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Global Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure from Virta

Electric vehicle cloud-based platform

With the explosion in sales of electric vehicles (EVs) the global infrastructure supporting EV charging stations is exploding as well. What is also developing is the software needed to run these charging stations – and Finland’s Virta is leading the way, supporting both users and suppliers while creating a global industry standard.

European Market leader Virta doesn’t do hardware or get involved with installing EV charging stations. What it does do is develop systems that are compatible, no matter what the hardware or charging station being installed. To put it another way, Virta’s cloud-based platform includes everything needed to build a charging business, from charging infrastructure management to end customer services and smart energy management solutions. It is an end-to-end solution for EV charging, providing services for companies who own and operate charging stations, as well as services for companies who want to provide mobile apps for drivers and want to handle payments and money flows. Virta’s digital platform connects all of these hundreds and thousands of companies together so that EV drivers can charge their cars anywhere, whether that’s in Europe or around the globe, connecting charging station operators to hundreds of thousands of EV drivers

But different companies in different countries use different kinds of hardware – and this is where Virta’s solution really shines.

“There are a lot of different charging station models around the world,” explains Jussi Ahtikari, CTO at Virta. “Our solution is currently compatible with more than 200 of them and we’re growing that number all the time. This is critical, since there is a clear market need for an open platform that works with all kinds of hardware and all across the globe.”

Virta is a universal EV solution, removing the  the need to download apps every time you drive to another country and need to charge your car. It is is your one stop shop for EV charging.

Virta has several different customers. The first is companies who own the charging stations, such as utility companies or hotels or anyone else offering EV charging. Virta provides management software that is connected to the charging station and allows the company to process payments, troubleshoot, see what needs maintenance, and get an overview of usage so they can optimize accordingly.

The second group is people owning or driving an EV. Virta provides payment solutions and a mobile app that allows the user to see all available charging stations from all the different companies in the Virta network.

“Essentially, our business model services both the consumer and the provider,” says Ahtikari. “This is different from other companies working in this space. Some provide both hardware and software, which means they manufacture the charging station and then provide a simple software solution to manage it.”

When you buy a solution that has both hardware and software you can get locked in, unable to easily change to a different software solution or buy new hardware from another company. Virta’s open solution, which allows customers to get whatever hardware they want from whomever they want and even have ten different models on the market, offers much needed flexibility and helps avoid the headaches of lock in effects.

Challenges & Solutions

When you’re working with global payment solutions, there are a number challenges that need to be addressed. Mobile payment systems can sound simple, but in reality, they can be quite complex, particularly when you’re talking about cross-border payments.

“Last year, I drove my EV to Sweden and had difficulties charging it because to use the local charging solution I had to download an app, register, then wait for verification to arrive at my home – where I wasn’t at. It just didn’t work smoothly,” explains Ahtikari. “There are local regulations and other challenges when it comes to payments, such as which currency the payment will be in, who gets the taxes, etc. In the end it’s a complicated issue – it’s not like a regular gas station, where you have local terminals where you just pop in your card.”

Virta is addressing these challenges by offering EV drivers the entire Virta network, which reaches across nearly 30 countries. This means you need just one account to access EV charging stations, location maps, and other features in any of the countries ´Virta operates in. Virta is also building a roaming map for charging networks, which is basically like telecom roaming, where you use the local network for your phone.

Speaking of roaming (and connectivity)

Charging stations using Virta’s solution are equipped with Tele2 IoT SIM cards, but this wasn’t always the case. When Virta first started offering its solution in 2014, they worked with a local Finnish telco, connecting around 30 charging stations.

“We noticed pretty quickly that as our operations expanded into more and more countries, we needed a better connectivity solution,” says Ahtikari. “We didn’t want to negotiate with individual operators every time we entered a new country, so we needed a telecom that could offer global connectivity, as well as roaming. Tele2 IoT had the right agreements with operators across the globe.

Tele2 IoT’s roaming solution was also a consideration, as we need to always be able to ensure that if one network is down or otherwise not available, we can quickly connect to another. If we don’t have a connection at a charging station, we’re losing business.

Jussi Ahtikari CTO Virta

The need for mission critical connectivity is particularly acute in rural areas.  In many cities, there are plenty of easily available charging stations but the further you move away from the city the less charging stations you’ll find. And if the one you do find isn’t connected it’s not going to be like running out of gas – you can’t ask the local farmer to borrow a can of electricity to get to the next station. So, having the best available network is vital to Virta’s solution.

Because Virta works in 40+ different countries and with thousands of different customers all over the world, they needed an easy way to make and manage different configurations of their deployment. The answer? 2CONTROL (Cisco IoT Control Center), which allows them to easily adjust rate plans and communication plans for different use cases and different markets.

“Connectivity of electric vehicle charging stations are a key part of the Virta-platform,” explains Jussi Ahtikari. “We need an easy way to deploy SIM-cards used in new charging stations and manage the SIM cards in the stations which are already deploy, as well as follow, analyse and solve different problems. Control Center provides as good functionality to manage big number of SIM-cards in an easy way. Also, automation of different operations makes life a lot easier, since managing hundreds of thousands of SIM-cards and IoT devices would otherwise be really difficult. Control Center allows us to focus on our own business, and not to use too much time to learn and manage all the difficulties of connectivity of our devices.”

The future

In 2013, when Virta was founded around the idea of creating one common solution for charging stations, the company had just three employees on staff. Today, it has more than 200 people on staff and was recently named Europe’s fastest growing EV charging company by the Financial Times. The growth is the result of adjusting..

“Standardization across borders is needed in order to propel forward, but right now all kinds of solutions are being pushed out on to the market,” says Ahtikari. “What we at Virta are doing today is very different from what we were doing even a year ago. This is part of operating in a swiftly evolving market that is quickly gaining traction among consumers. Our job is to respond to the changes and make sure we’re providing our customers with what they need both now and what they’ll need going forward. Our solution does just that.”

Virta is already in nearly every country in Europe and has begun expanding quickly outside of Europe. They have just opened their first office in Singapore and will be expanding into Asia.

“There is of course competition but not that many companies doing exactly what we’re doing,” says Ahtikari. “Our competitors tend to focus on particular areas, while we’re looking at the whole picture. The strong point with us is that we can provide this full solution – everything you need in one company. A lot of companies take one angle, maybe a charging app, but no charging stations, or they might have a platform to manage charging station but then don’t have payment solution. The big strength with our solution is that you don’t need to build your own solution as an individual by buying from a bunch of different companies – you get a really good, well-working solution from us, which is very much out of the box, plug-and-play.”

Virta will be appearing at IoT Talks 2022 – Beyond the Visibility Line. You can register for the event here