Full speed ahead for smart charging infrastructure

Electric vehicles are booming, with sales figures climbing steeply year after year. This also increases the need for high-performance charging infrastructure that integrates both user authentication and access control. OEMs, operators and users of charging stations benefit from intelligent solutions that combine convenience and security when recharging. They can be realized via radio frequency identification (RFID) or smartphone-based applications with Near Field Communication (NFC) or Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) technology.

The increasing number of electric vehicles on the roads is also driving the expansion of charging infrastructure. More and more cities and municipalities are offering charging stations in public spaces, both free of charge and for a fee. Companies are also increasingly using electric vehicles in their fleets or at least offering their customers charging options.

However, the market for charging infrastructure is highly fragmented. Each country and region has its own technical specifications, laws on data protection and payment, or certification requirements. This can lead to challenges for manufacturers, operators and users of charging stations — especially if they want to offer their services equipped with authentication and access control solutions across regions, possibly even across countries. They are therefore dependent on secure, scalable and easy-to-implement authentication solutions that simplify charging station management. We explain these challenges below and the solutions available for each.

Challenge #1: Updating widely dispersed assets

Over the lifetime of an RFID reader, reconfigurations may become necessary for a variety of reasons. However, the individual stations of a charging network — especially in the case of public providers such as municipal utilities — are usually scattered over a wide area of a city or region. In the case of large corporations, they are sometimes even spread across different countries. So if a reconfiguration is necessary, this involves a great deal of time and money, since technicians have to physically access each reader. This can be avoided by using devices that can be configured remotely. This enables manufacturers or IT managers on the operator side to install updates quickly and easily. This increases customer satisfaction and represents a significant competitive advantage for e-charger manufacturers.

Challenge #2: Adapting hardware to different technologies

The range of RFID and smartphone-based applications is wide. For manufacturers and operators of charging stations for electric vehicles, this means that they may have to use different readers to expand their market opportunities. The problem: most devices are only capable of reading a few card technologies. For operators of widely distributed charging networks, there is the added difficulty of finding hardware certified for use in all target markets. The solution: the use of universal readers. Some support more than 60 card technologies, including high frequency (HF) and low frequency (LF) RFID as well as NFC and BLE technologies that are increasingly being used on mobile devices.

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Challenge #3: Meeting security requirements

Reliable and secure user identification is critical for both public and private charging stations. Companies, in particular, need to ensure that only drivers with the right credentials (e.g., verified building tenants, employees, members, or fleet drivers) have access to charging stations. For metered charging stations, on the other hand, the key is to ensure that drivers' credentials match their account information and cannot be compromised by hackers or thieves. Encryption mechanisms make unauthorized access to data more difficult. Therefore, readers that support advanced encryption technologies should be used. The hardware acts as a mini-computer that can be programmed to meet almost any encryption scheme — including advanced cryptographic methods that require more computing power. This makes it nearly impossible to decrypt the information on the card or in the signal transmitted between the card and the reader.

Challenge #4: Changing market requirements

Smartphone-based BLE and NFC authentication solutions, in particular, are currently becoming increasingly popular in comparison to the classic RFID card. However, most devices are limited in both their current functionality and their potential upgradeability. This, in turn, limits the longevity of the products as well as the ability to respond to customer needs. A good solution here is offered by readers with robust, open interfaces that make the hardware highly adaptable and virtually "future-proof." This makes them programmable to provide unique features for sophisticated IT solutions and support mobile access control technologies such as BLE and NFC. This significantly extends the life of installed systems and inventory.

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