Tech Insights

Engineers Say More Reliable Network Needed for EV Charging

October 10, 2023 by John Nieman

As the Internet of Things grows exponentially, connectivity issues can significantly hinder device performance and end-user experience. The electric vehicle market occupies a large portion of the IoT, and engineers are developing solutions to improve network connectivity and resilience, which are the foundation of EV functionality. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may seem like a buzzword to those unfamiliar with the terminology, but from smart TVs to electric vehicles (EVs), everyday experiences increasingly depend on devices that require communication and network connectivity to function properly. 

 

Charging stations.

Charging stations. Image used courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

 

A report from Eseye shows how connectivity problems are inhibiting the functionality of a variety of sectors associated with the IoT, but the EV market, in particular, needs connectivity solutions as it occupies the largest portion of the IoT estate. Engineers are pioneering these solutions by crafting dedicated hardware to facilitate interoperability, reduce network latency, and create new infrastructure, such as electric roads, that can provide wireless charging as a complement to charging stations.

At the MIT Mobility Forum this past May, researchers and industry leaders gathered for presentations and discussions about how to continue advancing clean energy transportation options, including EVs. Professor Charles Fine succinctly pointed out the core problem currently facing the EV market, explaining that while the infrastructure and supply chains to produce EVs are robust, the ability to charge all these vehicles collectively is lagging. EV charging infrastructure is still in need of development, and there are network problems that must be addressed to improve EV functionality. 

 

The Challenge of Connecting Vehicles, Networks, Charging Stations, and Devices

The dynamics of EV communication are complex and involve many elements and pathways. Vehicle to vehicle, software to manufacturer, and device to network are only a few of the possible communication permutations. As EV tech develops, these communications become more layered, complex, and simultaneous, making stable connectivity central for safety and performance. 

 

The layered complexity of IoT connectivity.

The layered complexity of IoT connectivity. Image used courtesy of Agbaje et al.

 

The report that Eseye just released reveals two important facts. First, only one percent of the IoT sector reports access to highly resilient connectivity that achieves 98 percent connectivity. Second, the other 99 percent are resigned to poor performance and seek low-cost connectivity options rather than high-value solutions. So engineers have a critical role in creating solutions that will make low-cost and inefficient workarounds obsolete. 

The EV market, in particular, needs such solutions, as charging challenges remain a significant hurdle. J.D. Power has analyzed the U.S. charging infrastructure for every quarter in 2023 and found a high incidence of charging problems and failures. In the first quarter alone, 20.8 percent of EV drivers experienced charging failures. Connectivity plays a critical role in these failures; a high failure rate will prevent EV market growth and significantly inhibit adoption.

 

Improving Hardware and Reducing Network Latency

EVs currently exist in a complex ecosystem of connectivity that has yet to achieve simple interoperability that facilitates efficient communication among a variety of devices and networks.  One solution that addresses interoperability involves the utilization of access gateways or adapters, which function as connectors linking nodes that employ distinct data structures. Researchers have “proposed a gateway architecture that integrates VANET and 4G LTE-A heterogeneous network for enhanced mobility LTE-Small Cells.”

Others are focusing less on hardware and more on network latency, finding ways to ensure communication efficiency, which can be considered a matter of life or death as EVs adopt self-driving software features.  Different nodes in the EV communication network will have different internal architectures, but routing protocols can be developed to overcome these idiosyncratic differences and reduce network latency.

Another option engineers are exploring includes unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which can be used to prevent frequent network disconnections. Nodes carried by UAVs in the vehicle environment can deliver an improved packet delivery ratio and reduce latency. Recent innovations in lithium-ion battery technology are helping expand UAV range, which can support this EV market intervention. 

There are also electric road projects that can diversify charging options and reduce the burden on charging stations.

Electric vehicles are only as useful as the network that connects them. Engineers are playing a critical role in testing and adapting solutions to network connectivity challenges still plaguing the EV market, but despite current hurdles, there are many paths forward that are currently under development.