SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2013: RDK Seeking Broader Acceptance

ATLANTA -- The Reference Design Kit, an open-source, pre-integrated software platform for IP-capable set-tops and gateways, isn’t a cross-industry effort yet, but the operators behind it are busily trying to convince other MSOs to join the club.

Firmly on board, of course, are Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the operators behind RDK Management LLC, the joint venture that is managing the platform and headed up by newly named president and general manager Steve Heeb.

Several others are not yet as committed, but do like what they see so far, and agree that the RDK is poised to drive consistency across the set-top software stack and accelerate product development.

“That’s what sparked our interested,” said Bill Warga, vice president of technology at Liberty Global, during an RDK panel on Monday afternoon. Developing code on set-tops and other consumer premises equipment and getting products out the door (and working) is a “common point of frustration,” he said, noting later that Liberty Media is using the RDK to help it migrate its user interface for its next-gen  Horizon video platform to the cloud.

Cox Communications is starting to warm to the RDK. It is not a card-carrying RDK licensee yet, but “we’re an evaluator,” Steve Calzone, director of video applications development at Cox, said.

The RDK is not an end-to-end “cure all for our applications development, [but] it’s a stepping stone to help us move a lot faster,” Calzone added. “The positives we see with our evaluation is that it’s an open infrastructure.”

But he also has some concerns. Will the RDK support Cox-specific capabilities that it has built into its network? Will it “stagnate” like the Open Cable Application Platform (OCAP), the CableLabs-specified middleware whose original aim was to help to drive a retail market for set-tops and cable-ready TVs.

As an open-source project, the RDK is designed to address those concerns, said Steve Reynolds, senior vice president, premises technology, Comcast Cable. “You vote with your code,” he said, noting that licensees can change and modify it to their heart’s delight.

Longer term, in fact, OCAP will become an optional feature in the RDK. RDK 2.x, a version under development, will remove OCAP as a “core” mandatory component, Reynolds said, noting that it is being replaced by a new element, the RDK Media Framework (RMF), that will set up the service flows through the box. With RDK 2.x, operators can build it as a “native IP pipeline” without OCAP.

That’s also become a draw for Cox, Calzone said, adding that Cox is looking toward a “full service, headless gateway” to deliver IP streams to devices in the home. Cox hasn’t committed to that strategy yet, but it’s starting to beg the question if it can be done.

And that’s not his only concern. Calzone said Cox would also “like to see more test and certification capabilities.”

Heeb said RDK Management won’t test the MSO implementations, but will conduct tests on the code it’s tasked with managing. He said the J.V. is investigating how the entity can make test suites available.

Operators are also taking different approaches on how to deploy RDK boxes.

New IP-capable set-tops are “big targets for the RDK,” Matthew Zelesko, senior vice president/technology at TWC, said, noting that the RDK will serve as the “foundation” for new gateways that converge all of the MSO’s services. “Longer term we’ll drive RDK everywhere,” Zelesko said. “It will be an evolution; it won’t be overnight.”

Comcast is also supporting RDK on new boxes and has also “back-ported” RDK to older boxes, including the RNG100, a client box that is being used in the multiroom platform for the operator’s X1 service, Reynolds said. But the easy way to support RDK “is to put new hardware out,” he said.”