Poor mobile phone signal hampering public charging

James Batchelor

12 Apr 2024

Electric car drivers could potentially be left stranded at charging points due to poor mobile phone signal, new research has suggested.

The RAC Foundation analysed a randomly selected group of 2,059 Type-2 public chargers across the UK, and found that majority of them were in places where there was not an adequate level of phone signal from Britain's four mobile phone network operators. It means the chargers are not guaranteed to work 100% of the time.

The research found that outside of London, just a third (33.4%) of the Type-2 chargers analysed were in locations where there is acceptable all-network 4G coverage. Two-thirds (66.4%) were in spots where a signal from one, two, three or even all the providers is absent or too weak to work. In London, the situation was only slightly better at 39.7% and 61.3% respectively. 

According to Department for Transport figures there were 53,677 public charging devices in the UK at the start of 2024. Of these, 31,910 have speeds up to 8kW and almost all will be Type-2 chargers.

Unlike chargepoints with a speed of 8kW or faster, chargers below 8kW are not obliged to provide for contactless payment. It means electric car drivers have to rely on mobile phones for payment and to start and end a charge.

The UK's four mobile phone network providers are EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, on which other companies such as giffgaff, Tesco Mobile and others can piggyback. 

The RAC Foundation said that unless all four are providing adequate signal coverage at the chargepoint location there's a risk the charger won't work.

RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding said: “Drivers of vehicles fuelled by petrol and diesel are used to reliable and hassle-free filling up at any of the 8,400 forecourts across Britain.“The same cannot yet be said of topping up the battery of an electric car at a public chargepoint.

“Where signal connectivity at a chargepoint is a problem, drivers might conclude that the charger is at fault, hence undermining the confidence we should be building in the reliability of public charging options for electric vehicles.”

He warned that Type-2 chargers' poor connectivity “won’t get picked up” in the government’s new mandatory reporting system as it only applies to the rapid charger network.

Gooding added: “In order to design reliable connected services that work for motorists we need a better approach to assessing and reporting the adequacy of on-the-move connectivity so that designers, including electric chargepoint providers, can select which of the readily available workarounds would cover for the shortcomings of the mobile networks.” 

Workarounds suggested include wi-fi hotspots and satellite internet provision and, as a fallback, setting the charger to default to provide a free charge.

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