TWC’s Zelesko: J.V. With Comcast to Pave Way To Converged, All-Services Gateways

RDK Initiative Will Accelerate Product Development, Eliminate Software Fragmentation, Exec Says

Product development acceleration, software defragmentation, and the potential to create a common, all-services gateway are among the driving factors behind Time Warner Cable’s decision to create the RDK Management LLC joint venture with Comcast, says a top TWC exec who will play a key role in the new entity.  

With the J.V., “we’ve demonstrated that it is an important part of our platform strategy moving forward and we’re really invested in this,” said Matthew Zelesko, TWC’s senior vice president of technology. He’ll also serve as TWC’s primary liaison toRDK Development, and is expected to be the MSO’s board representative at the J.V.

“Now it’s about making sure it’s a smooth transition as we support the wider RDK community,” said Zelsko, the former CEO of Internet video startup Joost and head of engineering at Comcast Interactive Media who joined TWC in July 2011.

Job number one, he said, is to submit code and licenses to the J.V., which will start off with a “small” full-time staff (RDK Management is expected to announce a president later this year). The RDK, or Reference Design Kit, is a pre-integrated software bundle for hybrid QAM/IP and IP-only gateways and set-top client devices. More than 100 vendors, chip makers, and MSOs have licensed it. Comcast’s X1 platform is the first deployed product to use the RDK.

Although the RDK originated from Comcast, it is now being billed as a “community.”  TWC’s involvement, and how it contributes code to the project, will also enable the MSO to play a significant role in how the RDK evolves from this point.

“It’s something we viewed as a strategic platform,” Zelesko said of the RDK. “Given how strategic it is to us, moving forward, on our set-top box platform, we wanted to make sure we had enough influence on the RDK. We’ll have a lot of interaction with Comcast via this entity to make sure the RDK is evolving in a way that makes sense for the industry.”  

He said one of the main motivations for TWC is the same that’s been generally cited for the RDK from the get-to – to accelerate the development of MSO-leased devices and to prevent software fragmentation.

“Right now it takes a while to release a new generation of set-top boxes, or consumer premise equipment,” Zelesko said. “The promise here [with the RDK] is to shorten those cycles, essentially by eliminating some of the diversity that’s out there today in software stacks.”

Merging with and evolving the RDK should also eliminate the kind of software fragmentation that has plagued cable’s legacy video platform and general CPE environment.

TWC currently uses at least three vendors for its set-top boxes today, with each representing a different software stack. “Having one, uniform stack to drive across the platforms that come from these different vendors opens up a lot of options for us, both in terms of how fast we can deliver those new platforms and, frankly, also the quality of the platforms that come out of the other side,” Zelesko said.

TWC plans to transition to the RDK as it prepares to scale up a new, IP-capable platform that will tie in a cloud-based interface that it’s currently being tested in Syracuse, N.Y., with plans to extend trials to New York City and Los Angeles this fall.

The MSO will start deployments of the new interface using a sole vendor and a proprietary stack (believed to be Arris/Motorola), but will be looking to introduce multiple vendors as TWC starts to scale up deployments next year.

“We would also make the transition to the RDK at that point,” Zelesko said. Further out, he said TWC will look to bring the RDK into a new class of “converged gateways” that also supports high-speed data services, thus eliminating the current set-up, which involves operating and managing two separate, proprietary software stacks.

The RDK is “going to span a number of different platforms,” he said. “We’re thinking about it certainly for our IP set-top box platform, but we’re also looking forward to the point at which video gateways and high-speed data gateways converge. Ultimately, we all see this moving to a converged platform where it’s supporting data products and voice products and video products.”