IBC 2013: RDK to Show Its International Colors

Comcast/TWC-LED Efforts Aims for Global Acceptance
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A Comcast/Time Warner Cable-led effort to accelerate the development cycles for set-tops is rooted in U.S. soil, but the software platform known as the Reference Design Kit is preparing to branch out to cable’s world stage.

Evidence of that progress will be evident in Amsterdam, when the IBC Conference kicks off on Sept. 12. Vendors are lining up RDK product demos with a fl air for European cable networks as word spreads that the powers behind the RDK are working on a new version of the platform that will strip out U.S.-centric pieces such as the Open Cable Application Platform (OCAP).

RDK’s more worldly efforts come just weeks after Comcast and TWC formed RDK Management LLC, a joint venture tasked with managing a platform centered on a pre-integrated bundle of software for hybrid QAM/IP and IP-only set-tops, gateways and video client devices.

RDK Management unifies the longer-term video strategies of the two largest domestic cable operators. But for the RDK to achieve global scale, it will need to free itself of U.S.-only requirements and add hooks that will make it compatible with the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) standard that is popular in regions such as Europe. (For more on RDK’s potential consumer benefits, see Translation Please, page 26.)

EUROPEAN TAILORING

IBC is expected to serve as a centerpiece on just how far along those efforts are, as several key vendors from the RDK ecosystem plan to show off modifications that have European cable in mind.

Alticast, a video software and integration specialist, is already starting to incorporate pieces of DVB into its RDK software, John Carlucci, Alticast’s chief technology officer, Americas, said. Some of that handiwork will be on display at IBC, as Alticast shows its RDK platform running on set-top chips from Entropic Communications, Broadcom and STMicroelectronics.

Among that group, Broadcom is taking a stab at how the RDK could fit into different cable environments. At the show, Broadcom will demonstrate how it has put the RDK on top of “Trellis,” an internal framework it developed that allows two incompatible platforms to cohabitate in a secure way.

“If an operator was interested in RDK, we support it, but if they wanted an additional framework that the RDK doesn’t support, we can run them on a side-by- side basis” using Trellis, Rich Nelson, the senior vice president of marketing for Broadcom’s Broadband Communications Group, said. Trellis, he said, could enable the RDK framework to live alongside Flash or Android, and possibly enable an RDK box to integrate an app store like Google Play.

“We consider it a way to make the RDK potentially even better from a time-to-market point of view,” Nelson said.

“The evolution of what’s next is a question that we’re all trying to answer,” Roger Gregory, Entropic’s vice president of marketing, cable and telco, said. Entropic is developing products that would likewise provide a more DVB-centric flavor of the RDK, he added.

The trick, he said, is figuring out how to remove the proprietary pieces, retain the open-source components, and come out with an internationally acceptable framework without having to go through a massive redesign. “We want to be ahead, but not too far ahead,” he said.

Some work is underway that should give vendors the technical guidance needed as they evolve their RDK products.

According to multiple industry sources, a 2.0 version of the RDK will add a DVB focus and strive to become more globally acceptable. That, in part, will include stripping out OCAP as a central requirement while retaining opensource components such as Gstreamer, a media management/playback framework, and applying a heavy focus on IPbased gateways.

RDK 2.0 “is all about DVB and helping out the European operators,” an industry source said.

A spokeswoman for the RDK joint venture confirmed that RDK 2.0 is “under development,” but declined to provide any further details, including when it is expected to be completed.

Meanwhile, the RDK is already gathering some steam with European cable operators.

“We’re working with a [cable operator] customer in Europe to deliver this,” Alticast’s Carlucci said, but he declined to name the MSO. “The RDK has a lot of attention in Europe as people try to understand the RDK and how it can address their business needs.”

SOUTH AMERICA LOOKING

S3 Group, a company that specializes in product testing and integration, is already working with two operators in Europe that have RDK projects “currently in development,” Philip Brennan, S3’s vice president of TV technology, said, noting that some MSOs in South America are also taking a look at RDK. Operators “are looking for a new way to break the traditional mold to deliver new platforms,” Brennan added. “They’re asking, ‘What does it mean for us?’”

“There’s serious interest” in the RDK among non-U.S. cable operators, Nelson said. “We’re well past the tirekicking phase,” he added.

“A lot of operators are now trying to figure out how to put all those pieces together,” Entropic’s Gregory added.

Liberty Global is one MSO in Europe that has been taking a close look at the RDK. Liberty Global has licensed the RDK, but has not announced an RDK product strategy as the MSO continues to roll out the first iteration of its IPcapable Horizon platform.

TAKEAWAY

The U.S. cable-developed RDK set-top spec will vie to take over the world during the IBC Conference in Amsterdam, starting Sept. 12.

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