RDK Learns a New Language: ‘Broadband’

DENVER — The Reference Design Kit (RDK), a preintegrated software stack originally developed for video set-tops and client devices, is making progress on a new front that will add DOCSIS-powered modems and all-service gateways to the product mix.

Progress on that broadband-facing work — commonly referred to as “RDK-B” — was evident at the SCTE Cable- Tec Expo last week, inching the cable industry closer to the creation of a common software layer that can be applied not just to set-tops, but to a multitude of consumerpremises equipment product types. The additional broadband component will stitch together a uniform software stack that can help operators and their vendor partners simplify and accelerate product development.

On the product front, Comcast and Arris announced last Wednesday (Sept. 24) that in the fourth quarter they will collaborate on a trial of a broadband-enabled version of the RDK running on the new Arris Touchstone TG1682 DOCSIS 3.0 Voice Gateway. General availability is slated for the first quarter of 2015.

In some ways, the emergence of RDK-B demonstrates the value of the RDK platform’s openness, to the point that vendors will end up using code that is contributed by competing suppliers. In the case of the Arris gateway that Comcast is about to trial, it will be outfitted with CPE routing software that Cisco Systems contributed to the RDK community on an open-source basis back in April.

The emergence of RDK-B and the use of contributed code is “playing out some of the value proposition of the RDK,” Matt Zelesko, senior vice president at Time Warner Cable’s Converged Technology Group, said on a panel dedicated to RDK developments.

Creating a software stack that relies on common components will eliminate the troublesome task of having to conduct tests and trials of duplicative stacks that are all trying to do the same thing, Zelesko added.

While RDK-B solves some problems, it won’t solve them all. RDK, in general, “is not a panacea to all device problems; it’s not a magical cure-all for managing CPE in this new age,” Zelesko said, noting that it leaves operators with the flexibility to innovate in other areas, including the user interface.

On the panel, Zelesko and execs from Liberty Global and Comcast offered updates on their RDK deployment activity.

“We’re never out of that launch phase,” Labeeb Ismail, Comcast Cable’s vice president of CPE software, said. He estimated that Comcast has deployed “upwards of 4 million” RDK-powered devices, and has over a dozen box models on the horizon that will utilize the stack.

Ismail said Comcast is still in the “baby steps” phase of RDK deployment. “We still have a long way to go … but this is an ongoing process.”

TWC, which is in the process of being acquired by Comcast, is still in the early phases of rollout as it looks to apply RDK to a next-generation video platform that will feature a new HTML5- based UI. Zelesko said TWC has RDK boxes in some employee homes now, and hopes to get them rolled out to an initial wave of customers by the end of the year.

Liberty Global is using RDK for an updated version of its Horizon video platform that will also use a cloud-based guide, and has some trials underway in Eastern Europe, Bill Warga, Liberty Global’s vice president, technology, and a member of the MSO’s Chief Architecture Group, said.

In addition to accelerating product development, RDK also gives operators more visibility into the stack, allowing them to more rapidly test new features and zero in on problems.

“Everyone knows whose bug it is,” Warga said. “On other projects, we’ve encountered bugs for months and not known what is going on.”

Said Comcast’s Ismail: “We can get to the root problem quite fast.”