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RDK Rides the Adoption Wave

After starting out as a video-centric platform, the Reference Design Kit (RDK) has branched off to support broadband gateways as well.

The RDK, a preintegrated software platform for IP-connected set-tops and gateways managed by Comcast, Liberty Global and Charter Communications, has been ramping its adoption curve as more service providers lean on it for their next-gen services and a growing group of vendors add support.

To catch up on all things RDK, Multichannel News recently caught up with Steve Heeb, president and GM of RDK Management LLC. An edited transcript follows.

Multichannel News: Can you offer an update on RDK stats in terms of overall licensees as well as service providers that are on board?

Steve Heeb: Things are going great with the RDK thanks to the passion, and maturation, of our community. The RDK has become a prime software development platform supported by more than 300 technology companies across OEMs, SoC vendors, software developers, system integrators, and service providers.

More than 25 service providers across North America, Europe, Latin America, and Asia are members of the RDK community and are in various stages of evaluation, testing, trials, or deployment. Notable service providers that are implementing the RDK include: Comcast and Cox in the United States; Shaw, Rogers, and Videotron in Canada; Liberty Global, NOS, The Quickline Group, Vodafone (formerly Kabel Deutschland), and Tele Columbus in Europe; and Liberty Global in Latin America.  And, just last month, Japan’s J:Com announced its intention to go RDK.  On both the video and broadband front, operators are actively embracing the RDK open-source software solution to help power their next-gen devices.

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MCN: Where do you expect the next wave of growth to come from?

SH: While RDK-V (video) continues to be a key growth driver, we anticipate that the impact of RDK-B (broadband) will likely be more significant over time. As service providers look to provide a range of new services for connected-homes, the need for common underlying software in broadband gateways is growing more acute. RDK-B provides this common method to manage various broadband functions, such as home-networking interfaces (e.g. WiFi and MoCA), device management, diagnostics, and smart home/IoT interfaces (e.g. Bluetooth, Thread and Zigbee). Over the past year, we’ve seen greater interest from service providers, and wider adoption of RDK-B by leading chipset manufacturers and OEMs.

MCN: What are some of the latest advancements or enhancements that have been made to RDK?

SH: RDK-V has moved to embrace the WPE [Webkit Pure Embedded] browser, a high performance, resource efficient implementation of WebKit specifically targeted for embedded software devices such as IP set-top boxes.

Related to this, we have ports of the RDK running on open test platforms such as Raspberry Pi and x86 PC emulators. We use these devices as our primary test platforms when making our software releases. On the RDK-B side, we continue to work to drive greater standardization with some of the key silicon vendors. In addition, we have received positive feedback on some of our device management features such as WebPA & xconf which enables real time control, configuration and feedback from RDK-B based devices.

MCN: What are some features that are on the roadmap?

SH: Our roadmap is driven by the RDK community, so they set the course. For RDK-V, we are looking at opportunities to standardize common elements of the application framework enabling common APIs and easier portability of premium apps across RDK implementations.  For RDK-B, more and more service providers see the RDK as the foundation for a range of new IoT services, so you can expect to see more on that front. Plus, you can expect to see new RDK “software profiles” for devices in the connected home from cameras to Wi-Fi extenders and more. 

MCN: We sometimes think of RDK being for set-tops and broadband gateways, but are there other devices that will fit into the RDK ecosystem, like smart home hubs and other IoT-style devices?

SH: Any device in the connected home today relies on an OEM with chipsets, and these OEM/chipset solutions have a software layer. Right now, much of this software is proprietary and widely divergent, making it a challenge for service providers to deliver unified experiences or gather common key data needed to serve their subscribers. RDK-B offers the ability to help address these underlying issues, while still giving companies the flexibility to innovate on their customer-facing software. So, there are certainly plenty of new kinds of devices that could benefit from the RDK.

MCN: As you try to gain more ground in the market, what is your biggest challenge to overcome with respect to service providers? That they’ve already picked a horse to ride for their next-gen platforms?

SH: If there is one thing that is universal, it’s that service providers tend to have very particular points of view when it comes to their next-gen platforms. Our role at RDK Management LLC is to be an educational resource for them, and to facilitate the sharing of best-practices among our community.  Fortunately, we now have the scale we need to be self-sustaining, and our software is available in open-source for service providers to adapt as they see fit.

We assume that the video and broadband landscape will be even more competitive in three to five years and that operators will require a modern software platform with access to real time data to run their products and services in order to be responsive to customer demands and competitive solutions. The RDK can provide this and act as a catalyst that enables real time data collection, the ability to implement agile software development, and the ability to utilize a Dev-Ops product development and operating methodology. It’s really powerful with the results you can achieve. The main misconception is that you have to transition to a Dev-Ops methodology day one, and that’s not true.

The beauty of the RDK is that the operator can utilize the RDK for what best fits their operating model. If they want to start fast, great. If they want to start slow, they can outsource the software management to a SI or OEM and transition to an agile software development and Dev-Ops product methodology on their own timeline. The key is that they will have real time data to help make this decision, and they are in control of the schedule.

MCN: Comcast, Liberty Global and Charter (via Time Warner Cable) have been heading up RDK for years. Has there been any interest from other companies to become a formal part of the co-venture?

SH: We are continually talking with service providers and technology companies about ways to become more involved with the RDK. We operate the RDK as an open source project, so we are open to suggestions by companies in the community, but most companies prefer to be involved through our technical working committees similar to other successful open source projects.

MCN: For operators that are outside that mix, what avenues are available to them to voice their needs or influence the direction of RDK?

SH: Like I previously mentioned, the RDK is an open-source community established to serve the needs of service providers and technology companies. Any service provider can contribute or receive code. They can join working committees, participate in RDK events, and propose code changes or roadmaps, and more.  Our mantra is “vote with your code,” which means all of community members, not just service providers, have the ability to influence the direction of the RDK.