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6 June 2019

Could operators roll out RDK alongside Android TV Operator Tier?

With Android TV Operator Tier threatening to drown out rival technologies while uniting others, it was pivotal for RDK (Reference Design Kit) to make itself heard at Anga Com this week. But while the Comcast-backed project proudly paraded a milestone of 50 million RDK devices in the field, the general tone of its annual update doesn’t exactly exude confidence – alluding to a prioritization of broadband within the connected home over TV.

Open source consortium RDK Management claims the software has become the preferred stack for broadband gateways from leading suppliers – focused on providing RDK systems across DOCSIS, DSL and PON. But no longer individually as RDK says continued innovation in the connected home, driven by consolidation occurring the world over, means service providers are embracing all three aforementioned access networks and, as a result, RDK is being expanded to accommodate all of them. It lists Arris, Humax, Sagemcom and Technicolor as some of the major manufacturers deploying RDK as their primary software stack on next-gen broadband gateways.

This expansion across access networks by RDK caused Faultline Online Reporter to ask the question of whether RDK could carve out a niche in broadband gateways and in turn standardization of other functions in the connected home, while leaving Android TV Operator Tier to go on and dominate the open video ecosystem? Admittedly, we have never encountered or heard murmurs of an operator already running or even planning to deploy both, although an RDK representative told us the idea is by no means implausible. It implies we could soon see an instance of an operator deploying an RDK-based broadband gateway alongside a set top or streaming device based on Android TV Operator Tier.

Of course, RDK boasts a line-up of tier 1 North American deployments including Comcast, Cox, Rogers, Shaw and Videotron, while Android TV Operator Tier is currently lacking a single North American deployment (although AT&T has a project in the works and Wide Open West has been linked with an Operator Tier roll out). With Android TV Operator Tier making waves in Europe and facing resistance in the US, a future where RDK deemphasizes video and instead focuses on broadband could be how Operator Tier gathers momentum. However Comcast likely won’t let that happen so easily. As for telcos, one favorite to break ranks is Bell Canada, which currently uses Mediaroom (MediaKind) – middleware already certified to work with Android TV devices.

Meanwhile, RDK’s most recent video breakthrough came via Arris, launching an application development platform for the RDK community called RDK Lab Accelerator several weeks ago, developed in conjunction with app developer Metrological and RDK Management. Based on the Arris VIP5202W Ultra HD IP set top, the open source platform enables standardization of core functions used in broadband devices, set tops and IoT hardware – allowing service providers to manage devices, control business models and customize apps. In short, the RDK App Framework and RDK Video Accelerator make it easier to develop and manage apps in a consistent way across RDK video devices.

RDK also talks about providing a common method for service providers to leverage device management and big data to improve broadband and video performance – which is crucial to the link between video and broadband we mentioned earlier.

“Big data is the link to understanding the changing behaviors and expectations of video and broadband users,” states RDK. Getting in on the hype, the annual update references enabling operators to apply AI and machine learning techniques to extract big data from CPE and improve the customer experience and network reliability as a result. “Operators are using RDK-based tools to proactively optimize broadband gateways, video devices, and related cloud components, and to predict and resolve technical issues before they impact customers,” it says. Bringing data into the fold, particularly when dealing with a company like Google, is a contentious topic to say the least. Yet Google’s hands-off approach is exactly why this iteration of Android TV has taken off, so reclaiming control of data is unlikely and surely then RDK could collect and analyze Android TV Operator Tier viewing data, should a joint device deployment ever arise.

There is also the question of integration with third party OTT services and apps, in the case of Android TV Operator Tier, those third party services and apps beyond the Google Play Store. That is where other platforms have a role to play in facilitating the associated business models, with the traditional revenue protection firms such as Verimatrix and Nagra getting involved.