As the chief technology officer, network solutions, at Arris, Tom Cloonan plays an integral role in building the fabric of cable’s broadband future, whether it’s one that will be woven with next-generation hybrid fiber coaxial technologies like DOCSIS 3.1, new wireless broadband platforms, or, in some targeted situations, all-fiber infrastructures.
But no matter which direction that future takes, Cloonan’s experience and expertise expands to all fronts. Having spent a good chunk of his earlier career in the telecom sector, Tom Cloonan didn’t start off as a dyed in the wool “cable guy.”
Before taking the technology helm at Cadant, a cable-modem termination system startup acquired by Arris in 2002, Cloonan spent 17 years with Bell Labs, where he worked on long-distance switching systems and then shifted to work on optical computing and photonic switching.
“It was a great place,” he said. “People there assumed they’d be there for life.”
But funding levels changed and R&D budgets were cut, prompting Cloonan to apply his focus to ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) switching and IP-router products — areas that presented more stability because they were tied to products with more near-term revenue potential.
That routing expertise came in handy when Venkata Majeti, then the CEO of Cadant, came calling to see if Cloonan would be interested in applying his telco expertise to a young company based in Lisle, Ill., that was trying to elbow its way into cable and the industry’s budding pursuit of high-speed data services.
“I was driven to it by working on the technology, but I didn’t know much about the cable industry,” Cloonan said. “I was sort of deaf, dumb and blind on what the cable space was all about.”
It turned out that the cable industry was ready and willing to embrace ideas that were a natural, intrinsic part of the telco world, such as high availability and redundancy, as MSOs expanded the reach of high-speed Internet services and began to aggressively develop telco-equivalent voice services.
And Cloonan had some help from the Cadant team and a group of mentors that showed him the ropes in the tightly-knit cable industry. Among those he credits with his industry tutelage are Steve Dukes (a former Cadant and Arris adviser who is late of MediaOne Group and Tele- Communications Inc.); cable engineering pioneer Dr. Walter Ciciora; Steve Craddock (the retired Comcast engineering executive); and Nick Hamilton-Piercy (the retired former chief technology officer of Rogers Cable).
Cloonan, now considered to be one of the industry’s top engineering minds, has made good use of that mentoring. He helped Arris and its operator partners develop and deploy several iterations of DOCSIS (from 1.0 to 3.0), and is now preparing them for the next big leap — to the multi-gigabit DOCSIS 3.1 platform.
At the helm of Arris’s network-facing activities, Cloonan has also helped the company become a leader in the development of Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) products that combine the functions of the edge QAM and the CMTS and will serve an important role in the industry’s all-IP transition.
That work has culminated into a big year for Arris. In addition to demonstrating DOCSIS 3.1-based traffic running on its flagship CMTS/CCAP platform, the E6000, at The Cable Show this year, Arris has established a solid lead in the cable access market in terms of revenue share, according to the latest data from Infonetics Research.
Heading into 2015, Cloonan and his team will continue to focus on CCAP, including the integration of edge QAM functions (including elements such as video on demand and switched digital video), into the E6000, while also pushing ahead on DOCSIS 3.1.
Those efforts — which unfortunately make it even more difficult for Cloonan and his wife, Ruth, to find time to take out his 17-foot Bayliner for some waterskiing — will be important as cable operators gear up to deploy 1-Gigabit-per-second broadband services and stay ahead of the bandwidth demand being driven by IP video and over-the-top services.
Cloonan’s view extends beyond the near future, allowing him and his colleagues to “have some fun and project on where technology might go.”
That, he said, includes thoughts about whether the idea of “extended spectrum” has any legs as cable operators continue to use fiber-to-the-premises architectures, like RF over Glass (RFoG) and Passive Optical Network, in targeted situations.
While DOCSIS, which is delivered over HFC, presents some spectral limits, all-fiber networks could enable operators to develop services that reside in the neighborhood of 3 Gigahertz. If so, that, Cloonan said, could open the door to capacities of more than 10 Gbps – in the downstream and upstream direction — perhaps in the range of 20 Gbps to 40 Gbps.
“I’m not claiming that it’s a gimme, but these are exciting, futuristic areas that we’re hoping to take a look at,” Cloonan said.