2. Larry Page, CEO, Google – Most Powerful People in Wireless


Larry Page, CEO, Google

What makes him powerful: Who is Larry Page? More than a year into his stint as Google CEO, the answer remains elusive. While Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is the public face of the digital services giant, traveling the globe and spreading the Google gospel,  co-founder Page is the puppet master lurking behind the scenes--this year, he spent months out of the public eye after losing his voice, finally ending speculation about the overall state of his health by speaking at Google's annual Zeitgeist conference in mid-October.

Page may keep a low profile compared to other industry leaders, but his power and influence speak for themselves. No other company matches the scope or reach of Google's mobile empire: Its Android mobile operating system now powers more than 500 million devices worldwide, a number on pace to double to 1 billion in a year. The Android device ecosystem keeps growing in number as well as variety, with Google teaming with LG Electronics for the Nexus 4, the latest in a series of "lead" Nexus-branded devices showcasing the latest Android software advances; in partnership with Samsung Electronics, Google is also rolling out the new Nexus 10, which it calls "the highest resolution tablet on the planet." And there's more than enough content to keep Android device owners occupied: The Google Play storefront offers about 700,000 Android applications, a number on par with archrival Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store for iOS.

Google's mobile dominance spans beyond Android, of course. The company's mobile run rate now tops $8 billion, and Page expects mobile ad revenues to eventually eclipse their desktop counterpart. Google Search is among the top five most regularly accessed applications across all U.S. smartphones according to Nielsen; Google Wallet usage doubled in the weeks after the company rolled out a cloud-based version of the contactless payment service with support for all credit and debit cards from Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover; and Google-owned YouTube is the largest source of mobile data traffic across all international markets, accounting for more than 25 percent of total network data in some regions. If it matters on mobile, it's a part of Google's business.

But for the first time, there are serious causes for concern about Google's momentum. It has struggled to integrate handset maker Motorola Mobility, which it acquired for $12.5 billion--Motorola reported third quarter operating losses of $527 million, its first quarter as a Google unit. Far more troubling, in August a jury awarded Apple a $1 billion victory against Android manufacturing partner Samsung Electronics in the companies' patent infringement battle--Apple's executives have long argued that Android platform too closely copies the company's iPhone and iOS software, and if its legal victory stands, Apple will likely assert its patents against other Android vendors.

Android partners are weighing their options: ZTE has already confirmed it will build smartphones based on open-source software development initiative Mozilla's fledgling Firefox OS, and when Acer indicated plans to launch a smartphone running Chinese Internet giant Alibaba's Aliyun mobile operating system, Google stepped in to halt the project, citing software compatibility concerns. Android fragmentation remains a challenge as well. Devices running no fewer than eight different versions of Android have accessed Google Play in recent weeks, and Motorola recently confirmed it is not shipping the unaltered, stock version of Android on its smartphones because of carrier demands to customize the OS to their own specifications.

Not even Google's core mobile services are still on solid ground. With the launch of its new iOS 6, Apple swapped out Google Maps (an iOS fixture since the first iPhone hit retail in 2007) in favor of its homegrown, much-maligned Maps platform, also expunging support for YouTube. Google has already launched an ad-supported YouTube app for iOS and a Maps app is reportedly in the pipeline. Still, it seems Apple will stop at nothing to derail Google's mobile momentum, and so far, it's working: First-week sales of the new iPhone 5 slowed Android's growth in the critical U.S. and U.K. markets, according to market research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. It will be fascinating to watch Google adapt to these challenges and changes, and as the company evolves, we'll see Page's leadership and entrepreneurial vision evolve in tandem.--Jason

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