After originating as a Comcast-led effort, the Reference Design Kit has been spreading its wings and its influence as the technology reaches a wide range of cable operators and suppliers across multiple continents.
The overarching goal of RDK Management LLC, a joint venture managed by Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Liberty Global, is to bring Web-like speed and innovation to the development of set-tops and video devices via a pre-integrated software stack. It’s not an app platform, but work is underway to make it easier for developers to create apps or port existing ones to the RDK ecosystem.
RDK Management now touts a licensee base that includes 25 operators, and about 220 additional companies from a group that includes CE manufacturers, chipmakers, software developers and systems integrators. At last check, more than 5 million set-top box builds are based on RDK software.
Heading up RDK Management’s efforts is Steve Heeb, the Comcast executive who was named president and general manager of the organization in September 2013. He recently discussed the status and direction of the RDK with Next TV editor Jeff Baumgartner.
MCN: What are some of RDK Management’s biggest accomplishments since you took the helm in the fall of 2013?
Steve Heeb: From a macro perspective, the biggest thing is we have three strategic operators that have endorsed this entity (Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Liberty Global), and its objective is to make the RDK available in code format to anyone. And when we say anyone, it’s telco, cable, satellite. It doesn’t matter. That’s a dramatic change from [several] years ago.
Having these companies support a solution that’s available to all and to transition to a global set-top process is probably one of the biggest accomplishments. It’s a pretty big step for the industry.
The second one is that it is a global solution and we have activity in North America, in Europe, Latin America and Asia. This is just a dramatic [change] from the old U.S. cable industry. It’s truly a global shift.
MCN: Now that RDK is targeting operators outside of the cable industry, what progress have you made with telcos and satellite operators?
SH: We’ve had quite a bit [of activity] in multiple continents. We have telcos and satellite companies who are licensees. We’re doing a fair bit of work, but are keeping it very quiet. We’re not an operator; we can’t speak for the operator. We’re happy to have these folks working with us, but it’s up to them to talk about them. We really hold that kind of sacred.
There are quite a few cable operators who have not announced being a licensee, but in total there’s 20- or 25-plus operators who have signed up. That’s a combination of cable, telco and satellite.
MCN: What are your top priorities for the rest of this year?
SH: A top priority is to continue the RDK awareness. People ask about the benefits and why should we use it and why is it different. It is a dramatically different solution. The benefits are incredible and you have to drill down to see the big list of operational development, and what it can do for you with speed of innovation and the ability to be a modern company.
Now that we do have operators who are in phases of development, testing, trials and deployment, the second [priority] is to support these operators, anywhere from the code to helping them educate their companies.
The third one is to … work with some of the companies out there who are not the operators to develop a user interface and turnkey solution that goes on top of the RDK. The RDK does not [focus on] revenue-generating services and interfaces, like the UI, VOD and the DVR.
There are quite a few companies, ranging from SeaChange, Espial, Alticast, Arris, Cisco … we’re working with them to bring turnkey solutions to operators.
MCN: Let’s talk a bit about this joint venture with Metrological you announced pertaining to an app emulator for the RDK. What’s the status of that project and what is the broader significance of it?
SH: First of all, it is not a joint venture. Metrological developed this app platform. They came to us and said, “The world out there is bigger than just the RDK community.”
The apps are on top, so Metrological put together this app platform where you don’t have to be an RDK licensee or part of the community, but you can just test your app, any app in the world, put it on the Metrological app platform, and Metrological takes care of integrating that into the RDK.
It’s a platform that allows anybody to emulate how their app would work on the RDK without having to be an expert in the RDK or doing any RDK code work. It’s not exclusive. We work with other app platforms. Nobody’s choosing winners.
This is one of the objectives with us working with the UI and app platforms, where we don’t develop it, but we will help ensure that it works with the RDK.
MCN: Have you attracted a lot of developer interest?
SH: With the app companies, their relationship is really with the operator. But they do talk to us, whether they work directly with the RDK or whether they’re an app platform that the operator brings on top.
The RDK has emulators and test suites, so they really like those … You can do a lot of work now in which your app will run on the RDK, so if the operator chooses that version of RDK, it will just work. The old days of trying to do all of this legacy, one-off integration where you don’t have access to the code and someone else is in charge of integrating your app — it’s the opposite of that. There’s transparency, development kits, test suites. Every update that happens, everybody gets them.
MCN: Most of your announced operators are large tier-1s. What kind of work is underway to attract more independent, tier-2, tier-3 operators to the RDK?
SH: Everybody thinks big operators are the only ones that can innovate. We’re working with some operators with a couple of million subs, versus tens of millions. These are extremely innovative companies that have heavy competition, and the whole philosophy of the RDK fits right in.
There are also operators with less than 1 million subs. We have some categories between 1 and 5 [million], and of course we have some big operators. And some people want to do the work on their own, while others are doing this kind of turnkey/outsourcing [approach]. All of this is in constant development, but there are definitely a couple of companies you’ll see, when they’re willing to come out about what they’re doing. It’s not just a big operator thing.
Here’s a benefit to the source code — everything one of these big operators or small innovative operators do, if they make a change to the code, it comes back into the trunk, and everybody has access. The big operators get the innovation from the smaller operators, and small operators get the scale benefits and the integration into the SoC (systems-on-chip) that the big operator may have.
RDK at INTX
A sampling of RDK members that will demonstrate their wares on the floor:
• Arris Group (booth 101): Demos will include what they are billing as the world’s first RDK-Bbased DOCSIS 3.0 Residential Gateway. Arris will also show its first HEVC-capable 4K and 1080p MoCA- and WiFi- based RDK- enabled IP set-tops.
• Alticast (booth 1319): Will show multiple operator user experiences on set-tops operating RDK 1.3 and RDK 2.0, and demo how the vendor’s Collaborative Development Environment (CDE) can streamline RDK product development.
• Cisco Systems: Will demonstrate its Snowflake 14 interface on RDK, and RDK-B-based devices.
• Cognizant/itaas (booth 2115): Will feature an RDK-B emulator, RDK development tools, and a predictive analytics product designed to prevent device failures and minimize costs using automated processes.
• Comcast (booth 215)
• Espial Group (booth 1741): Will demo TV user experiences based on HTML5 and RDK, and showcase video apps, including the guide and VoD, on multiple RDK-based set-tops.
• Humax Americas (booth 1327): Will demo a RDK 2.0 in a headless gateway and in 4K IP client solutions, as well as its “Prism” user experience based on HTML5, featuring both RUI and CVP-2.
• Metrological (booth 2341): Demos will include an RDK App Emulator, enabling developers to remotely create and test apps for RDK-based devices. The demo will show the process of testing and publishing a live app in an operator-branded TV app store that is deployable on an RDK-based device.
• Pace (booth 1507): Will demo a prototype 4K-HEVC set-top box running the Pace Elements RDK Application Framework, alongside a variety of RDK solutions that have been deployed around the world.
• S3 Group (booth 100): Will showcase its processes for managing the integration of licensee-contributed code changes and product releases of the official code.
• ThinkAnalytics (booth 1501): Will show off individualized recommendations for up to eight viewers in a household on Liberty Global’s Horizon TV platform across legacy and RDK-based set-tops.