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Cable Tech

DOCSIS pioneer Tom Cloonan retires as big changes at CommScope continue

Tom Cloonan, a cable industry and DOCSIS pioneer who has been through his fair share of M&A over the years, confirmed that he has retired.

Cloonan most recently served as interim CTO of CommScope following the departure of former CTO Morgan Kurk. Cloonan joined CommScope in 2019 following the company's $7.4 billion acquisition of Arris, where he was CTO. Prior to that, he was a top-ranking exec at Cadant, a cable modem termination system (CMTS) startup that Arris acquired in 2001. Prior to becoming a cable guy, Cloonan spent 17 years with Bell Labs working in areas such as long-distance switching, optical computing and photonic switching.

Tom Cloonan joined CommScope via its 2019 acquisition of Arris, and joined Arris in 2002 when Arris acquired CMTS startup Cadant. 
(Source: CommScope)
Tom Cloonan joined CommScope via its 2019 acquisition of Arris, and joined Arris in 2002 when Arris acquired CMTS startup Cadant.
(Source: CommScope)

During his cable industry days, Cloonan has seen DOCSIS become the dominant data platform for widely deployed hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks, and has seen DOCSIS evolve as a conduit for high-speed data, VoIP, IP video and other advanced services. He's also had a front row seat as DOCSIS progressed from a single-channel technology with DOCSIS 1.0, 1.1 and 2.0, to channel bonding and the use of advanced modulation schemes with DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1, on up to the multi-gig, low-latency capabilities of DOCSIS 4.0.

Cloonan, a regular speaker at Light Reading cable technology events over the years and an inductee to the 2019 class of Cable TV Pioneers, has also been known as one of the industry's most astute prognosticators of data consumption on the cable access network and for his insightful views about what's next for DOCSIS.

Cloonan is not hanging up his engineering tools for good. He tells Light Reading that he is doing some work for BlueOpus Technologies, a data science and predictive analytics research company founded by his wife, Ruth, that's engaged with technology companies and charities focused on areas such as sustainable energy and animal welfare. He also plans to spend more time with his family and pursue online classes in subjects such as guitar and 3D animation.

Cable crossroads

Cloonan is retiring from CommScope as the cable industry faces some major decisions about the future of the access network. The DOCSIS 4.0 specs are done and technologies and products for it are being developed, but it's not clear whether the bulk of cable operators in the US and abroad will pursue it as aggressively as they did with prior generations of the technology.

While the likes of Comcast, Charter Communications and Cox Communications appear to have D4.0 firmly on their respective roadmaps, other operators intend to squeeze all they can out of DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1 in the coming years. Still others, such as Virgin Media O2 and Altice USA, intend to bypass DOCSIS 4.0 and instead pursue the deployment of fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) upgrades and overlays.

More change at CommScope

Cloonan's departure also comes during a time of significant change at CommScope, which is undergoing an extensive overview of its business and is preparing to spin off its Home Networks unit (or perhaps sell it outright if such an opportunity arises) under new CEO Chuck Treadway.

When Cloonan was named interim CTO last summer, CommScope noted that it made the move as it looked to evaluate "its longer-term strategic requirements of the CTO office." Multiple sources said the retirement of Cloonan also signaled CommScope's decision to move on without an overarching office of the CTO.

As further evidence that there won't be an office of the CTO going forward, CommScope noted that it has identified several CTOs for subsets of its business units:

  • Mike Wolfe is CTO of Outdoor Wireless Networks
  • Charles Cheevers is CTO of Home Networks
  • Matt Melester is CTO of Networking, Intelligent Cellular and Security Solutions

"As discussed in the Q421 and FY21 earnings announcement, CommScope believes a new segment structure will be the foundation to accelerate growth and deliver greater operational efficiencies," CommScope said in a statement. "In conjunction with Tom's retirement and the new structure, management has determined the company is best served by having dedicated CTOs within each of our business segments."

As for CommScope's Access Network Solutions and Connectivity and Cable Solutions units, the company "is tapping into a deep talent bench with a rich history of technology innovators who have collaborated with Tom prior to his retirement," CommScope added.

Last week, CommScope revealed that Guy Sucharczuk is now head of Access Network Solutions. Sucharczuk also joined CommScope via the Arris acquisition in 2019, and previously was CEO of Aurora Networks, an access network company that was sold to UK-based set-top specialist Pace in 2013 (Arris acquired Pace in 2015).

Ric Johnsen, the former CEO of Alloptic and an exec who's been with CommScope for more than a decade, has been tapped to lead CommScope's Connectivity and Cable Solutions unit.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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