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RDK Ready to Help Cable Operators Accelerate IP Migration

RDK (Reference Design Kit) is set for its next phase helping cable operators migrate to all-IP combined video and broadband services by embracing wireless delivery for the final hop to the user and enabling integration with Android.

This builds on RDK’s success as an advanced platform for delivery of cable based video services over a common abstraction layer designed to encourage innovation while reducing cost and time to market. Originally developed and introduced by Comcast, the world’s largest cable operator, RDK has expanded to become a widely-deployed platform for migration, extending beyond North America. Liberty Global, which has the most extensive cable footprint in Europe with over 20 million subscribers across 12 countries there, was among RDK sites discussing the platform at the recent Connected TV World Summit in London.

Like other operators’ participants at that summit, Liberty Global’s VP for entertainment Technology Olivier Philippe highlighted the importance of the newer variant RDK-Broadband (RDK-B), which now complements the original RDK-V (Video). RDK-B has been developed not just to complete the job of migrating video to IP over the DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem platform, but also to help operators exploit emerging opportunities within the smart home around the Internet of Things (IoT). Liberty Global has unveiled plans to invest in RDK-B-based gateway devices as part of in-home networks in preparation for anticipated growth in demand for IoT applications.

The key role of RDK-B for assisting the move to broadband video delivery was also noted by Pedro Bandeira, Director of Product Development at NOS Portugal. “RDK will help us avoid duplicating efforts when moving from DOCSIS 3.0 to 3.1 by providing the abstraction layer that allows us to deploy at once on multiple devices,” he said.

RDK’s abstraction layer avoids duplication of effort among operators migrating from DOCSIS 3.0 to 3.1, according to Pedro Bandeira, Director of Product Development at Portuguese cable operator NOS.

RDK’s abstraction layer avoids duplication of effort among operators migrating from DOCSIS 3.0 to 3.1, according to Pedro Bandeira, Director of Product Development at Portuguese cable operator NOS.

The growing focus on RDK-B was also acknowledged at the London summit by RDK itself, with its President and General Manager Steve Heeb hinting that over time it would become the primary version of the platform, playing a key role in extending premium video delivery over wireless networks. “RDK-B may become bigger as video transitions to IP data streams, but the real focus for now is to provide a modern software platform on the video side. Then in the home we will be enabling Wi-Fi connectivity with QoS on the broadband side. There will be integration between broadband and Wi-Fi and in 3 to 5 years RDK-B will be dominant for that reason.”

Meanwhile though the real value of RDK is coming through its role tapping the developer community for solutions that improve operational efficiency and reduce time to market. This should enable diversion of resources to creation of innovative services running on top of the abstraction layer.

“RDK is one of the first OS platforms where the operator works with the technical community,” said Heeb. The single most important thing is to have software on the device under the control of operators, enabling access to data.” Heeb also stressed the value of RDK applications running in real time under the DevOps model. DevOps, a truncated hybrid of “Development” and “Operations”, has become a heavily used buzzword in TV software. The main idea is to organize software development projects into smaller chunks so that components can be introduced and tested in the field much more quickly than before. Then new functions can be introduced to subscribers much faster. It is almost synonymous with other hyped concepts such as micro services and agile infrastructure.

Hype or not, this aspect of RDK is delivering on the promise of faster time to market, according to Comcast’s SVP for Hardware Development Fraser Stirling. “We are basically now just patching, releasing every 2 weeks on the video side and every 4 weeks on broadband,” said Stirling. The upshot is that features are now introduced within weeks rather than months or even a year.

The other interesting issue to crop up at the summit was perceived competition between RDK and Android as competitive OSs for MSOs. Yet Heeb suggested there was room for coexistence with potential for large well-resourced operators to integrate Android as an app platform under RDK. “Then you would get the best of both worlds, access to Android apps and the benefits of RDK for the home.”

One disappointment for RDK proponents is its failure to gain that much traction outside the cable operator community. There had been hopes that RDK would appeal to Telcos serving Multi-Dwelling Units (MDUs) cabled with coax, which is widespread in the US and parts of Europe, making it an alternative to say Ethernet for distribution across the building to end subscribers in apartments. There is little sign so far of Telcos taking up this idea.

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