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WHAT MORE CAN BE DONE? UK chargepoints struggle with weak mobile signal coverage

Updated: Apr 15

A significant number of Britain's electric vehicle (EV) chargers are hindered by poor mobile signal connectivity, posing challenges for drivers needing to recharge, according to a study by the RAC Foundation. This shortfall in design could affect the usability of thousands of charging stations nationwide.

The Department for Transport reports that as of early 2024, there were 53,677 public charging devices across the UK. Notably, 31,910 of these chargers offer speeds up to 8kw and primarily include Type-2 chargers. These slower chargers, unlike their faster counterparts, do not require the ability to process contactless payments and typically necessitate mobile app access by users.

A critical issue identified is that most of these chargers also require a robust mobile signal for operation. With Britain's mobile network reliant on four main providers—EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone—and other smaller operators depending on these networks, consistent coverage is crucial. However, the study found that a substantial majority of Type-2 chargers do not receive adequate signal strength from all four providers to ensure reliable service.

The investigation involved a randomly selected sample of 2,059 Type-2 chargers, revealing that only 33.4% outside London had sufficient all-network 4G coverage. In contrast, a staggering 66.4% were located in areas with insufficient mobile coverage from at least one provider. In London, the situation showed marginal improvement with 39.7% coverage.

The impending shutdown of the national 3G network by 2033 adds urgency to the situation. Already, Vodafone has deactivated its 3G service, with EE and Three to follow suit this year, and O2 next year.

Several potential solutions to mitigate these connectivity issues include the provision of limited Wi-Fi hotspots, use of roaming SIM cards, and installation of external antennae. Further alternatives involve distributing roaming RFID cards more broadly and leveraging satellite internet services from providers like Starlink and OneWeb.

The RAC Foundation's findings coincide with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) report, which noted a slight decline in the market share of new battery electric vehicles. In response, the SMMT has advocated for incentives such as reduced VAT on public charging and halved VAT on new electric vehicle purchases to bolster the EV market.

Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation, 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. 

“In many instances the mobile phone has become the key to unlocking the potential of the electric car. Unfortunately, that key does not always work. 

“The mobile phone is already deeply embedded in our daily lives, not least when it comes to driving where we rely on a good mobile connection to inform our sat navs, pay for parking and to unlock electric chargers. 

“But all these systems need to be designed with an eye sharply focused on real-world network coverage, which is often patchy, sometimes non-existent, and not about to become infinitely better. 

“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. 

“What’s more, the poor connectivity won’t get picked up in the new mandatory reporting system applying only to the rapid charger network. 

“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.” 


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