Ford, Visa and other outsiders to take center stage at Mobile World Congress 2012

Sue MarekLook for top executives from many high-profile companies outside the traditional wireless ecosystem to appear on stage at next week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. In fact, this year not only will you find companies such as Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), eBay and Facebook on the agenda, but also prominent names from the gaming industry like John Riccitiello, CEO of EA; heavy hitters from the financial community such as John Partridge, president of Visa; and luminaries from the automotive industry like Bill Ford Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Co.

According to Michael O'Hara, the chief marketing officer at the GSMA, the group that organizes the Mobile World Congress, one of the goals of the show is to get executives from outside the core wireless ecosystem to talk about how wireless fits in with their businesses.

Ford's keynote will take place on Monday evening. And it's just the first of three evening keynotes this year. Look for the return of Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt on Tuesday evening. And Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) CEO Hans Vestberg will take the stage Wednesday night for what I hear will be a very visually exciting keynote presentation on the topic of connected cities.

But keynote addresses aren't the only thing happening in the evening at the conference. For the first time, the GSMA will host "Networking by Moonlight" on Monday and Tuesday from 6:30 pm. until 8:30 p.m. According to O'Hara, this casual networking event will take place near the fountain in the center of the Fira and will be a chance for all attendees to enjoy the scenery and mingle with others in the industry. The networking event will replace the formal (and costly) black-tie event and award gala that used to occur.

What will be the hottest topic at Mobile World Congress this year?The GSMA will be reviving its popular Connected House, which displays various embedded wireless technologies, this year. Look for an even bigger house in the Courtyard area of the exhibit space and look for high-profile displays by companies such as AT&T (NYSE:T) to be included in the Connected House.

Despite challenging economic times in Europe and globally, O'Hara said that attendance for Mobile World Congress is strong and the GSMA is anticipating more than 60,000 attendees, which was the attendance record at the 2011 confab. "We are pretty confident this will be a record year," O'Hara said. "We are tracking ahead of last year."

O'Hara also noted that about 130 ministerial delegations are expected to attend the Mobile World Congress and meet with the CEOs of the large telecom firms.

On the exhibitor side, O'Hara said there are 1,400 companies exhibiting, which is the same as last year, but he said that companies are purchasing more space. In fact exhibit space has increased 6 percent this year.

Of course, one of the biggest concerns for many attendees is the threat of a potential public transit strike in Barcelona, which would impact all buses and the subway. O'Hara noted that the GSMA is doing all it can to work with the city of Barcelona to address the issue. He added that the trade group is developing contingency plans to deal with the strike and will provide that information to attendees prior to the start of the convention.

As usual, the FierceWireless editorial team will be out in full force in Barcelona. I'll be joined by my colleagues Jason Ankeny, Mike Dano, Phil Goldstein and Tammy Parker as we bring you the latest news from all the press conferences and keynotes as well as from the show floor. Look for some interviews with top executives and some surprise announcements in our newsletters and on our MWCLive mini site next week. --Sue