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

Deustche Telekom is the first operator aside from Orange to be 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 – although Orange told Faultline Online Reporter that OCast is not positioned as a direct competitor.

With Google’s popular cast technology pre-installed on Android phones and also compatible with iPhones, it has become the go-to source for casting videos to TV sets, and despite claims that the OCast software is not attempting to challenge Google, the similarities are obvious, and it will prove tricky to unhinge the tech giant from its dominant market position, as operators strive to reclaim ownership of the TV ecosystem.

OCast is targeted at telecommunications operators which also offer TV services, integrating the software into set tops, as well as opening the software up to the world of mobile app developers. Orange claims operators can retain control over the applications authorized to operate in their set top 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.”

The difference is that only some of the software in the Google Cast SDK may be offered under an open source license, so not entirely open source like OCast. All the code for OCast has been published this week and is available without license fees, using the Discovery and Launch (DIAL) protocol with web sockets and whitelist device filtering.

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 reveal any app developers.

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. Meanwhile, the links Orange sent us for the code source states that the Orange OCast SDK provides all required API 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.

A representative from Orange also 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 department. Given that Orange subsidiary Viaccess-Orca is supplying its DRM content protection to the OCast project suggests that the initial roll out, following the test phase, could be in Romania, as DT subsidiary Telekom Romania is the only currently listed customer of Viaccess-Orca in the DT footprint.

Furthermore, DT’s Hrvatski Telekom in Croatia recently upgraded to a next generation MAXtv IPTV service, adding more interactive functionality across screens, including casting content from mobile devices to TVs – so this operation is another possibility for the deployment of OCast software.

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

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.

Similarly, operators have been largely cut from 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 OTT streaming services or sharing sites such as YouTube.

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 Deutsche Telekom Innovation Laboratories.

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.”