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Welcome to the first episode of The RDK Podcast, where Jamie is joined by none other than the President of RDK himself, Jason Briggs!

Sit back, relax and enjoy as we chat about…

📺  Jason’s history in tech, and his journey with Comcast

📺  What RDK is, and how it can be used

📺  How RDK is different to the competition

📺  The new lightning application and RDK-4

📺  What’s coming next for RDK, and where this tech is leading us…

 

Jamie:
Hello, and welcome to the first episode of The RDK Podcast. I’m your host Jamie Walker, and today I’m joined by none other than Jason Briggs, the president of RDK himself.

Jamie:
Jason, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you kick off the show.

Jason:
Great. Great to be here, and thanks for doing this podcast and talking more about the RDK community. Happy to be here.

Jamie:
Nice. Great, I’m really looking forward to diving in and showing the globe what our guests do.

Jamie:
But, before we jump into RDK itself Jason, tell me a little bit about your background with Comcast over the last 20 or so years.

Jason:
Oh yeah. Yeah, I’ll rewind even a little bit further back, to maybe bring it back to full circle.

Jason:
I describe myself as someone that was raised by artists, and then I rebelled and became an accountant. That was my early career days, which is quite funny, not many rebel accountants out there. But, I did a brief stint in the accounting world and decided maybe being a recovering accountant might be a little bit better. I always had a passion for technology, at the time.

Jason:
So at the time, I moved over into a wireless company for a while. And then, I moved to a tech consultancy, which really advised a lot of local large software companies how to sell into the telecommunications space.

Jamie:
Okay.

Jason:
That led me, eventually, to Comcast. So I started there, I don’t know how many years ago, maybe 15 or so years ago. Effectively, I was looking at how do we take technologies commonly used in the industry, how do we collaborate together on these technologies. So joint development, those types of activities, I started a lot of those types of joint ventures and joint collaborations. That’s what really led me to this opportunity at the time, which was RDK.

Jason:
RDK, at its foundation, is really a joint collaboration technology. It really started with the concept of, “Hey, do you want to take a look at this, and maybe license it to a couple companies, see if we can get together.” I said, “Yeah sure, we’ll see what happens.” It just so happened, it really took off from there to becoming a massively successful open source project, which is one of those things that you just … At the time, you start with humble beginnings and it just kept continuing to grow, and grow and grow.

Jason:
I’m probably not a classic example, but maybe pretty close to an example of where you start your career and where you end up in life, it’s that curvy line of different stops along the way to get to where you are today. Back to the artistic side, I still now appreciate the artistic side from my parents much, much more, design, all of that stuff. That, to me, I still have that soft spot in my heart. Anytime I get really cool designs, drawings, anything, I really get a little bit geeky into that so I haven’t really given that up.

Jamie:
No, I think it’s great that you can implement that into the work, especially with technology and how adaptable that is. And as you were saying, it’s a collaborative platform, so having that background is only ever going to benefit the platform itself.

Jason:
Right.

Jamie:
But, for our listeners Jason, who are really just dipping their toes into RDK, what is it? Can you give us a background into it and the history, at this stage?

Jason:
Yeah, yeah. At its core, it’s fundamentally an operating system for set top boxes and an operating system for broadband wifi gateways. We also, then, also expanded it to cameras as well, so we have a mini operating system for IT connected cameras.

Jason:
So at the core, that’s what it is. But even when you break it down more, it’s basically a Linux-based operating system, all of these are based on Linux. We run it as an open source project, similar to many of the open source projects you would in the community. And, what we do and what it is, is we standardize core functions on these devices and we draw this line between what’s a core function on the device, so Bluetooth, wifi modules, things like that, which are core functions, with what we would call user experience type functions.

Jason:
For those, we don’t standardize. We provide a platform to develop to the platform and develop, but we want companies, and this is on purpose, so they can actually take their unique user experience and put it on top of RDK. If they wanted various voice platforms, they have a choice of what they want to do. Various app store, they can choose whatever they want.

Jason:
So this is very purposeful by us. If you think about it from the concept of you’re using a device you go, “Wow, this is really a great device. I wonder who provides the Bluetooth stack?” No one cares. That’s the stuff we really want to take on and standardize, and make it a very high performant Bluetooth stack, if you will, within the device. It’s an important thing to delineate what we do on what I call the bottom of the stack and the user experience side of the stack.

Jason:
Going to your question about the history, we started this, like I said, very, very humbly. This was the concept that we had a number of different operators that were taking their communities in a number of different directions on software. And at the time we all looked together and said, “Look, this is a little bit silly. Why don’t we agree on a common software stack, and then take that to the industry?” That’s really where this started, so it just started with a couple of folks that were collaborating together. And then, we decided if we’re going to do this the right way, this can’t be embedded within any operator or any tech company, it needs to be an independent joint venture.

Jason:
That’s what we started, back in 2013, the end of 2013, is a joint venture to run the RDK for the benefit of the community, not for the benefit of one operator or one tech company, or what have you. It’s really the benefit for everyone. Like I said, humble beginnings when we started. We published it out there, it was free and open, everyone could use it. It needed a lot of attention at the time. But, what was really important about it, we started the video stack, is once people started to see the benefits of the video stack being in the open people said, “Well, what about a broadband stack?”

Jason:
The curious element at the time is we actually had our entire broadband stack contributed to us from Cisco at the time. It happened, firstly, because they saw the success we were doing on the video side and they said, “Well, we might as well get in on the broadband side and at least be a leader in this space.” So they contributed that entire stack to RDK.

Jason:
From that point, it’s grown. It’s grown to over 80 million devices now that are using the RDK, it’s deployed in 20 countries plus, so it’s really becoming a pretty widely deployed, global open source platform.

Jamie:
That’s it. I think the biggest attraction is the freedom to create. We’ll probably touch onto that, about the benefits of the community. But, I think that’s what’s drawing everybody’s attention to RDK, “Here is the open source platform that you are free to do what you want to do to it.”

Jamie:
But, tell us a little bit more about the benefits of joining the RDK community and what that community can bring to you.

Jason:
Yeah. We boil down the benefits into maybe two categories. One is efficiency and the other is innovation.

Jason:
With efficiency, we RDK take on a lot of the common work that an operator, let’s say if they had their own custom Linux stack, would have to do over and over again. If you envision operators maybe with five different custom Linux stacks, they’re doing the same work, the same code scanning work, the same hardening work, over, and over and over again, five different ways. What we do is we collapse that into one entity, which is RDK. We do all the testing work, we do all the code scan work, we do all the quality review work, so that when you take the code release, which we do every single quarter, you can take advantage of all of that work we’ve done upfront. So that makes the entire delivery chain much, much more efficient so that you the operator, or you the tech company, that are taking the RDK then can use that as a basis and build whatever you want to build on top of it. Your user experience, whatever you want to do.

Jason:
I think that efficiency element, where we’re actually now collapsing things into one code tree where everyone can take advantage of the power of that community code tree, it drives a lot of efficiency, I think, within the industry.

Jason:
And then, I think the second thing I mentioned is innovation. So if you can envision, every single year we take in somewhere in the thousands and thousands of code contributions from the community. If you can say, “Everyone’s taking a look at the code, it’s open, everyone is seeing this code base,” they’re actually sending us back, “Hey, here’s some improvements for this, here’s some improvements for that.” We take, we scan. Again, we expand, sometimes we reject if it’s not good code. But if it is, we bring it in. And every single quarter, that code base flows through to the community and everyone gets the benefit of that quarterly release of the RDK.

Jason:
These changes can be very, very small, but they can also be very, very large. If they’re very large, we’ll actually engage maybe more from a tech development perspective to say, “Hey, here’s … ” This happened the past year, there was a new browser. It’s an improvement on the old browser technology we were using, and it really fits very, very well with the RDK and with low end devices, “Let’s try it out.” And next thing you know, we have a new browser contribution.

Jason:
So these contributions, I think most of them are very small changes which directly help, but there are some large innovational, needle-moving changes. RDKB is the other example where people said, “Okay, I see you doing this open source thing. I guess it’s real, so you guys are investing in it. We might as well get in front of this and be a leader,” and there’s where RDKB came into play. Again, innovation and efficiency are the two hallmarks.

Jamie:
That’s it. I think with every little contribution, the platform is always going to get better and better. And as technology continuously advances, the platform’s only going to increase in performance, availability, and as you said, innovation.

Jason:
It’s the magic of open source, really. We’re not reinventing anything, we’re just taking an example of a concept that really works, it’s just open source software, and applying it to our industry for set top boxes and gateways.

Jamie:
That’s it. I think we’re going to touch on one of your biggest competitors, which is Android TV. In your opinion, are they quite similar products? And, how do they differ from one another?

Jason:
Yeah. I think competition-wise, there’s probably two buckets we’ll call them. One is what I would call the proprietary end-to-end platform bucket, and that’s probably where they would mostly fall. That bucket is, “Hey, our operating system is generally free, we’ll give it away, if you sign up for our products and services, and what have you.” I guess, it’s a bit of a competition to us but the differentiator is very, very clear.

Jason:
The differentiator is that we give control over the platform. When you need to update software, we don’t tell you when you want to do it, you’re free to update your software when you want to. If you want to fragment a little bit from us, that’s fine. It’s a little bit controlled in a way, because if you fragment too much, you lose these quarterly benefits that come through every single four times a year to you. But that’s fine, people make purposeful decisions to come back and come back on, which is fine. And then, UI, UX, voice, we want the operators … And again, the operators told us this, they want the freedom to define that layer themselves. They don’t want to be told if, for instance, they have a voice platform but they want to switch to a different voice platform, they don’t want to have to run it through us. they want to be able to just do it. That freedom and control is really our differentiator on that side.

Jason:
But then, I think you have another side which is what I would call generic open source. That plays both in the broadband segment and the video segment of what we do. With the generic open source projects, we differentiate in the way that we are a very well maintained community. We invest in the community, we invest in the releases we do, we do a lot of upfront work in “investment” in this code base. And, we also invest in the area of training and webinars, and anything that we can do to bring people together, and make sure that we’re communicating to the community that they know where this is going.

Jason:
That’s differentiated from other open source, where sometimes they just throw it out there, it picks up and it gets fragmented in 1000 different ways. “Yeah, we’re basing our software on this open source,” but in reality, it’s been fragmented so much it’s become a proprietary, custom platform.

Jason:
That’s how we differentiate, is we continue to invest to keep that quarterly release cycle going, and the investment and the upgrades of new code and features into the platform. And ultimately, then how you look at this, our tagline is, “It’s by the operator, for the operator.” Meaning, this code base is code base that operators and service providers need for their customers. So when they need a new feature and it needs to be generic for the industry, that’s where we kick in and say, “How can we help to find a common way of doing this for the industry?” Especially in generic open source, I don’t think you get that level of operator focus, operator feature focus, that we do.

Jamie:
Definitely. The end product is there for the customer, it’s all about the customer experience, at the end of the day. I think the important part about the community is the information shared and the opportunities to get together.

Jamie:
After the RDK Summit towards the end of 2020, one of the key points that was talked about was the new Lightning Application Platform for RDK4. How do you see this changing how apps are developed, and how will that improve the customer experience as well?

Jason:
Yeah, this is actually a perfect segue into, “By the operator, for the operator.” Lightning was really developed for the operator community. So the way we looked at it, apps, generally it’s around applications that are built for RDK devices. Generally video, but this could extend to the broadband as well. But generally, in the video space what we see is generally, there are two types of applications. One of them we call native applications, which are custom-built monolith applications that are integrated into the device. And then, generic web-based applications, such as HTML5, which are built with the browser in mind. The way we like to define Lightning is it provides the benefits of both of these worlds.

Jason:
The benefit of the native application is you have a very high performant experience with that application. So menus move fast, response times are very, very good, it’s a great user experience. That’s great, although the downside is they can take up a lot of RAM on the device, depending on the native app itself. The integration is complex and costly, in certain cases. And then, the portability, because you have to integrate every single device, portability is lacking because when you bring another new set top box, another new silicon provider, you’d have to do that integration again, and again, and again. And then, when those applications up rev, you have to do that again, and again, and again. That’s the native side.

Jason:
And then the web-based side, probably you could absolutely flip the benefits and the cons, if you will. But, the beauty of the web development is you get portability. You develop one web app, it runs in a browser, and it can run across multiple browsers within the industry. Plus, the skillset you have on web development is extreme. You can really tap this great talent pool of web developers to develop your application, lowering the cost and increasing the surface layer of where you can take that application, which is fantastic. The downside, particularly in the service provider industry, is our devices are fairly low end. So the performance you typically see on an HTML5 app on a lower end set top box is not optimal. Again, you hit the arrow and there’s a pause and then it moves, that type of performance is not what you see.

Jason:
So what Lightning does is it really combines both of those. It really takes the web approach, which is great, and it optimizes certain graphics elements so that you don’t have that pause, that lag time, you have a very high performant app. You get the advantages, again, of good performance, but then you also get the advantages of this build at once and deploy in many, many different environments. That’s really what Lightning’s about.

Jason:
Again, it’s really developed for our user base, which is low end set top boxes, limited RAM footprint, those types of devices. That’s why we, at RDK, saw this and really just jumped right onto it, because it resonates with our customer base.

Jamie:
Definitely makes sense, to offer that level. I guess Jason, what do you think comes next for RDK now? We are seven, eight years into the journey. What advancements to you reckon are on the way?

Jason:
Yeah, so a couple. We’ve done a lot of talk about apps, and set top boxes and video, but I always say our broadband product if you will, for RDK, is probably one of our most successful products. It is being deployed en masse around the world.

Jason:
The thing we’re doing with broadband is in DOCSIS it’s very, very successful, but we’re also seeing uptake in GPON and DSL. This again, comes from feedback from the community. What our operators want typically is they go, “Hey look, we’ve got a DOCSIS network and we’re deploying GPON,” or, “We have a DSL network and we’re deploying GPON,” but GPON is that common link about where broadband is going. But what they say is, “Look, we want a common software platform across all of these devices.” So for broadband, we are I would say semi-quietly leaning into this this year, depending on who you talk to. If you talk to others they’ll go, “You’ve been talking about this a lot,” and that’s fine. Others, not so much.

Jason:
That, I think to us, is really, really powerful. So when you get that one platform, the problem it solves is integration. What we’re seeing, and this is over and over again, is someone might have a mesh provider, a mesh solution provider, and the pain point they’re getting is, “We have to integrate this mesh solution provider over, and over, and over again. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just integrate it to the RDK, and know that that would be deployed across all of our platforms.” That’s the big trend that’s going on, maybe in the broadband space, and some of the what I’ll call investment we’re making in that space.

Jason:
And then, the second trend would be more broadband and video focused, and that’s the trend of RDK maybe moving a little bit up in terms of what we provide the community. Like I said in the past, what we do is we provide very, very good quality code to the community, that they can take and then build their products on. I kind of view it as a Lego set, so we provide great Lego pieces, we provide a great instruction set, you can build them and have, “Here’s the instructions for the Millennium Falcon, go ahead and build it.” That’s what we do and we do it really well. But, what people have asked is they said, “Look, could you just build the Millennium Falcon for us? Could you just preassemble this and hand it to us?”

Jason:
That’s where we’re starting to invest a lot more, in what I would call our pre-integration lab. We’re looking at the RDK and what third party apps and software do we need to integrate with very, very closely. So some of these, on the video side, might be the premium streaming applications. On the broadband side, it might be something like, I don’t know, multi-cast ABR, or wifi management, or mesh. “Can you take this and just give us an example stack, almost pre-integrated? And then, we’ll take it from there, and do some more customization for our UI, and things like that.”

Jason:
That’s an area that, again, we’re all feedback driven, this is the feedback we got. Some people are very adept at handling what I’ll say the Lego set with instructions, others want more pre-integrated solution. So we’re going to provide both to the community, and then you can choose which ones you want to take, from an operator or even from a tech company perspective.

Jamie:
That sounds great. I think being able to offer that is, again, bringing the community together to build and provide another offering, which is great.

Jamie:
But Jason, thank you so much for joining me today and kicking off what we hope is going to be a really fantastic podcast. And to those who have tuned in for our debut episode, thank you so much for listening in.

Jamie:
Jason, where can the viewers and listeners find out more information on you and RDK?

Jason:
Yeah. It’s easy, www.rdkcentral.com. It’s got a whole wealth of information of what we do. So go check it out, and if you’re thinking about RDK, I’d advise you to take a look at it. But, I think it’s a great platform and definitely something you can use to speed up your delivery of innovation to your customers so give it a shot.

Jamie:
That’s perfect Jason, and thank you so much for coming on today. To all of our listeners, please make sure you follow our Twitter and LinkedIn, using @therdkpodcast, and subscribe to our YouTube channel so that you get notified every time we upload a new episode. Until then, take care and let’s continue the conversation.

 

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