14. Erik Prusch, CEO, Clearwire - Most Powerful People in Wireless

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Erik Prusch, CEO, ClearwireWhat makes him powerful: Since Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) elevated Erik Prusch to CEO in August 2011 he has been focused on two things: moving ahead with the company's transition from WiMAX to TD-LTE and securing the funding to make sure that will be possible. On both counts Prusch has made considerable progress. However, the company faces a chronic funding shortage. Speculation has swirled regarding whether Japan's Softbank, which is spending $20.1 billion for a 70 percent stake in Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), wants to gain control of Clearwire as well.

Yet Clearwire would not even be in that position if it weren't for the tenacity of Prusch and his top lieutenant, CFO Hope Cochran.  Around this time last year there were worries that Clearwire might default on its debt. Yet just weeks later Clearwire and majority owner Sprint reached new funding and wholesale agreements worth a total of up to $1.6 billion. The agreements kept the WiMAX network open as a revenue stream for Clearwire while laying the foundation for its TD-LTE network, which Prusch said in February would go live by June 2013.

Even though Clearwire lost Comcast and Time Warner Cable as wholesale customers as a result of their deal with Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ),  this year Clearwire has signed up a roster of new wholesale customers. They include MVNE Simplexity, startup FreedomPop, NetZero, Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) MVNO Jolt Mobile and Internet and cloud services provider EarthLink. While they don't have the cachet or customer bases of Comcast and Time Warner, and some, like Leap, will not use Clearwire's network until it lights up LTE, the list is proof that Prusch and his team are convincing companies to belief Clearwire's vision of a world in which capacity is king. 

Prusch still faces challenges. He needs to make sure chipset makers from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) through Sequans support Clearwire's TD-LTE band so that device makers will want to push out TD-LTE capable devices (especially those that can interoperate with FDD-LTE networks).  Meanwhile, although carrier aggregation technology will allow Clearwire's TD-LTE network to deliver theoretical peak data rates of 168 Mbps, none of that will mean anything if Clearwire can't get its network built. Clearwire significantly cut the number of TD-LTE sites it plans to deploy from 5,000 sites by mid-year 2013 to 2,000 sites to better align its deployment with Sprint's own LTE launch. While that may be a prudent financial step to take, it also undercuts Clearwire's value as an offload network in dense urban markets. Prusch has laid the foundation for the next phase of Clearwire's life, now he needs to make sure Clearwire lives to see it.-–Phil

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