In the classic comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, characters who are fatally wounded or gravely ill insist in the face of their imminent demise, "I'm not dead yet!" If cable set-top boxes (STBs) could talk, they too might be insisting that they are still alive, even though many cable operators are ready to whack them on the head and toss them onto a cart of dead bodies.
Try as they might to phase them out, cable providers still need a device in the home to manage TV signals. Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, is seeking to cure the set-top's ills through its new Reference Design Kit (RDK), a powerful concoction of open-source middleware riding on the latest system-on-a-chip (SoC) processors.
The RDK effort promises to take the STB concept and resurrect it through a new line of IP-fueled set-tops and whole-home gateways. According to the latest Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, "Are Set-tops Dead? Comcast Offers Its RDK Remedy," RDK increases cable's prospects of creating IP device platforms for cloud-based services, including graphically rich interactive program guides, multi-room DVR and content sharing across tablets, smart TVs, smartphones and other connected devices.
The process behind RDK is as unique as the technology itself, the report says. In an unprecedented process for cable, Comcast is offering the RDK software through a royalty-free licensing arrangement and creating a shared-learning development community. Nearly 60 companies have obtained the RDK license and some major suppliers have announced RDK-related products. The process gives competing suppliers an opportunity to break the so-called cable duopoly of Cisco, and Motorola, the report says.
Comcast, in developing its next-generation infrastructure, targeted the gaps and shortcomings in the STB development process, with a goal of reducing the speed of designing and deploying STBs from a current time frame of about 24 months down to one year, and eventually six months. What has resulted is a development model that is designed to produce a time-to-market cycle of innovation that resembles the Internet. For Comcast, the payoff is coming in the form of recently introduced gateway devices and the rollout of its cloud-based X1 IPG platform, the report says.
The Heavy Reading report explains the RDK technology, the market drivers behind it and its implications for cable operators and suppliers. Included is a look at announced RDK products by 11 suppliers, primarily SoC and set-top providers.
While Comcast is committed to RDK, it remains to be seen if adoption will become widespread. Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Liberty Global and others have voiced public support. This year will see trials and lessons that will help to determine RDK's fate. In the end, the report concludes, the advantages of utilizing the SoC and software package may be too compelling to ignore.
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