The Portuguese cable operator NOS only launched its first RDK gateway last June, the UMA next-generation platform, but is already working on its next RDK-based hardware project, an all-IP video gateway that could be in the field as early as 2018. This is not a client STB to complement the existing UMA gateway but another version of UMA, this time without the cable front-end.
Speaking at Connected TV World Summit last month, Pedro Bandeira, Director of Product Development at NOS, said the RDK open-source software stack gives his company the flexibility it needs to deploy platforms and services quickly. “We do not need to worry about the low-level [software functions] like channel tuning and resources, which are not our core business. We can focus on the business side, the functions and services that we deliver to customers and we can now act very quickly.”
Thanks to RDK, NOS has dramatically reduced the time between software releases. “We have seen a huge improvement. On our previous generation STB we were deploying new software once a year, or twice if we were lucky. With the current [RDK-based] platform we have deployed software ten times since June , either to introduce new features or correct bugs,” Bandeira told the London conference.
He also noted the difference RDK makes to hardware cycles. “We used to have very long hardware cycles and it was a very expensive process to get a set-top box into the field. RDK provides an abstraction layer and we can talk directly with the SoC (system on chip) vendor and can transition very quickly from one STB generation to another.”
Steve Heeb, President & General Manager at RDK, confirmed his belief that Pay TV operators (and RDK is open to satellite providers and telcos, not just cable) can use RDK to “go on the offensive” in the video market. He also highlighted the improved product cycles and how operators are using RDK to transition to an agile development environment and put out new services in months rather than years.
“RDK has dramatically changed the way you can provide products and services to customers and get ahead of what the competition is doing,” he said at the same event.
Vodafone Germany is another RDK champion, having used the open-source software for its next-generation GigaTV platform, which was launched in February. Like UMA at NOS, this is a 4K-enabled video gateway. Christian Constant, VP Product Development for Entertainment at Vodafone Germany (formerly Kabel Deutschland) said the company has dramatically changed the way it develops products, having moved to an agile DevOps model. Vodafone Germany is delivering software updates to GigaTV devices every two weeks.
Constant is very satisfied with how the whole RDK GigaTV project unfolded, which stayed true to the original project plan and was delivered “more or less” on time. “I have witnessed a lot of drama associated with middleware in the past, so I was expecting some drama with RDK, but that did not materialise. Of the escalations or problems we faced, RDK was never the issue and that is a credit to it.”
Liberty Global is the pan-European cable giant that is one of the three companies behind the RDK Management joint venture, along with Comcast and Time Warner Cable – now part of Charter Communications/Spectrum. The company already has RDK-based set-top boxes in central and eastern Europe with its Horizon user experience running on top. It has also launched a platform, originally known as EOS and now marketed as V6 in the UK, that will become the next-generation gateway for all European and Latin American markets. EOS/V6 is RDK-based.
In the UK, the TiVo UX runs on top of the RDK stack on EOS/V6 and in the rest of Europe the Horizon UX will run on top of RDK on this common platform. Liberty Global is already conducting field-trials with EOS/V6 running Horizon on RDK and will launch this combination into its first market later this year.
According to Olivier Philippe, VP Entertainment Technology at Liberty Global, there are a few main efficiencies when working with RDK. “The first is reduced time-to-market. We get all the ‘hard’ engineering from RDK. It helps bring the SoC and OEM stacks to the level that we can deploy on very quickly, and innovate on very quickly. That is very promising.”
A second key benefit is how you achieve this speed but also at scale, so you can deploy in a number of different countries at the same time. A third and related benefit is the way RDK and the agile development that accompanies it means you can cope with a wider variety of hardware over time (unified at the lower layers).
Comcast, the U.S. cable giant that brought the concept of RDK to the industry, and whose X1 platform is still the most famous RDK-based success story, releases software every two weeks to millions of RDK set-top boxes, whether they are new features or bug fixes. The company is also pioneering the use of RDK-B, the version of the open-source software for broadband gateways and smart home devices, and it has a four-week software release cycle using that stack.
Fraser Stirling, SVP Devices and AI at Comcast, described his company as the ‘patch masters’ because of their ability to update software as required. And he told Connected TV World Summit that one of the big advantages of RDK is the data his company gets back from devices. “One of the reasons we can move so fast [in terms updates and innovation] is the fact that the data we receive is so rich.
“We can make good, educated, objective decisions. We are not waiting to hear how many people are calling about a problem. We know it is there and we can fix it. We can move fast and issue a patch two days later, but every two weeks there is code going out anyway.” This cycle of updates, learnings and more updates has had a massive effect on the overall quality of the TV product.
Steve Heeb, who remains hopeful that RDK-V (the video stack) will be adopted beyond the cable industry, believes that TV operators using the open-source software move onto an advanced playing field. Comparing their competitive position to the OTT market, he said: “They [operators] already have the customer relationship; they just need to give them [subscribers] cool products – the applications they want on the devices they want.”
RDK also released figures at the event showing that 25 million CPE units have been deployed worldwide running RDK-V or RDK-B. There are deployments in South America as well as North America and Europe. Around 300 companies are involved in the RDK ecosystem now.
Photo: From left to right – Pedro Bandeira from NOS, Olivier Philippe of Liberty Global and Vodafone Germany’s Christian Constant at Connected TV World Summit.