- Group goes “full throttle” on RDK router overhaul.
- Router software platform seen as foundation for complete home services.
- DT is “major contributor” of software to open source community.
Deutsche Telekom’s push to overhaul its home broadband gateways with the open-source Reference Design Kit (RDK) software platform continues apace and could see the technology rolled out in multiple markets this year.
Alex Ball, Director of RDK-B Development at DT, said the operator was “on the cusp of deploying in five countries across three access technologies”, speaking during the DT technology showcase at Mobile World Congress.
The markets were not specified, but the Group’s 2021 Annual Report notes that a “market launch” was planned in Hungary in 2022 following a pilot trial last year. The report also points to Germany, Croatia, Greece and North Macedonia, where “further applications and prototypes” are planned this year.
“We are currently on full throttle to really roll out on all the different access technologies that Deutsche Telekom is providing with many different manufacturers, OEMs, and across different countries”, said Thorsten Müller, Innovation Lead for Connectivity at DT, also speaking at MWC.
He said the goal is to “data-enable the routers for any future kind of services”. This gives DT the ability to roll out services faster to more customers, as well as collect data from the devices that can inform new service development and support predictive troubleshooting to spot problems before users need to call customer services.
RDK was flagged as one of the Group’s strategic innovation priorities in 2020 for broadband services (Deutsche Telekomwatch, #104 and #105). Müller said it was a “bold decision” for DT to “take over the ownership of the software stack of the router”. By decoupling the hardware and software in home routers and developing its own software, DT will have more control over service development and customer experience and can deliver a common set of services across different hardware and access networks.
At its Capital Markets Day in 2021, DT set a target of installing 75% of its router base with its own OS by the end of 2024.
Good open source citizens
RDK was initially conceived by cable operators and driven by Comcast in the early phases. DT has been leading efforts to make the software “access agnostic”, according to Ball, who joined DT in July 2021 from Liberty Global and has been involved in the RDK community since 2014.
DT is developing RDK-B to be compatible across all access technologies, including DSL, fibre, DOCSIS, and fixed wireless access. It is creating its own software within its “software factory” and feeding it back into the RDK community and is a “major contributor”, he explained.
As DT works to drive the architecture of the RDK stack for multiple access technologies, Ball said the operator needed to “step up in our responsibility within that stack and make sure that we are acting as good corporate citizens” by guiding other members of the community that have not been as involved in the early development. The ambition is to push the technology to “become a very scalable community software stack which can be deployed pretty much anywhere”.
Müller issued a “call to action” at MWC, inviting other operators to get involved and “jump on the train with us”.
Power of software
Making a recent appearance on The RDK Podcast, Ball shared his view on the some of the benefits of taking control of the software for an operator like DT.
“You are a software developer and you’re also the person who has that relationship with the customer. You can bring those two together to create quite a strong drive for continuous improvement in software quality … [at DT] we’re trying to get the best information that we can out of these gateway stacks to make sure that we’re continuously improving the relationship and the experience of customers”.
Ball said DT recognised RDK as an opportunity to have a platform that can “target multiple markets, multiple hardware types, multiple access technologies, and harmonise all of that across a common stack”.
“We have all these technologies, but we also have this real ambition to own the whole network home network experience. With RDK we’re able to bring that all together”, he said.
RDK is an open-source software platform for video set-top boxes (i.e., RDK‑V), broadband devices (i.e., RDK‑B), as well as connected home Internet of Things (IoT) devices. It is deployed on 80 million devices, according to the latest update from RDK Management, the consortium that manages RDK and a community of 500 companies. The advantages of RDK for cable operators and telcos is that it can run on multiple access technologies and offers more control over their services, device management, and overall customer experience, rather than having features and capabilities set by the latest models of customer premise equipment (CPE). New features and services can be deployed at once to millions of video or broadband devices. Alternatives to RDK include Google’s Android TV and Amazon’s Fire TV.