Light Reading

Beyond RDK: A New TV Turf War

Mari Silbey
5/30/2014
50%
50%

There's a land-grab taking place on cable set-tops.

Now that the industry has blessed the Reference Design Kit (RDK) -- the pre-integrated software bundle for IP video rollouts initially developed by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) -- cable vendors are working overtime to sell their own software solutions designed to sit on top of the RDK stack. From such giants as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) to independent specialists like Espial Group Inc. and Alticast Corp. , everyone wants a piece of set-top software territory.

The context of the new turf war requires a brief history lesson. For years Motorola and Scientific Atlanta controlled the set-top environment because of their conditional access technology. Motorola boxes predominantly carried guide software from Gemstar-TV Guide International, which became Macrovision and then turned into Rovi Corp. , while Scientific Atlanta boxes shipped with that company's own SARA guide.

Through a combination of the separable security mandate and the surge in IP video, however, that duopoly started to fracture. The OCAP middleware era followed, and while the Open Cable Application Platform never lived up to its potential, it did lead eventually to RDK, which is rapidly becoming the de facto standard for IP video in the North American cable market and beyond. (See Bye Bye OCAP, Hello RDK.)

Fast forward to today. Now that several cable companies have standardized on the open RDK stack, lots of vendors see a fresh opportunity to grab space in the new set-top frontier land. Many of them are hoping that cable operators will sign off on another software stack, one that bundles several functions together and works in conjunction with RDK. In theory, selling a stack is more valuable than selling a single application. And in an ideal scenario for these vendors, cable companies would standardize on the second stack, locking up set-top real estate across multiple MSO footprints.

Mike Paxton, a senior analyst at SNL Kagan , however, believes that cable operators don't necessarily want to standardize on software above the RDK level. Instead, it appears that the MSOs would rather encourage competition and further development. "It almost seems to me like the operators … are saying develop around RDK and show us something cool or different on top of that," said Paxton.

Many vendors are trying to do just that, differentiating their software stacks with different types of advanced features.

Some of the companies recently touting new software stacks include Espial, Minerva Networks Inc. , and Zodiac Interactive . Espial was one of the first companies to license the RDK bundle, and the company started showcasing the Espial STB Client in the first half of 2013.

The Espial software stack includes an application framework that supports traditional program guides, an HTML5 browser, DVR functions, and video on demand. Espial also offers its own HTML5-based user interface that operators can implement if they choose. The company's RDK-compliant software stack has already been deployed by an unnamed Tier 1 North American cable operator.

Minerva is a long-time middleware provider in the telecom industry, but it is coming out with its own RDK-compliant software for the cable market this summer. The Minerva 10 platform running on RDK will operate on hybrid QAM/IP video gateways, and is specifically designed to deliver multiscreen service to both managed and unmanaged devices. The platform also comes with a user interface framework, including Minerva's own HTML5 guide and native applications for mobile devices, streaming media players, and connected TVs. (See Minerva Goes Multiscreen With RDK.)

Zodiac's software stack is notable because it uses a blend of cloud-based and client-based software components to support not only newer set-tops but also legacy boxes like the old Motorola DCT2000. The PowerUp Video Broadcast Solution (VBS) supports multiscreen video delivery and integrates with HTML5 for next-generation UI designs. Zodiac has two large service provider customers using PowerUp VBS in North America. One is Charter Communications Inc. , while the other is still unnamed. (See Zodiac: One Software Stack to Rule Them All.)

Alticast is yet another veteran middleware vendor that has put its own twist on RDK integration. By combining RDK with Android, Alticast has created a software solution for pay-TV providers who want to deploy HDMI streaming sticks instead of, or in addition to, traditional set-tops. The company also has its own HTML5 program guide, dubbed the Windmill user interface. (See Alticast Primps for Vegas Spotlight.)

Beyond these independent software suppliers, there are also large competitors, including Cisco and Arris, who are selling platforms that include software modules for everything from HTML5-based UIs to advanced advertising, content management, content security, multiscreen service delivery, and more. Both Cisco and Arris have made a big push for their respective Videoscape and Medios platforms. But, as cable operators appear to be expressing their preference for more targeted products, the two companies are just as likely now to promote single services like cloud DVR as the larger end-to-end solutions.

In analyst Paxton's view, no vendor has yet come out with a single killer app or software stack, which means that competition will likely remain fierce. "There's a lot of maneuvering and jockeying for position," he said.

That's certainly a very different situation than existed only a few years ago. The cable software market is now wide open.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

(8)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
thebulk
50%
50%
thebulk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/28/2014 | 1:35:00 PM
Re: Standards battle
@nasimson, 

Unfortonatly, you are probably correct. the STB will be around for far too long. :-(
nasimson
50%
50%
nasimson,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/27/2014 | 8:48:35 PM
Re: Standards battle
@thebulk: I also excitedly look forward to such time. But that is not coming anytime soon. Set top box is a tough animal. It's not going to die very soon.
Chaigneau
50%
50%
Chaigneau,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/27/2014 | 11:04:03 AM
Re: adopted as-is
If only the Big Cable Companies were converging on a single standard! 

The RDK is 'certain components' in a shared (private club) source code methodology.  It is clearly staed that this is not a COMPLETE stack and you have to add a whole plethora of software to manage things like a PVR, Metadata, Network integration, Application Framework amongst many other components...

Each RDK implementation is built (coded) differently and I do not believe that the LLC would look at every line of code to check whether it is is good or bad code.

There is no Compliance and Conformance regime so anyone can claim RDK compliance

There is a long history of OnRamp, EBIF, MHEG5, MHP, OCAP, Tru2Way all trying to bring the CPE/STB a single solution the Comcast + TWC is still a repeat of the ODL and the RI from Cable Labs...

Free enginnering for the Operators - Open Source Code that has been forked in a private project.  No incentive for a Vendor to invest if you are not paid to develop new code as there is no guarantee that you will get the STB sale or the Systems Implementers job ... Many holes in this initiative I am afraid.

The idea is sane, the execution is all over the place.
thebulk
50%
50%
thebulk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/31/2014 | 10:54:32 PM
Re: Standards battle
@FakeMitchWagner, 

I ask the same question about something like this. with the growth in the OTT space I think the settop will soon be a thing of the past. But thats just me... 
nasimson
50%
50%
nasimson,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/30/2014 | 6:47:59 PM
Re: adopted as-is
Thanks for explaining it. I get the full picture now. It's good to see the BIG cable companies converging on a single standard.
msilbey
50%
50%
msilbey,
User Rank: Blogger
5/30/2014 | 1:57:03 PM
Re: adopted as-is
It's not an official standard open to ratification, but RDK has gotten a tremendous amount of support from chip makers, hardware manufacturers, and software guys, many of whom are now licensing the stack. 

Comcast developed the initial code, but others are now contributing to it. The software is managed by a group called RDK Management, which is a joint venture between Comcast, Time Warner, and Liberty Global. 
nasimson
50%
50%
nasimson,
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/30/2014 | 1:21:11 PM
adopted as-is
@ Mari:

> Now that the industry has blessed the Reference Design Kit (RDK) -- the
> pre-integrated software bundle for IP video rollouts initially developed by
> Comcast ..

So were the initial specs developed by Comcast adopted as is? Or were there significant changes before industry ratified the standard?
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
5/30/2014 | 11:17:33 AM
Standards battle
Does this kind of standards battle become less important with the emergence of OTT services? Perhaps set-top boxes -- and standards for them -- matter less when people are watching video on their Roku or Apple TV? I realize cord-cutters are still a small minority but that may be the wave of the future. 
From The Founder
Light Reading sits down at CES with the head of Cisco's service provider video business, Conrad Clemson, to discuss how NFV and cloud security relate to video, the challenge of managing 4K/8K traffic, the global expansion of Netflix and virtual reality.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
CLOUD / MANAGED SERVICES: Prepping Ethernet for the Cloud
Moderator: Ray LeMaistre Panelists: Jeremy Bye, Leonard Sheahan
LRTV Custom TV
Join Us at the Digital Operations Transformation Summit

2|4|16   |   03:52   |   (0) comments


The Digital Operations Transformation Summit on February 21, 2016 at the Crowne Plaza Barcelona Fira Centre will bring together 50 senior executives to engage in a unique debate on the opportunities and challenges presented by the transformative evolving digital landscape. RSVP now at events@lightreading.com.
LRTV Custom TV
Making the Test: ADVA Ensemble Connector vs. Open vSwitch

2|4|16   |   01:28   |   (0) comments


Light Reading, in partnership with EANTC, recently tested ADVA's Ensemble Connector, which replaces open vSwitch and offers carrier-grade capability and interoperability. The test results strengthen ADVA's credibility as a provider in the virtualization space.
LRTV Custom TV
Bridging the Gap Between PoCs & Deployment in NFV

2|4|16   |   31:50   |   (0) comments


Charlie Ashton of Wind River presents the keynote at Light Reading's 2020 Vision executive summit in Dublin.
Between the CEOs
CEO Chat With Mike Aquino

2|3|16   |   17:34   |   (0) comments


The former CEO of Overture Networks, Mike Aquino, discusses why truly open virtualization solutions provide service providers with the greatest choice.
Shades of Ray
MWC: Buckle Up for 5G & the IIoT

2|2|16   |   02:28   |   (0) comments


This year's Mobile World Congress looks set to be a 5G land grab and a chance to get down and dirty with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – but what will the 5G discussions actually be about?
LRTV Custom TV
Case Study: Building China's Next-Gen TV Networks

2|2|16   |   5:01   |   (0) comments


With over 2 billion viewers worldwide, Shenzhen Media Group is one of China's largest content producers. By partnering with Huawei and Sobey, SZMG was able to modernize media operations with the Converged News Center, a production studio that is a model for next-generation workflows.
LRTV Custom TV
Quad Channel Modulator Driver with 46 Gbaud Capability from MACOM

1|28|16   |     |   (0) comments


MACOM's MAOM-003427 is the industry's first surface-mount modulator driver with 46 Gbaud capability to support next generation 200G and 400G applications.
LRTV Custom TV
Video Infographic: Validating Cisco's NFV Infrastructure

1|26|16   |   02:24   |   (1) comment


We all know that the network of the future will be virtual, but when will virtual become a reality? This video infographic covers the four key areas in which Light Reading, in partnership with EANTC, tested Cisco's NFV infrastructure: performance, reliability, multi-service capabilities and single pane of glass management.

For the full report, see

Between the CEOs
CEO Chat With Phil McKinney, CableLabs

1|22|16   |   13:36   |   (1) comment


At CES in Las Vegas, we met with Phil McKinney, CEO of CableLabs. Phil provides an update on the rollout of DOCSIS 3.1, his views on the future of open source and how consumer interest in virtual reality could affect network traffic.
Between the CEOs
Ericsson CTO on the Changing Telecom Market

1|21|16   |   10:26   |   (0) comments


At CES 2015, CTO of Ericsson, Ulf Ewaldsson, sits down with CEO of Light Reading, Steve Saunders, to discuss the changing telecom market, the new partnership with Cisco and the future of the telecom industry.
LRTV Interviews
Ireland's Data Dream

1|21|16   |   14:31   |   (0) comments


Host In Ireland president Gary Connolly tells Light Reading's Steve Saunders about the role Ireland is playing in hosting data for the world's largest organizations.
LRTV Custom TV
Brocade Keynote: Transitioning to the New IP

1|20|16   |   27:23   |   (0) comments


At 2020 Vision in Dublin, Andrew Coward, VP of Service Provider Strategy at Brocade, presents the transition to the New IP.
Upcoming Live Events
March 10, 2016, The Cable Center, Denver, CO
April 5, 2016, The Ritz Carlton, Charlotte, NC
May 23, 2016, Austin, TX
May 24-25, 2016, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Cisco's latest VNI numbers suggest the world will be using 366.8 exabytes of data on smartphones and Internet of Things devices, up from 44.2 exabytes, in 2015.
Hot Topics
Alphabet Is Serious About Google Fiber
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 2/1/2016
Did Juniper Pay 'Peanuts' for BTI?
Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 2/2/2016
Google's 5G Radio Ambitions Are Expanding
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 2/5/2016
How Data Center Outsourcing Fuels AT&T NetBond Growth
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 2/3/2016
3.5GHz Startup Gets $22M for Small Cells
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 2/2/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
The former CEO of Overture Networks, Mike Aquino, discusses why truly open virtualization solutions provide service providers with the greatest choice.
As anyone who knows me will tell you, I like to think I know a fair bit about this next-gen-comms malarkey, but there's nothing like an interview with one of the ...
Animals with Phones
Happy Groundhogs for Technology Day! Click Here
Live Digital Audio

Broadband speeds are ramping up across Europe as the continent, at its own pace, follows North America towards a gigabit society. But there are many steps to take on the road to gigabit broadband availability and a number of technology options that can meet the various requirements of Europe’s high-speed fixed broadband network operators. During this radio show we will look at some of the catalysts for broadband network investments and examine the menu of technology options on offer, including vectoring and G.fast for copper plant evolution and the various deployment possibilities for FTTH/B.