The Reference Design Kit (RDK) is living up to its goal of service velocity by cutting down the development cycles for set-top boxes and gateways from years to months.

The “All things RDK panel” at Expo delved into defining the RDK’s abilities, lessons learned from early RDK work and the support through the recently formed RDK Management.

Initially, the RDK was developed internally by Comcast by using best-of-breed open-source components from the Internet. It is now a community-based project that allows developers, vendors and cable operators to use a defined stack of software on one layer in order to provision set-top boxes and gateways.

The RDK allows all of the interested parties to develop once and then scale across multiple environments – in the CableCard/QAM/MEPG-2 world of today, as well as in the IP environment of tomorrow.

In August, Comcast and Time Warner Cable formed RDK Management, LLC, which has taken over the licensing, training, community support and code management for the Reference Design Kit. In addition, the new entity will establish an expanded support program to provide technical support to RDK licensees as operators more broadly deploy the RDK platform.

Comcast has deployed RDK-based software in its X1 platform, which is the only deployment of RDK-based devices to date. At The Cable Show, Comcast announced its X2 software update, which will include the new RDK-based Xi3 box that is made by Pace and Humax.

Time Warner Cable is trialing IP hybrid boxes and a cloud-based guide in Syracuse, New York, with the goal of expanding the trials to Los Angeles and New York City this fall, but the RDK won’t come into play until the first half of next year.

Steve Reynolds, Comcast’s senior vice president of CPE and home networking said one area that has helped cut down the development cycle was using base ports.

“The good news is the process has gotten considerably easier,” Reynolds said. “RDK 1.3 is the release version now. It’s relatively stable and a lot of the features are already working on it.  With all of those SoC (system-on-a-chip) vendors already doing base ports on the silicon that is broadly used in the industry it makes it a lot faster and a lot easier to get a port of the RDK running up on a specific set-top box.

“A base port is the first time that you bring the RDK up on a specific chip family. We call that the base port because its not necessarily fully integrated into the set top itself. We have those base ports on the most of the common industry SoC at this point and time. By using base ports it saves the OEMs months, if not orders in time, in bringing that stack on top of that set top hardware. The reason we started doing this whole thing in the first place was service velocity. By and large we’ve done that by getting these base ports out to the SoC community.”

Aside of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, other cable operators that have previously expressed an interest in the RDK include Charter Communications, Rogers Communications, J:Com and Liberty Global. Cox Communications is also kicking the tires. Cox’s Steve Calzone, director of video applications development, said his company was not yet a licensee of the RDK but rather an “evaluator.”

“We’re evaluating the technology to understand how it can really help us have faster time to market with applications,” he said. “What I know is it’s not the end-to-end cure all for our application development, but it’s a good piece of the infrastructure that we can use to really move a lot faster. Our intentions are to start developing with HTML5 to ultimately provide feaster time to market for guide-based applications to our subscribers. We still need the other pieces to make it work to our subscribers’ benefit and the RDK is not that.”

Reynolds and other panel members stressed that the RDK was not an attempt to do a universal application platform, or a “Comcast jam down.” Steve Heeb, president and general manager, RDK Management, said those who have elected tp license the RDK could “vote with their code” on what it should be going forward. The point is that all of the members of RDK Management are able see the code as it develops, and decide for themselves whether it’s a good fit for them.

Heeb said there was a “huge opportunity” for vendors to be the next Red Hat or Linux by developing on the RDK framework, but “people in the community need to step up.”

Going forward, Reynolds said that instead of using Webkit the QT element of the RDK was moving to Blink’s HTML5 implementation. Also in the 2.x version of the RDK, OCAP will be optional instead of a core component. 

“Our interest in the RDK is what we can do with next generation UIs moving to the cloud,” said Bill Warga, vice president technology, Liberty Global. “In our latest demo we are showing a re-skinning of the UI every five minutes. Every five minutes another page would load to show people that we were operating from the cloud and how quickly we can make changes. We’re excited about what the platform can bring us."