Light Reading

Comcast's Set-Top Accelerator Gains Traction

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

Cable technology vendors and a few major operators are starting to get behind the Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) Reference Design Kit (RDK), a software bundle for a new breed of IP-only and hybrid QAM/IP set-tops and video gateways.

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), one of Comcast's primary suppliers, just announced that it's obtained a license for the RDK. Comcast is also getting support for fellow MSOs while it builds out partnerships among chip and equipment vendors. (See Motorola Still Tight With Comcast .)

It seems like a good time to review Comcast's progress and examine what the RDK is made of. This interview, from The Cable Show in May, provides a starting point. A uniform approach
Comcast set to work on the RDK about two years ago, and it's got the potential to become a big deal. With broad adoption, the RDK could provide the cable industry with a much more uniform video platform as operators embark on IP video migrations. It could also open the historically closed environment for set-top makers and app developers.

One key goal well underway is getting the RDK baked into systems-on-chip (SoCs) before box makers start building products around them, as it should translate into much faster product development cycles. At The Cable Show in May, Comcast Senior VP of Customer Premises Equipment Steve Reynolds said the typical cycle (building the box, developing software and getting it all up and running) was 24 months when the MSO launched the RDK project. The hope is that the RDK will cut that cycle to a year or even less, he said.

(A video of the RDK panel at the show is available here.)

It's anticipated that some RDK devices will use ARM, a low-power chip architecture already popular in Blu-ray players, smartphones and tablets. The idea there is to provide commonality so apps developed for mobile devices can be ported easily to the world of IP-connected set-tops and gateways.

The RDK leans on a Web-like cloud infrastructure, meaning that Comcast and its partners can create and change apps more rapidly. The old infrastructure's software environment is highly fragmented, requiring Comcast to spend gobs of time testing and retesting new software, followed by the further time-sucking task of downloading new files to boxes every time a change or upgrade is made.

It's painful. Reynolds likened the RDK's common stack model and its ability to accelerate application development to those of Android.

Next page: What's in the RDK?

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:22:29 PM
re: Comcast's Set-Top Accelerator Gains Traction

Can't see Liberty getting involved, at least in public way, too soon as it finally appears to be showtime for the Horizon box (first announced in 2009). Also their TV Everywhere play Orion should be getting some air time over next few weeks. 

Jeff Baumgartner
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:22:27 PM
re: Comcast's Set-Top Accelerator Gains Traction

Yes, there's a long way between kicking the tires and deployment, but at least they are giving it a look. Makes me wonder if there's enough flexibility in the RDK to hook into their gateway ecosystem for IP clients. JB

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:22:26 PM
re: Comcast's Set-Top Accelerator Gains Traction

Pace and Cisco are both Licensees (Both long before Motorola). 

Jeff Baumgartner
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:22:25 PM
re: Comcast's Set-Top Accelerator Gains Traction

Thanks, and another board poster mentioned Technicolor, too, which would also not be surprising given their CPE history with Comcast with eMTAs the new Skype TV box.  And they did show off a pretty sweet looking gateway at CES that could fit the bill. Any sense on whether Technicolor has signed on the dotted line as well? JB


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