Orange open sources OCast to claw back mobile TV control from Google

Deutsche Telekom has joined Orange in testing the newly open sourced OCast software, developed by the French telco. OCast is a transmission protocol for transforming smartphones and tablets into platforms for viewing and controlling content on the big screen, in much the same manner as Google Cast.

Orange is eager to say that it is not positioning Ocast as a direct competitor to Google’s  popular cast technology, which is pre-installed on Android phones and also compatible with iPhones, and so has become the go-to source for casting videos to TV sets.

But despite claims that the OCast software is not attempting to challenge Google, the similarities are obvious. This may be yet another example of an MNO trying to go it alone in a key technology enabler, but delivering too little too late to cause sleepless nights for a web giant. It will be very difficult to damage Google’s dominant market position, but some operators feel they need to try as they strive to reclaim ownership of the mobile and TV ecosystem.

OCast is targeted at telcos which also offer TV services, integrating the software into set-top boxes, as well as opening it up to the world of mobile app developers. Orange claims operators can retain control over the applications authorized to operate in their TV environments, enabling them to maintain and increase value in the content value chain, in a manner that is “very easy and requires no specific development”.

One difference from the dominant technology is that only parts of the Google Cast SDK (software developers’ kit) may be offered under an open source licence, while all the code for OCast has been published this week and is available without licensing fees.

It uses the Discovery and Launch (DIAL) protocol with web sockets and whitelist device filtering. The Ocast SDK provides all required API (application programming interface) methods to implement cast applications for the Orange Stick, its streaming dongle which is, in turn, competing with Google’s Chromecast device. Orange is looking to make OCast available on its wider range of hardware in the future.

By open sourcing OCast, Orange hopes to allow itself and other operators to regain some control of next generation functionality, by getting as many app developers as possible to integrate the software and give the pay-TV experience the mobile feel.

However, uptake of OCast will largely depend on major services such as Netflix implementing the software, and Orange said the early stages of testing means it cannot name any app developers yet.

To highlight how much of a lead Google has here, its own Cast software is not limited to video or to devices, as users can also cast music to compatible speakers. In addition, the technology is voice-enabled and comes pre-installed on select TVs from Vizio, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba, Philips, Polaroid, Skyworth and SoniQ.

Google Cast has filled the very large vacuum that Apple left when it decided not to allow manufacturers to embed Apple TV and its AirPlay technology into their TV sets. Soon almost every TV and receiver will have Google’s Cast technology, which will substantially reduce the need for Apple TV devices – except when playing content that is in consumers’ iTunes libraries.

Operators have been largely cut out of the equation whenever consumers cast content to a smart TV or streaming stick as the majority of content consumed in this way is via pure play over-the-top streaming services or sharing sites such as YouTube.

Thierry Souche, SVP Orange Labs Services and Group CIO at Orange said, “The release of OCast as open source software is a milestone in Orange’s technical strategy, by enabling it to accelerate the development of the services available via its set tops, and by creating a virtuous circle with other operators to create a new video services ecosystem.”

DT has been “convinced of its maturity and value proposition for the consumer” after early stages of testing the OCast technology, according to Randolph Nikutta from the Innovation Laboratories.

A representative from Orange told us that Deutsche Telekom has not confirmed where it will be deploying the OCast technology, if at all, as the German operator is only in the initial test phase at its Innovation Labs. Given that Orange subsidiary Viaccess-Orca is supplying its DRM (digital rights management) content protection software to the OCast project, a candidate for the initial roll-out could be DT’s Telekom Romania subsidiary, the only currently listed customer of Viaccess-Orca in the DT footprint.

Another option may be DT’s Hrvatski Telekom in Croatia, which recently upgraded to a next generation MAXtv IPTV service, adding more interactive functionality across screens, including casting content from mobile devices to TVs.

Viaccess-Orca said it is integrating the technology into its products for TV operators, which, as well as Orange and Telekom Romania, include Canal+, Telefonica, Telecom Italia, SFR, NC+ and Singtel. Another vendor partner of DT is Zenterio, whose operating system has become an integral part of DT’s European harmonization strategy, but Zenterio said OCast is not currently supported in the DT set-tops it powers.