Inside RDK

Winter 2015 RDK Report: European Summit Review

AMSTERDAM — The European RDK community convened here on September 15, keen to exchange first-hand experiences about marketplace momentum, how to compete at “web speed,” and what works in scaling the technologies across multiple device types.

“RDK can be a catalyst for your company,” noted Steve Heeb, President & General Manager of RDK Management, LLC, referencing the service velocity benefits that come with the technology. That includes working at “web speed,” a term traditionally confined to broadband-native companies like Facebook, Google, Etsy, and Spotify, among many others. “It enables the transformation to continuous integration,” he added.

Multichannel video providers active in the launch continuum of RDK-based devices consistently characterized the software stack as a vital way to control their own destiny — as opposed to ceding control to legacy alternatives.

The third annual conference, held just after the close of the annual IBC convention, hosted 130+ attendees, including 23 different multichannel video providers and their RDK supply chain.

MARKETPLACE MOMENTUM

The momentum around RDKbased launches, code expansion, tools, and documentation was unmistakable at this year’s Summit. Consider: Operators are in-market with upwards of 10 million RDK-based set-tops, a number expected to more than double with RDK-V (video) and RDK-B (broadband) devices by year-end 2016.

As for usage: It’s doubled, year over year. “That isn’t what disruption looks like — it’s what engagement looks like,” said Sree Kotay, Chief Software Architect for Comcast and an RDK pioneer, who keynoted the afternoon program.

At last year’s Euro Summit, Liberty Global was 35 days away from its initial launch. Since then, it successfully entered Poland and the Czech Republic with RDK-based consumer premises equipment (CPE), and will launch additional markets in the 2016 time frame, said Bill Warga, VP of Technology.

Additionally, the DVB (Digital Video Broadcast) elements needed by European operators last year are in place and working across multiple vendors, Warga said.

The hardest part, he explained, was getting the code stable, which the company did by internally developing its own testing and integration scripts and processes. “It’s an ongoing example of us taking control of our own destiny,” Warga explained.

Internally, Liberty Global’s marketing teams are particularly inspired by RDK, partly because of sustained and high Net Promoter Scores (NPS) — a measure of how likely a customer is to recommend a product or service to a friend. “They love it — it lets them litmus-test their work really well and really fast.”

In Germany, Tele Columbus AG is actively readying its launch of RDK-based gear and services, working with Espial as its provider of middleware and back end components. Specifically, Tele Columbus licensed Espial’s RDK-based G4 set-top client and MSP solutions, and selected Espial to integrate its next-gen IP video platform, according to a press release about the partnership.

The upshot: This year’s Euro RDK Summit saw momentum by way of code contributions, footprint, and launches in Poland and the Czech Republic, with Portugal, Germany and other regions to fold in soon, attendees said.

TIPS ON SCALING RDK

A recurring theme at this year’s European Summit was how to best scale RDK-based gear into multiple markets and across a growing mix of both SoCs and set-tops. Some Operators, for instance, fielded as many as a half-dozen different types of RDK-based devices last year, with plans to expand to as many as 15 device types, without Increasing engineering/software development headcount.

The key, said Liberty Global’s Warga, is to be really, really focused on stability. “It’s all about making sure we’re in charge of our feature set and what we do with changes in the UI,” he said.

“The whole premise in RDK is once you get to the second, third and fourth box type, the RDK machine will be much easier to operate,” added Noam Raffaelli, VP of Technology Development for Liberty Global. “It really does get easier to launch new boxes and new software on them.”

What works in building RDK for scale? Comcast’s Ken Klaer, Senior VP of Premises Technology, imparted two relevant tips: One, constantly evaluate all testing processes, to stretch toward a state of continuous evolution. Two: “Have a tightly orchestrated team that all marches to the same agenda,” he said.

Also, suggested RDKM’s Heeb: Don’t underestimate the importance of creating both dynamic code download systems, and data retrieval, to continually assess performance. “That’s what really makes for the efficiency and service velocity” that comes with RDK, he explained.

Another growing benefit of RDK, Heeb and several community members said, is the volume of hardware performance data that can be gathered from the fielded base of RDK-based gear. Hardware performance data that can be gathered and automatically collected and analyzed, can create a quickened pace for targeted releases. “The nice thing is, it’s the same tools for all of those activities,” noted Labeeb Ismail, VP of Engineering for Comcast’s CPE Software Platforms.

RDK V. ALTERNATIVE PLATFORMS

Several MVPDs and suppliersshared their research and thought processes about the use of proprietary and alternative software platforms as a UX layer. Most operators agreed that the days of proprietary software platforms are over, and that some alternative open platforms have issues: Controlled hardware requirements, for instance, and large software footprints compared to STB capabilities. Also: Some alternative software solutions provide more benefit to the software provider than the operator. “On those levels, it doesn’t seem to make sense,” said one RDK community member.

Another consideration ties back to controlling your own end points. “As an example, how much would you really want alternative platform providers defining your business?”, asked one RDK community leader. And, operators have heard that some alternative platforms are fragmenting, which may, in turn, fragment the martketplace. In other words, older versions are routinely orphaned, often in a relatively short period of time — which has the potential to strand/branch an operator into using unsupported software, or to potentially brick in-market CPE, which could be an issue in an operator’s STB operations model.

Ultimately, differentiation and control is a key challenge with such alternative platforms.

THE STATE OF RDK FOR BROADBAND/RDK-B

The 2015 European RDK Summit will plausibly be remembered as the eve of RDK for Broadband, or RDK-B. Several operators, as well as the supplier community, noted that RDK-B will coincide nicely with the adjacent rollout of gateways, modems, and CMTS (Cable Modem Termination System) gear based on the forthcoming 3.1 version of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS).

DOCSIS 3.1, which harnesses a potent combination of advanced modulation, known as Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (or “OFDM”), and error correction known as Low Density Parity Check (or “LDPC”), promises to expand IP capacity in both the forward (toward homes) and reverse (from homes) signal directions — by as much as 50%. In capacity terms, that’s massive.

“We’re looking at DOCSIS 3.1 as the trigger that starts evolving into an RDK-B discussion,” noted Charles Cheevers, CTO of ARRIS. “It’s a strategic discussion about the future of the in-home architecture — which could span Wi-Fi, data collection, Quality of Service/QoS, the Internet of Things / IoT, voice over IP, IP video streaming — it’s a multitude of things that need to happen in
a strategic way.”

And, Cheevers continued: Legacy gateways, modems, and related methodologies are ripe for an overhaul as much or more than pre-RDK-based set-tops. “You’re going to want an architecture that allows you to get to web speed,” he said. “RDK-B is just a logical thing to take control of our own destiny, and not be at the mercy of the legacy way of doing it.”

A vibrant array of supplier demonstrations accentuated the Summit, with ample time for networking in between the stacked agenda.

In closing: Mark your calendars! The 2016 RDK Users Conference is scheduled for February 23, at the Royal Pacific
Hotel Orlando, and the 2016 European RDK Conference is confirmed for September 13, again in Amsterdam after IBC.

Read the full Winter 2015 RDK Report Here.