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27 February 2020

Humax sharpens cable CPE claws against CommScope, Technicolor

Smaller cable operators currently plotting their migration to an all-IP future may be swayed by the recent commitment to the RDK platform shown by South Korea’s Humax with the launch of new access devices including two new gateways.

The move strengthens competition in the sector by elevating Humax to the top table alongside CommScope, Technicolor and Japan’s Kaon, and should accelerate innovation while keeping margins in trim. But the focus is entirely on cable and it does nothing to extend RDK’s credentials outside that sector among telcos, or even DTH operators as they migrate towards all-IP and in many cases edge away from satellite.

Where it could make a difference is among second tier cable operators that might otherwise have embraced Android Operator Tier as their route to an all-IP future, as a number have already done, such as Sweden’s Com Hem. Meanwhile RDK has prevailed among large tier 1 MSOs, especially in North America where it has been heavily promoted by its creator Comcast, but also Europe where the two biggest cable groups Liberty Global and Vodafone are strong advocates. The latter for example has built its GigaTV service around RDK in Germany for what was formerly Kabel Deutschland.

This deployment by a small number of major operators has taken RDK to a large subscriber base, passing the 50 million mark early in 2019. This is more than the Android TV Operator Tier base total currently, even though there are over 10 times as many operators now deploying Android TV over RDK. The current Android TV total is between 150 and 200 operators depending on who is counting, with our estimate closer to the latter figure. The RDK total is still stuck on about 15, but at an average of almost 4 million subscribers each.

The battleground now is among those mid-tier cable operators and also some tier ones in Asia Pacific, where RDK has made little impact so far. That is why the strong endorsement by Humax and also by Kaon is important, given their strong presences there. China is the exception where the cable sector is hemorrhaging faster even than the US, shedding around 6 million subs a year with IPTV mopping up, so that is unlikely to be a happy hunting ground. By contrast, India is gaining cable subs at perhaps half that rate and there RDK will be stacked up against Android.

On this count, two key steps forward for RDK have come over the last 18 months, starting with the appointment in September 2018 of Metrological as the first – but not necessarily only – provider for its pre-integrated turnkey app store. This was to make RDK a realistic alternative for integrated broadcast/broadband services to Android TV Operator Tier with its admittedly superior Google app store. Before that the only option was for operators to build and manage their own app store, which is only viable for the largest.

RDK Management, the company set up to promote the platform and coordinate its development, had tested and integrated the Metrological store, which was acquired a year later by Comcast to take full control of the reins. In addition to its own apps in excess of 300, it can be used to launch any of the big SVoD or OTT services, as well as lesser known local apps.

The second key move followed in 2019 with launch of the RDK Accelerator, in partnership with Arris (now CommScope) and Metrological, to help operators incorporate and launch these streaming apps, whether internally developed, from the app store, or one of those big hitters. This comprised an IP-based set top from Arris, the 4K VIP5202W model, Metrological’s pre-integrated app store, and whatever is the latest RDK software version.

As well as supporting 4K resolution, the set top has built-in WiFi, Bluetooth and voice control compatibility, while being preconfigured with tools to customize the look and feel of the apps and services, again aping the approach of Android Operator Tier. This was quickly supported by the key chip set vendor Broadcom, which joined the RDK Video Accelerator program in September 2019, introducing a portfolio of pre-integrated RDK-based chipsets used by Technicolor among others.

Kaon announced its first RDK Video Accelerator set top at that time ready for IBC 2019, asserting that this made RDK a contender with Android for operators blending OTT with legacy offerings. Technicolor made similar noises, highlighting its dual support for both RDK and Android on its set tops.

This brings us full circle back to Humax, which we can now see is playing catch up here with announcement of its support for the RDK Video Accelerator in a new set top with access to that Metrological app store. Humax has also unveiled two gateways, a DOCSIS 3.1 wireless voice gateway supporting 5 Gbps downstream, and a 2.5G GPON wireless voice gateway at half that bit rate. There is also a 4K Soundbox for RDK, with an integrated microphone for far-field voice recognition.

These releases show that Humax believes the RDK field will be big enough to justify its investment and dedication of resources, even if it will be confined to the cable sector.