Roaming and making mobility simple and sustainable: A conversation with Wilhelm Henriksson and Sajal Chakravarty

EV industry insiders know that roaming forms the backbone of public charging. Without it, drivers would be stuck with island solutions and anything but a carefree EV experience.

To outsiders, the term “roaming” may bring back memories of 400 euro cell phone bills from the 2000’s after an international trip, when you would “roam” on another network in another country. This principle is largely how roaming in EV charging works (without the hefty bills).

Different charge point operators and emobility service providers connect to one another through roaming. It’s what enables the interchange of customers between providers with minimal friction for the driver. Customers of one network can “roam” on another, allowing them to use a single service to access more charge points both at home and abroad.

We recently sat down with Wilhelm Henriksonn, Plugsurfing’s previous Product Manager for the Roaming Marketplace team and now our Strategy and BI Lead, and Sajal Chakravarty, our newest team member who will manage the Roaming Marketplace, to talk about the philosophy behind their work.

As you could imagine, roaming is not simple. That’s why we’ve built the Roaming Marketplace, our tool within the Plugsurfing Power Platform that facilitates roaming for all of our partners. Read on to learn more about Wilhelm, Sajal, and roaming at Plugsurfing!

Tell us a little bit about yourself, how did you get into product management?

Sajal: I am Sajal – the newest Product Manager to join the team here at Plugsurfing. While I grew up in India, I now live on the mountains in Åre, Sweden. Here I have been enjoying the remote work life alongside some challenging sporting activities such as Snowboarding in the Winter months and Downhill Biking during the Summers. I had never lived around so much nature in my life before moving to Åre, and I would love for more of the world to experience it so that we can get together in leading a more responsible, sustainable lifestyle for the next generations to make the most of as well. I had always tinkered around with small business ventures during my years at University.

When I felt I had reached my ceiling in terms of learning how to build non-linear scaling business models by myself is when I thought to find a job which would let me continue on this growth trajectory. Hence I got into Product Management – a role which is the perfect mix of tech, business and people problems all in one.

Wilhelm: I was previously working as a business consultant doing projects in various industries and areas. The last project was related to creating a new EV charging business line within a company and that was what opened my eyes for product development. Joining Plugsurfing as a Product Manager a bit over 2 years ago I have gotten the opportunity to directly impact what digital products we build and something that has been both challenging and rewarding. I currently live in Stockholm and am a bit jealous of Sajal who live so close to the nature and the snow which are two good reasons for why I am working in the e-mobility industry – protecting the planet and its snow.

What is the Roaming Marketplace team focusing on and what problems are you solving for customers?

Wilhelm: Ultimately our goal is to help drivers find and access chargers and vice versa to help Charge Point Operators maximize the usage of their chargers by enabling access to a broader user base. In the Plugsurfing Power Platform our SaaS customers can create roaming connections with each other allowing users of one organization to access the chargers of the other with the click of a button, something we call internal roaming. To connect to chargers or users that do not exist in our platform it can be a bit trickier.

As there are many different e-mobility platforms out there you could think of them as small countries of their own; they might have a different language and ways of doing things. To be able to communicate between the platforms a common language is needed so that they can understand each other, much like Sajal and I speak in English although our native tongues are Swedish and Bengali. In the roaming world the equivalent to English would be OCPI, Open Charge Point Interface which is a standard for how platforms can talk to each other. In the Roaming team we are working on increasing the number as well as improving the quality of roaming connections to our platform.

Can you tell us about some challenges related to roaming?

Wilhelm: Well, where should I start. To create reliable and efficient software you want predictability. In the roaming world this is very difficult as different platforms might interpret and do things differently. But to take an example we can choose pricing. When a driver charges at a charger that is available through a roaming connection they are buying that charging session from a company that doesn’t operate the charger, in this context called the e-mobility Service Provider “EMP”. The EMP is in turn buying the charging session from the Charge Point Operator “CPO”.

For this reason our platform is calculating two separate prices for the same charging session so that the e-mobility service provider knows both what the user should pay to them and what they should pay to the CPO. For an EMP like Plugsurfing who is connected to hundreds of CPO:s with over 300 000 charge points you can imagine that it becomes quite a lot of different prices.

An example of a solution in the platform to deal with this is called External Connector Groups. With this function you can rules that groups charge points “connectors” into different groups based on the criteria of the connector. So you could for example put all the connectors in Sweden that provide AC charging in one group. You can then set a price for this group and whenever a new connector that fits the criteria of this group is added to the roaming network the already set price will be applied. In the end this helps us provide a clear and transparent pricing to the end users of our own and our SaaS customers’ apps.

Sajal you are new to both the industry and Plugsurfing, what is your first impression and takeaways?

Sajal: It is an alarming fact that the world cannot sustain burning fossil fuels to support our mobility needs any longer. As more and more governments across the world continue to ban production of petrol and diesel vehicles, the public charging infrastructure needs to scale in parallel as well for things to actually work well. There is a deep sense of purpose working in e-mobility compared to say a job where you are ultimately trying to make people buy “more”. No hard feelings against people who do, I did that too but often ended my days with an unanswered “why am I doing this?” looming over my head. In this industry, it is so much easier to find those answers.

At Plugsurfing I have come to find mission driven colleagues who seem to know this problem space deeply, have seen it develop over the years, and are now influencing the future of this problem space with their thoughts and opinions. The scale of the number of people here came as a bit of a surprise to me really. You would think there were many folds more people and teams here but the reality is startling. Makes me believe that it is possible to do “sooo much” without having a “hyper-growth” style in order to be successful as a venture.

What is also beautiful here at Plugsurfing is the nature of our customers. Often times it turns out that we are partnering, competing, and selling all at the same time to one entity. It is impressive how in this industry we all win together. The Product and Strategy folks at Plugsurfing have recognized this and have been working hard to “productize” the offering so as to be at the core of how OEMs, EMPs, CPOs and ultimately drivers function. Kind of like how Stripe did for payments, it feels like we are doing the same for e-mobility.

What advice would you Wilhelm give Sajal to succeed in his new role?

Wilhelm: Hmm, maybe accept the fact that we alone as one platform can’t provide the perfect end user roaming experience without the help of the roaming partner on the other end. As a community of e-mobility platforms we need to work together to improve the public charging experience for EV drivers out there.