It was hoped that RDK-V, the shared-source and common software platform for set-top boxes, would reduce the cost of STB development, hasten roll-outs for next-generation platforms, improve user experiences and permanently accelerate Pay TV innovation, and the signs are that it is ticking all these boxes. Steve Heeb, President and General Manager of RDK Management, believes RDK-V has done more than level the playing field for Pay TV operators battling against OTT service providers. It has actually tipped the scales in their favour when you factor in the strength of their customer base. Operators can now think about offence rather than defence, he argues.
NOS in Portugal is the latest European Pay TV operator to use RDK-V For a next-generation platform, with Liberty Global the most ‘famous’ European user. There is now lots of interest in the initiative in Japan, with Heeb pointing out that the original goal was to deliver a solution that could be used globally. Going global is not necessary for the success of RDK but the additional scale will be “nice to have”, he says. “The more people that utilise the software platform, the more interest it will get from SoC providers,” he points out.
Heeb wants RDK-V to become the prime development platform for set-top box SoC (silicon on chip) vendors. If it is, the expected innovation in silicon will encourage yet more operators to deploy the shared source software. Going global will also mean more features and functions are added to the software, as different Pay TV markets have their own areas of focus when it comes to innovation. New markets like Japan will benefit from all the development wisdom that has been accumulated in Europe and North America.
RDK-V would have to be adapted to very different television standards in Japan. “I feel that RDK-V has met its objective to be a software platform that works on multiple continents with multiple methodologies,” Heeb adds.
RDK-V has had a dramatic impact in the Pay TV marketplace – albeit currently confined to the cable industry – thanks to its open and agile software approach. According to Heeb: “It would be extremely hard for an operator to compete with Web innovation using legacy methodologies.”
RDK-V has not reached a plateau, in terms of delivering gateway and STB software faster and cheaper. There is still more to come. The SoC economics continue to improve but there is also a new focus for SoC and software innovation and that is the all-IP set-top box and gateway device, where some of the ‘smarts’ from a broadband modem or router could be blended with those of the video gateway or set-top box.
This could see the work contained in RDK-V start to merge with the work contained in RDK-B, the common software platform for broadband devices. IP video multicast and the protocols for IoT (Internet of Things) interfaces are the kinds of technologies that will have to be covered.
“Our next big goal is create interest for SoC companies in the transition to all-IP devices and generate volume from the chip companies,” Heeb explains. Once again, he wants the silicon specialists to view RDK as their prime development platform for this increasingly converged type of customer premise equipment. “The beauty of RDK for the SoC companies is that once you have integrated into RDK for the first time, you have done it for everyone.”
There are now 15 million RDK devices in the field, if you include the new RDK-B deployments. As with RDK-V, the broadband version of the software initiative encourages multiple SoC providers and multiple gateway providers, giving service providers more control over their supply arrangements.
Steve Heeb explains: “Today a customer purchases a modem router gateway with proprietary software and if they have 2-3 suppliers they have to deal with 2-3 . software platforms, which are proprietary. They do not know what is going on, and if they want to add a new feature it is very difficult. By just helping to resolve that, RDK-B offers a strong benefit.”
Heeb thinks broadband CPE will benefit even more from RDK than video CPE when brought onto a common software platform that the service provider can manage. With broadband subscriptions still growing, the potential business benefits are clear. He predicts that the volume of RDK-B devices in the market will grow faster than RDK-V.
Speaking at ANGA COM, where the dominant theme for the show was Gigabit broadband and the Gigabit home, Heeb also noted that RDK-B will make it easier for service providers to diversify the kind of broadband gateways and routers they offer to consumers, including high-end gateways for more demanding customers. This could be important if there is more competition to perform gateway functions.
The arrival of Google OnHub, a good-looking retail Wi-Fi router, probably raised some eyebrows among broadband service providers. Meanwhile, devices like the Amazon Echo wireless speaker – which is actually a personal digital assistant with voice recognition -will raise consumer expectations for the kinds of features that should be in a modern broadband home.
Amazon Echo adds items to your shopping list when you tell it to, answers questions from the Web, plays requested music and sets a timer for your cooking, among many other things, all in response to voice requests. But broadband device ‘agility’ is now an opportunity for service providers, Heeb believes. “They have a huge opportunity to provide a router or gateway with advanced services, like being a Web companion that you can talk to and which will schedule your appointments.”
Some service providers will be happy to be the high-speed data provider only, but others will want to be the IP services provider. And depending on the country, there will be a subset of broadband subscribers who are willing to pay for a good-looking device with advanced services on it, Heeb confirms. “This is an opportunity for operators to keep customers happy and potentially sell them new services.”
Thus a broadband provider might pay the extra money needed for better looking CPE or to have speakers embedded in them, as examples. The money to do this and the time to plan it could come from the savings that stem from using RDK-B. And the ongoing innovation needed to support more complex and retail-like features could be helped by using the common software platform. Heeb points out that software developers can use an RDK-B emulator, go to a service provider and show them an application that is already running and validated on the emulator.
As with RDK-V, service providers can spend less time working on the part of the software stack that ‘just’ makes things work and more time on the parts of the software that deliver recognisable user experience improvements to a consumer.