10. Charlie Ergen, Chairman, Dish Network – Most Powerful People in Wireless


Charlie Ergen, Chairman, Dish Network

What makes him powerful: Dish Network's Charlie Ergen controls 40 MHz of MSS S-band spectrum, which makes him a powerful player in an industry constantly on the hunt for new spectrum.

Ergen's plan is to use that spectrum to build a nationwide LTE Advanced network starting in 2016, a network that could both challenge incumbents like AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and leverage Dish's established strengths providing Internet and TV services. Though Dish doesn't have the spectrum depth to offer a service to rival those provided by the nation's Tier 1 wireless carriers, Ergen has shown an ability to maximize his holdings in creative ways.

Specifically, Ergen has a wide range of options in the wireless industry, and whatever he ultimately decides to do with his spectrum holdings will impact multiple sectors in the market. If Ergen does decide to build  his own network, he has made it clear that he expects to partner with another wireless carrier to complete the effort. "If somebody wants to do that we're probably going to be a very good partner," Ergen said recently. Analysts have generally pointed to Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) or T-Mobile USA as likely candidates, carriers that could offer Dish additional capacity and core networks capable of handling new services.

But Ergen also could choose to sell his spectrum, a path that would also significantly affect current market dynamics. "There always has to be an option to exit the business if we're not able to get into the business on time, and that window is closing," Ergen said recently. Though it's unclear exactly which companies would purchase Ergen's spectrum, the ultimate buyer could be able to significantly expand its service offerings. (The buyer could also face serious challenges from regulators.)+Mike

Special Report: Top 25 Most Powerful People in U.S. Wireless 2012