Cable Tech

Comcast, TWC Unite on IP Video STBs

The two largest US cable operators are joining forces to promote the development and management of standardized software for IP video set-top boxes, gateways, and other video-enabled devices.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable announced a joint venture Thursday to steer the future of the industry’s much-ballyhooed Reference Design Kit (RDK). Originally developed by Comcast, the RDK is a pre-integrated software bundle designed to support a new generation of cable hybrid QAM/IP and IP-only devices.

The new joint venture, known as RDK Management LLC, will oversee RDK licensing, community support, and training, as well as code management. Previously, Comcast, which launched the effort early last year and has already rolled out hybrid IP video set-tops with the RDK software, has handled these tasks.

With the creation of the joint venture by the two giant MSOs, RDK development and deployment should move along at a faster clip. Several other major North American, European, and Asian MSOs have expressed interest in licensing the software, including Charter Communications, Rogers Communications, Liberty Global, and J:COM. But only Comcast is actually using it right now.

At the same time, more than 100 vendors have signed licenses to incorporate the software into their products. That list includes set-top manufacturers, system integrators, chipmakers, and software providers. In fact, RDK played a starring role on the exhibit floor at the Cable Show two months ago.

Although it’s not yet known how the ownership of the joint venture will be structured, Comcast will reportedly act as the venture’s managing partner. A president, who has not yet been named, will run the venture’s day-to-day operations.

Each MSO partner is putting key assets into the RDK effort. Specifically, Comcast is contributing the RDK code and specs, related intellectual property rights, and associated contracts. These contracts include all of the current RDK licenses.

For its part, Time Warner Cable will contribute code and financial support, as well as provide technical guidance, according to various press reports. It’s not clear how much money TWC might contribute to the venture.

Both Comcast and TWC have been scrambling to deploy IP set-tops and gateways, with Comcast in the driver’s seat so far. Most notably, Comcast has been using RDK in its new X1 set-top boxes and gateways, which are supplied by Pace. These hybrid IP video boxes, now deployed in more than two dozen markets, enable cable subscribers to use a new cloud-based user interface and navigation guide.

Time Warner Cable has not yet deployed IP video set-tops commercially. But it’s testing hybrid QAM/IP boxes and a cloud-based programming guide in several undisclosed markets. While these boxes do not use RDK, the MSO says it plans to use the software in its next generation of video devices.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

albreznick 8/15/2013 | 3:30:53 PM
Comcast, TWC Unite on IP Video STBs It will be interesting to see if this joint venture really does speed up the deploiyment of RDK by other MSos besides Comcast. It will also be in teresting to see how long this joint venture lasts. Cable MSO joint ventures don't have a very good track record for either success or longevity. We shall see.  
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