You might have heard the latest chatter about something called RDK. It’s a buzzword we’ve heard often since The Cable Show in Washington, D.C., and it’ll change the way we collaborate within the cable industry, and with our partners and developers everywhere.

Let’s start with the basics. What is RDK? RDK, which stands for Reference Design Kit, is software being used in next-generation set-top boxes. RDK was initially conceived of and licensed to create a common framework that makes it easier and faster to develop, enhance, and update set-top boxes.

Just as important is clarifying what RDK is not. The RDK is not an application, and its components support but do not provide the application and user interface (UI) layers on the device. Doing so fosters commonality across the ecosystem in the base layers of a deployment while acknowledging and preserving an operator’s ability to customize and deploy the apps, UI and other consumer-facing services that create their unique user experience.

This summer, Time Warner Cable and Comcast announced their joint venture, RDK Management, LLC, where TWC will provide additional technical guidance, contribute code, and provide financial support to this new entity to promote the RDK as the platform software solution for the industry.

The benefits

RDK is a game changer. It offers standardization, increases opportunities to expand services and allows more collaboration among peers in the cable industry.

As an industry, we are facing several technology transitions – the transition to IP-based video delivery, the transition of storage from the home to the cloud, and the transition of navigation from the home to the cloud.  And the RDK is a key enabler of those transitions, creating a common platform that provides the foundation for those capabilities, including a robust video pipeline, a flexible storage model, and cutting-edge browser support.

But it is important to consider not just what the RDK enables but also how it enables it.  A stated goal of the RDK is that it is an open platform that fosters innovation and collaboration.  Wherever possible, the components of the RDK are open source or shared source, available royalty-free to RDK licensees. This open stance has two important implications.  First, this is a community effort.  Developers from all RDK members – operators, vendors, and integrators – contribute to the evolution of the platform both in the form of ideas and in the form of code.   Second, this requires an investment from the members.  Like many open source projects, you get out of it what you put into it.  At its core, this represents an important transition in the industry: the transition of the operator as an integrator to the operator as an innovator.

Being open has its advantages.  Being open enables and even encourages collaboration among the RDK community.  Being open allows us to all to scrutinize the code, leading to more reliable and more secure products.  And finally, being open empowers each of us to develop new functionality and to address issues as quickly as possible.  Which brings me to another important point: velocity.  Open and common platforms lead to better collaboration between our partners and us, which directly leads to faster introduction of new products and new features.  We don’t just work better together, we also deliver products to market faster.

The Future

Time Warner Cable views the RDK as its strategic platform for future devices, including our IP set-top box platform and associated  HTML5 cloud-based navigation guide. But that is just the start.  We see this leading to a converged platform to support the video, data and voice products in the future.  Today, there is no single software platform that supports that diversity of functions. With the right focus and investment, we believe that the RDK will evolve to meet that challenge.

RDK is a work in progress and there’s no doubt that both the RDK community and the installed base, already growing, will be even larger by the time many of us assemble in Los Angeles for Cable Show 2014.  For now, we should all root for the principles of openness, collaboration, and velocity.