15. Hans Vestberg, President and CEO, Ericsson - Most Powerful People in Wireless

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Hans Vestberg, CEO, EricssonWhat makes him powerful: Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) has so far had a bumpy year financially, gaining in the first quarter on its sale of its stake in Sony Ericsson, while seeing its profits slip year-over-year in the second and third quarters due to weaker networks sales (and CDMA in particular). Some of these things are in CEO Hans Vestberg's control, others are not (it's unlikely that he can stop the decline in CDMA network sales as more carriers move to LTE, for example).

That said, Ericsson still remains the world's largest network infrastructure provider (just ahead of Huawei), and Vestberg seems intent on keeping the company there by positioning it for the future. That seems to be the explanation behind both the company's desire to make more money from its patent portfolio and its February purchase of Wi-Fi networking gear specialist BelAir Networks. The deal, Ericsson's most significant so far in 2012, allows Ericsson to add carrier-grade Wi-Fi offloading technology to its equipment portfolio. This deal is especially important because carriers are increasingly turning to Wi-Fi offloading to handle the increase in mobile data traffic.

At every turn, Vestberg extols Ericsson's vision for the future: the number of mobile broadband users will expand to 5 billion by 2016 and by 2020 there will be 50 billion connected devices, many of which will communicate automatically on behalf of their human owners. "Our society will be changed. Our lives will be changed," Vestberg said in his keynote speech at Mobile World Congress in February.

To capitalize on that future, Ericsson will need to keep winning LTE contracts, as it did when T-Mobile USA chose Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks as its primary suppliers for its network upgrade. For Ericsson, the T-Mobile deal completed a sweep of major LTE contracts with all four of the Tier 1 U.S. carriers.

The year was not without its blemishes though. Airvana Network Solutions filed a $330 million lawsuit against Ericsson, alleging that it collaborated with LG Electronics to sell an illegal "knock-off" of an Airvana product, threatening to put Airvana out of business. Ericsson slashed some of its North American workforce. Still, Vestberg has kept the ship upright and maintained Ericsson's market leadership, despite weaker carrier spending in many markets, especially economically troubled Europe.--Phil

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