5. Dan Hesse, CEO, Sprint Nextel - Most Powerful People in Wireless

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Dan Hesse, CEO, SprintWhat makes him powerful: 2012 was a tumultuous year for Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) CEO Dan Hesse but he is now riding high thanks in large part to Softbank's decision to purchase 70 percent of Sprint in a deal valued at $20.1 billion. Negotiating that deal required a canny perspective as well as an unconventional look at how best to recapitalize Sprint for the future. It's likely going to give Sprint the financial firepower it will need to pose a more formidable challenge to Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T). It's a bold move. Then again, this past year Hesse has been all about bold moves.

Starting with his high-profile, dogged (albert self-interested) opposition to AT&T's bid to buy T-Mobile USA, which collapsed last December, Hesse has made moves that he believes will push Sprint back to profitability by 2014. The four-year, $15.5 billion deal with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to sell the iPhone is a major financial commitment, but so far Sprint has sold 6.3 million iPhones and has said it is ahead of its plan. Sprint's other costly investment, the $10 billion-$11 billion Network Vision project, is progressing, though the company admitted in late October that it was about a quarter behind schedule in turning on the new multi-mode base stations that are at the heart of the project.   

Still, Hesse should be given credit for moving swiftly to jettison the iDEN network, replace it with a CDMA push-to-talk solution and try and catch up to Verizon and AT&T on LTE. Despite questions about whether Sprint's LTE coverage is as robust as it claims, Hesse and his team have been relentless in promoting the fact that Sprint is improving its network and upgrading to LTE. Even though the network is in fraction of the markets Verizon covers, Sprint has so far managed to sell more than 1 million LTE-capable devices.

Hesse's year hasn't been without its lowlights though, the most disappointing of which was the reported  decision by Sprint's board to reject a proposal to acquire regional prepaid carrier MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS), after Hesse had endorsed the deal. That led to reports that the board was taking a more active role in managing investor concerns about the direction of the carrier and was keeping a closer eye on Hesse's moves. Sprint also continues to bleed cash and postpaid subscribers, though Hesse argues that the postpaid losses from the iDEN network are by design, since the company is working to recapture those customers onto its CDMA network as its moves to shut down Nextel service by the middle of 2013. "These customer losses have been expected. It's by design," Hesse told CNET. "Because of the value of this spectrum we have to move people off it, and re-purpose that spectrum, so it can be used for Network Vision." 

That long-term thinking is at the heart of what makes Hesse stand out. His moves may sometimes be criticized, but no one would say he isn't a power player.--Phil

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