September 15, 2023

CPO vs. eMSP: What's the difference?

Chevy Bolt charging with Enel X Way JuicePump 50 kW

For most organizations who haven’t yet installed publicly available electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE), Charge Point Operator (CPO) and e-Mobility Service Provider (eMSP) are likely unfamiliar business categories. However, they play equally important roles in the electric vehicle industry.


When organizations install EVSE on site, whether it’s available to anyone who needs a charge or only members of that organization, CPOs and eMSPs are critical maintenance and service partners, managing payments and helping EV drivers locate available chargers and track their charging. 


What is a CPO and eMSP?

Understanding the difference between a CPO and eMSP will help you know which to work with and when.



Almost all public EV chargers, and some private chargers, are maintained and managed  by CPOs. Many EV chargers are also installed by CPOs as part of loan, lease or charging-as-a-service (CaaS) financing models.


CPOs have charger networks that range from a few miles to across the globe. They use charge point management software to remotely manage EVSE day to day and deploy their own or third-party maintenance providers for routine checks and charger repair. 


While CPOs are generally public or private companies, utilities, city or state government agencies, educational institutions, cooperatives and nonprofits. They can even be multiple companies working in cooperation to reach a broader network of chargers or offer more extensive service (i.e., a “roaming platform”). Often charge point operation is only one of an organization’s many offerings.



eMSPs like Enel X Way are entities that work with multiple CPOs to give drivers access to a broad range of charging networks without requiring them to have separate memberships or accounts with each network. EMSPs generally offer this through navigation service provider apps (“EV charging apps”) and websites. In the smartphone and in-dash navigation era, almost all EV drivers will find public EV chargers through eMSPs.


eMSPs also manage billing and payment processing for EV drivers who use the stations, which are often processed through the same EV charging apps that help drivers find EVSE. This is especially valuable for business fleets that need to charge on the go. Imagine a long-haul EV fleet that had a contract with Enel X Way offering them discounted charging at any Enel X Way Level 3 charger. Drivers would need to know where those chargers were along their route, roughly when they’d need to recharge, and be able to pull in and quickly pay for charging with their company card. eMSPs that have Enel X Way chargers in their network are essential to making that work.


How CPOs and eMSPs differ from site hosts

Neither CPOs nor eMSPs actually host the EV chargers, no matter how instrumental they are to the charging experience. “Site hosts” are places that offer public EV charging on their property —they could be businesses, educational campuses, convenience stores, shopping centers, multiunit dwellings, parking garages, and many more. A site only needs to have one public EV charger to be considered a site host, and charging can be either free or fee based.


How CPOs and eMSPs work together

eMSPs rely on CPOs to know where chargers are and for smart charging management. When a CPO adds new EVSE to its network, that information is pushed to the eMSP’s EV charging app and the target audience—whether that’s the general public or a fleet of commercial drivers—can find it.


Because both entities benefit from serving a broader network, eMSPs are seldom wedded to a single CPO, and likewise CPOs generally work with more than one eMSP. To complicate the matter further, some organizations may offer both CPO and eMSP services. In cases where an organization functioning as CPO is working with a different organization functioning as an eMSP, there are several common ways of doing business.


Roaming agreements and service fees

eMSPs will sometimes pay CPOs to list the chargers in their network, either on a per-transaction or negotiated basis. In some cases, eMSPs and CPOs may have revenue-sharing agreements, where a portion of the revenue generated from charging sessions facilitated by the eMSP is shared with the CPO. These agreements can be based on the number of charging sessions that occur or the total duration of charging over a period of time.


On the flip side, eMSPs sometimes provide and charge for specialized services to CPOs, such as software platforms for managing charging infrastructure or improving user experience, roaming capabilities, customer support, billing and payment solutions, or data analytics.


Data sharing and platform integration

eMSPs might pay CPOs for access to charging data or for integrating their services into the CPO's platform. This can enable eMSPs to offer additional features, such as real-time charging information or seamless access to charging stations within the CPO's network.

Conversely, eMSPs may collect and aggregate charging data from multiple CPOs and CPOs may pay eMSPs for valuable insights and analytics based on this data.


CPOs vs. eMSPs

Many eMSPs are also CPOs. As the industry grows, CPOs and eMSPs are expected to continue expanding their services into the gray area between the two. This makes picking out their similarities and differences tricky. In general, they share several similarities:


  • Both oversee large networks of chargers
  • Both primarily engage their customers through software platforms
  • Both can offer EV drivers platforms to pay for public EV charging
  • They are various types of organizations, not just private or public companies
  • Both make money from the other and from EVSE owners, who are in being paid by EV drivers to charge


Both have a few key differences worth keeping in mind:


  • Some CPOs only draw EV drivers to their own network of public chargers, whereas eMSPs are generally CPO-agnostic
  • eMSPs manage drivers’ relationships with EVSE, CPOs manage the EVSE themselves
  • CPOs primarily nurture relationships with EVSE owners, eMSPs primarily nurture relationships with EV drivers
  • CPOs control electron flow, eMSPs don’t


Becoming a site host can seem like a high bar to clear, but it doesn’t have to be. Enel X Way’s charging-as-a-service (CaaS) lets you begin generating revenue from on-site EV chargers with no upfront cost. For a monthly fee, CaaS covers all your operations and maintenance and connects you with one of the globe’s largest eMSPs. It’s the complete package for organizations that want to try site hosting without expending Capex.

Learn more about CaaS and other EV charger financing options we offer

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