, it's just status quo. Everyone literally has a cable in their car. It's a Level 2 cable. In Europe, the charging standards are a bit different. They use three-phase power. We use single-phase power here for Level 2. And the voltages are different, but in the U.S., because of that phenomenon, because of the standards are different, specifically, we, as in the U.S., do not get on the same level charger because we're dealing with single-phase power and lower voltages. The speed of charging is not as fast as they have in Europe.

And I'm not talking about DC fast chargers. I'm still only talking about those Level 2 chargers. But the concept that we took from Europe is still the same. So, people feel very comfortable, in my observations, across multiple countries. When they get home, they pull their own cable out, they plug it in, and they walk home. No big deal. They're not authenticating. That technology is built into our proprietary cables. That's the only thing proprietary. Well, I should say not the only thing. That's the, the big thing is our proprietary cable and authentication technology.

But it's nice because literally, you don't have to pull out your credit card. You don't have to even pull out a mobile app. We do have a mobile app for registration, and to put your credit card on file, but that's a one-time thing. If you want to log in and check your charge history, you can do that as well, but you don't have to. And you get billed once a month, just like you do any other utilities.

So, when we worked back and kind of reverse engineered, and dissected the problems, and removed them out of the equation, what we found was it was a great, seamless experience for our customers, who actually really, really loved the Earth X charging experience, because it's so unique. It really is.

We thought that they may struggle by having to pull out the cable and plug it in, but actually, that's been a non-issue, practically in all cases. I actually cannot remember one time where a user said, "Nope, I don't like this. It's not going to work for my needs."

So, we validated the market fit. We validated we were on the right track. We actually came to the table thinking, well, you know, I'm an American, and I've heard that, especially Europeans, they made a comment years ago that fat Americans like to sit home and eat cheeseburgers, if I remember the statement someone made years ago, that we're lazy. Americans are lazy. And I think that's a, there is some truth to that statement. But we were concerned that Americans would be "lazy," too lazy to pull out a cable, but that, honestly, it's just been just the opposite. They love the experience.

We don't charge crazy dynamic pricing, like Uber does, you know, depending on where you're going, and the price could change, and the other variables that are in the equation. We use a flat pricing, simplified, about 29 cents per kilowatt hour, on average. No, it's just plain, transparent, open pricing. No games, no gimmicks. We don't play that. Yes, we would actually make better money if we had all the dynamic pricing and so forth, but again, we're not, we don't want to get into the user's head, and we want to respect the users. This is their home. This is where they're living. We want to keep it as simple as possible.

But to answer your question, there are three ports on the charger, that we load-balance across, that you will see as well. That's one of the tricks of the trade. It's a beautiful device. Like I said, it does not look like a gas station pump. It looks more like something that came out of Star Wars. It's very futuristic, it's cool-looking. I think Tesla would give us a thumbs-up as well if they were developing Earth X chargers.

There's a cool factor because we wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing. We wanted the colors to be nice and complementary, versus in your face. When you walk in to charge a vehicle, we wanted you to quickly know which charger is available. If there's 100 chargers or 50 chargers, we wanted you to be able to go right to the charger that's available, know exactly where you need to go, instead of fumbling around.

Matt, the question for you is, "Will I have access to make configuration changes on the Ventus router?"

Matt: Ah, good question. And that's one thing that's pretty unique about Ventus. Since Ventus is designing a solution based on your EV charging, it's a plug-and-play device. So, when we go through all the pre-sales time, looking at building out network diagrams, understanding everything, we build a solution based on that, and that is locked down into the router, along with the SIMs, so there's no configuration changes needed. There's never a need to update firmware, security.

Again, our help desk is there. Should we need to change IPs or anything, our help desk will work with you, but that device is delivered, to go out to your EV charging station, come online, and automatically connect to wherever you're sending that traffic, your backend software. Everything's going to be preconfigured for you.

So, the short answer is no, you don't have any access to make changes on that. And that's a good thing. It's because we're going do all that for you, and then we're the ones that are handling it and monitoring it. And again, it's going to create that consistency across your platform and portfolio out there. So, you're not going to have different firmware versions, or if you'd have different routers in the field, it's all consistent throughout.

Another question for you, Matt, is, "If cellular is not an option at a location, do you offer any additional connectivity service?"

Matt: Yeah, we definitely do. So, we see that a lot, where we're providing services. Sometimes we're down deep in a garage, or wherever that may be, and cellular may not be the best option. So, again, we do have full cellular global connectivity out there. So, all the carriers in the U.S., Canada, global connectivity, but that is not always an option.

So, again, we can bring in broadband connections, DIA connections. Ventus sources and secures the best connectivity out there, so if we had a location, let's say, in Arizona, we will go out there and we will find the best carrier for that location. We look at what speeds are going to be offered at what pricing, and we provide that solution. And again, it's all on a single invoice, so you're not going to the Comcasts, the Verizons, and getting all these separate data plans and wireline connections. We aggregate that all into a single invoice. So, any broadband or DIA connections, we cover full connectivity.

Jason: And I'd like to just say a couple of things on that note, if you don't mind. One of the things that's really important to note is that, from the Earth X standpoint at least, you will never find us plugging into a property's local network, regardless of what the connection type is, wired or wireless. It's just not going to happen, because it's a control thing; it's a liability, in a lot of cases.

And again, we are trying to remove the property management staff from the equation, for multiple reasons. This is not their baby. This is our baby. This is our problem to manage. We want to responsibly manage that. So, it is a concept of, if you consider the property's network as the IT, the information technology, the standard network that people have their corporate apps and email and things like that on, well, what we actually want is to create an OT, an operational technology network, inside the client's network if we end up using the client's network.

What I'm trying to say is we may physically plug into a client's network by exception only. It's very rare. Typically, we bring in our own broadband connection. To Matt's point, if we don't have the wired connectivity available to us, wired is a connectionless technology. It's not a connection-oriented technology. So, it's not a perfect science. And, I can tell you that although you will never find us using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or any of those other wireless technologies, because they just don't fit the mold of our number-one use case, you'll find us either using cellular or broadband, depending on every site being unique. We're talking about snowflakes here. There is no cookie-cutter, simplified, every-property-gets-the-same situation. We take everyone uniquely, trying to apply the same corporate standards, Earth X standards, across everyone, but we only either use hardwired broadband, or cellular, coming out of that Ventus router.

And typically, it is not plugged into a client's network, and by rare exception only. I actually don't know if we even have this at all. If we had to, we would, but we would never directly plug into their network wide open, without using that Ventus box. We would be plugging the Ventus box into the client's network, if that makes sense. Basically, we would be tunneling through an OT, or an operational technology network, created through the Ventus relationship, and tunnel that through, either in general, our own broadband connection, or, by emergency or exception only, the client's network. But the client would never see that. All the traffic would be completely tunneled, encrypted, VPN'd through that, on our own network, for our control, security, and so forth.

Matt: Yeah, that's great, Jason. I'll just add that we're seeing the shift, too. A lot of customers were going onto the network. That's a thing of the past, really. Again, the speed to the market, you're not going through the security of that building location, right? You're bringing your own solution, your own comms. If that connectivity was down at that building, it's directly affecting your EV chargers, so, we're seeing that big shift to get away from the technology that's there, and bundling in your own solution with the EVs charging. So, great.

Matt, please explain your SIM card solution for Ventus. Do you provide donated IMSI range that my network can use permanently.

Matt: So, I'm not too sure on the donated range there, but Ventus supplies all the SIM cards directly from the carrier, so we're choosing the best. So, if we had a location, we may say that one is Verizon and T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T, we embed those SIMs directly from the cellular carriers, we're not working with an MVNO, and we provide that. If you're looking for, specific, we also have private wireless connectivity. So, you could look at private 5G spectrum out there, and provide that as well, if you're looking for large coverage areas and security. But everything that we have is directly, the SIM cards are from the carriers, and we're choosing those best carriers.

If I want to only use public cellular networks for failover, and use a private network based on CBRS, how would you support this approach?

Matt: Yeah. We would take a look with our engineering. We'd happily have a call with you, so we could look at failover solutions between those. So, it would be a combined solution, going over a private network, going over the cellular carriers, and that's where Ventus really shines, because everything is not cookie-cutter, and a lot of customers have different solution and requirements out there, and that's where we have those engineering calls.

And really, what are you looking to do? What are you trying to design? How do we achieve that uptime that you're looking for, and how could we put a solution together? So, I think that would be a great question to take offline, if you would like, and really understand what you're looking to accomplish out there, and we definitely have the tools in our box to solve it. I'm not sure if that completely answered all your questions. Jason, do you want to chime in a little?

Jason: I do, actually. I think something to highlight is that, you know... And I'm picking on Comcast, because I've been a Comcast customer up until I switched just recently, for many, many years. But when I received, as a home Internet user, when I received my original Comcast box, as most homeowners do, they send you a box, and you typically call an 800 number and activate that box and so forth, and hopefully, it all works out, you cross your fingers, and you're online and you're good to go. That's not how it works with Ventus.

So, Ventus, actually, well, does a design session, that my staff has partnered with a solutions engineer, who says, to Matt's point, "What are you looking to do? Let's talk about it. Let's draw it out, physically, logically. Let's connect the dots, and make sure we have a very solid mutual understanding of exactly what's going on, and what your needs are. What are those unique requirements of this particular site, and how do we solution that in the optimal way, that meets your needs, at the right price point," and so forth.

That is not just sending a box and hoping it all works out. They hold my hand and my staff's hand until we are mutually thumbs-up, online, and everybody's in agreement that we're good before we close out the project and now we're in run and maintain mode.

So, that's the dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. And I didn't see that with other vendors. I met with other systems integrators and people that wanted to kind of piecemeal the solution together. But when I came to Ventus, the conversation really changed. It shifted for the good, because I realized that this is what they do. This is their business. They're laser-focused on providing exactly what we're talking about here, and really, not too much out of their core wheelhouse. This is what they do. And we wanted the right partner, and I think we definitely found it.

Matt, do you offer any PCI-compliant solutions if we process credit card transactions?

Matt: As you can imagine, payment card transactions are a large part of Ventus. Today, we manage about 80,000 ATMs, and so that traffic routes over our secure, fully-meshed private network, PCI compliance 3.2.1. We're working on our 4.0, which is the next big release for PCI compliance. So, we can handle any of those payment card transactions, and route those securely to your payment card processor. And again, I think that a lot of education is needed in the EV space out there. I was just working with a customer that was looking to provide connectivity, and they were looking to do this over a Wi-Fi connection, and then they started talking about payment card transactions. They were going to accept payment credit cards for the EV chargers. And Wi-Fi is definitely not the way to go. It's not secure. So what we would do is build out secure encrypted tunnels, through our private network, and be able to route that traffic securely over our private network.

Throughout the presentation, you both touched on the fact that a challenge for EV charging stations is reporting connectivity errors — something like 80%. How does the single box solution solve that problem compared to the individualized SIM cards at each station?

Matt: So, people get these EV chargers, and they have directions, and it says, "Go get a SIM card." They do get a SIM card, they go out, they find an MVNO, they embed the SIM. All of a sudden, they're experiencing issues. They have no idea what's happening out there. It's kind of just what they know, and it's about the documentation, and they're not sure what to do for connectivity.

So, again, then they have to purchase SIM cards for each one, and manage SIM cards for each one. Where you can really take that to that single box solution, and now you're gaining insights into the platform, you're designing solutions with that seamless failover. If you have five charging stations out there, you're paying for SIM cards, individually managing five different applications. You could have firmware change on one that affects the SIM card, where everything could be consolidated into a single device box out there.

And like Jason said, if you have 10 chargers out there, you're paying for a SIM card in each one. You could actually reduce your costs and provide a fully managed solution at a reduction of what you're going to have for a SIM card, and you're not going to have to upgrade all the firmware and everything on those SIM cards. You're going to have everything in that single box solution. Jason, I don't know if you want to add to that.

Jason: Yeah. So, on the percentages-wise, I don't have the identical number, but the back-of-the-envelope number is it's about 80% of charging is done at home. And I stress that when you listen to the news, be careful what you listen to, and fact-check everything, please, because what you hear in the news is the attention is really on DC fast charging. The Tesla's, they're beautiful. The government has an initiative to put a charger on the side of the Interstate every five miles, and blanketly cover the U.S. Interstate system. That's a big task at hand, but it's all centered around Level 3 DC fast charging. That's what you use when you drive from LA to San Francisco. That's the journey. You're on the Interstate, you need to stop and charge. That is not what we're doing at Earth X. That is a very different use case. That is all destination charging, and we're not providing destination charging. That's not what we do.

We will happily refer you to Tesla, or someone who does a great job of that. So, that's the 80%. And most people do not understand that 80%, because they're so listening to the news, which is so geared towards DC fast charging, and that destination charging. But the reality is, most charging's done at home. So, the other statistic I would say is, I think, I would agree that connectivity is absolutely the biggest issue right now. If I had to give you a top 10 list, absolutely, number-one issue is connectivity, by far, hands down. I would say 50% to 60% of all issues are connectivity related. And being that significant, that is why, I said it earlier, by going to Ventus, we removed practically all of those connectivity issues. Not all. Because nothing, no technology is 100% perfect. There are things beyond our control, beyond Ventus's control, and it's just the nature of the technology. But by far, I would say, well over 95% of that 50% to 60% connectivity-related issues immediately fell off of our radar. And that's not just good for us, but for the property owners, as well as, who have now happier tenants.

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