Facing declining subscriptions and growing pressure from OTT video providers, you might think that video service operators would jump at the chance to reduce the cost of STB development and new service introduction, and broaden their supplier choices. But they are not, yet!
Will IoT features in RDK-B tip the balance enough to break the inertia?
The Reference Design Kit (RDK) originated at Comcast as an initiative to create a standardized software stack with localization plugins which would provide a common starting point for developing new STBs, gateways and converged platforms. The idea being to incorporate all the standard functions including network access, channel tuning, rights management, stream management that are needed across their portfolio of CPE platforms, while still allowing differentiation in primary function, enabled services, and UI/UX. RDK has been made available under license to Service Providers and the eco-system of integrators and software and hardware vendors serving the video and broadband services markets.
By embracing RDK-middleware enabled platforms, multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) can not only streamline R&D for new QAM, IP and Hybrid devices, they can expand their range of service offerings with far greater ease than at present. Yet despite active promotion of RDK by RDK Management, the body responsible for administering licenses and promoting RDK, it seems many Service Providers are still on the fence about adopting RDK.
You’ve got to wonder why the caution? 250+ licensees, among them, big-name SoC vendors, equipment vendors, system integrators and app developers. But only 25 operators! And of the 15 million claimed RDK units deployed, how many of those STBs and gateways are Comcast devices anyway? 15 million may seem a lot, but it’s barely 2% of the 700-800 million fixed broadband connections deployed in homes today.
While RDK Management is covering a lot of bases including introducing an RDK emulator, in an effort to create a RDK developer ecosystem, US Service Providers are still not lining up, though interest in Europe seems to be growing since the release of RDK 2.0 which added in the components needed to handle the popular European standard DVB. However still many European-related features are missing including support for European Teletext and parental rating management standards. While RDK is showing a lot of promise for MSOs that have begun implementing RDK compatible gear, many MSOs are still on the fence, struggling with the transition from their proprietary solutions to RDK.
Is their concern that RDK is too cable MSO centric? Or, are we simply seeing a delayed reaction? Perhaps the enormity of the commercial opportunity presented by RDK itself, is a hidden adoption barrier. Consider this. Before RDK, operators could not bite off too many new features for next-gen products, the R&D cycle was already in the 18-24 months range.
With RDK though, progressive MVPDs could see this is a leapfrog opportunity which can enable them to change strategy, offer new services (e.g. a triple-play offering etc.) and serve new markets – all from the same R&D investment they would otherwise have made for a proprietary platform with far fewer features. But the business planning for monetizing and rolling out such new service offerings also takes considerable time and effort – could this be what is delaying adoption?
It’s certainly true video Service Providers are at a difficult cross-roads, with the transition to all IP delivery ahead of them, a legacy headend to overhaul, growing competition from all sides and a growing body of “cord-cutters” and “cord-nevers” to contend with. This puts great pressure on video and fixed broadband operators to deliver rich converged feature-sets on next generation CPE gear, through which they can upsell new services and evolve their business models. Many Service Providers already realize they need to carve out some kind of niche in IoT if they expect to see growth.
Enter RDK-B (B for Broadband). With the introduction of RDK-B, the original RDK has been renamed RDK-V (V for Video). The RDK-B middleware contributed by Technicolor after their acquisition of Cisco Connected Devices in November 2015, is designed to do the same for broadband gateways that RDK-V does for STBs. It contains open-source router code from Cisco, and code from ARRIS to convert multicast IP video to rate-adaptive unicast video for distribution to homes, and components to facilitate IoT agent and gateway capabilities with built-in support for Zigbee, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi radios and popular IoT protocols. It also continues to receive investment from the original Cisco RDK-B team (now at Technicolor).
As we all become dependent on anytime anywhere access the Internet, home owners want performance and coverage everywhere...even outdoors. This is driving them to buy supplementary 3rd party access points and ranges extenders. With the result that many homes now have multiple AP in homes each competing for a finite number of channels. Channel bonding features only serve to deplete those channels faster. Ultimately this means the 5 GHz band is starting to get clogged, just as the 2.4 GHz band has been for years.
Although the two streams originated from independent sources, they are joined at the hip and will eventually provide a common architecture and device provisioning framework for any type of video or broadband CPE. With DOCSIS 3.1 already forcing the transition to IP, VoLTE around the corner and IP services proliferating in general, the addition of RDK-B dramatically broadens RDK’s appeal – RDK-B can give Service Providers a foundation for enabling “connected home” services on the back of an existing service offering. For sure, operators want to have a universal footprint in consumers’ homes from which they can upsell anything from new video services to voice to home security, but getting there on one’s own is a colossal undertaking. RDK-B offers a shortcut. It could also help extend the life of earlier RDK platforms by providing the means to retrofit RDK-V devices for example, with IoT enablers down the road, thereby enabling new services on existing hardware.
So the $6 billion question is: Is this enough to tip the balance in RDK adoption?
Planning the migration of existing product lines to RDK platforms is no trivial undertaking. Beyond the R&D savings that RDK enables, using RDK integrators can further shrink time to market. For example MSOs can benefit from help tying together solutions from multiple vendors, OEMs and SoC vendors can benefit from integration and testing services, and App vendors may need help with prototyping. Fortunately the new levels of standardization being introduced by RDK, makes it more practical than ever to outsource new platform design and software development to embedded system integrators familiar with both RDK and current solution architectures.
Adopting RDK-V and RDK-B can help video and broadband Service Providers to accelerate new platform deployment and it enables them to bring forward deployment of new services they previously lacked the R&D resources to consider. Despite the new business opportunity RDK presents, many operators remain on the fence and have not committed to using RDK platforms. RDK-B will add significant capabilities to facilitate IoT services. This could be the catalyst to stimulate broader adoption.
Only time will tell how quickly more Service Providers will get on board, embedUR predicts 2017 will be the breakout year. In the meantime, early adopters can count on embedUR for integration support as they transition their existing solutions to new RDK platforms. At embedUR systems we have been working with OEM’s and Service Providers and have the experience working on RDK platforms through our customers. embedUR has an experienced RDK talent pool to help Service Providers, OEMs and SoC vendors adapt their custom software, applications and platforms to RDK.