MWC Preview: Microsoft, Twitter, Google to headline annual wireless confab

Sue Marek
In the past, headlines from the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona, Spain, were dominated by major mobile operators such as Vodafone, AT&T (NYSE:T) or Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ). But that has been changing during the past several years due to the influx of more and more non-traditional wireless players from the Internet, computing, social media or entertainment industries. This year is no exception.

If you peruse the list of keynote speakers for next week's show, you will find Eric Schmidt, the chairman and CEO of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square, Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, and Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo!, intermingled with traditional telecom folks such as AT&T's Randall Stephenson, China Mobile's Wang Jianzhou and Vodafone's Vittorio Colao.

And for the first time, MWC will hold keynote addresses from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) CEO Steve Balmer and Twitter's Dick Costolo in the early evening of Monday, Feb. 14--a day prior to the opening of the conference and a time slot previously filled with press conferences and media events. According to Michael O'Hara, chief marketing officer of the GSMA, the association expanded the number of keynote sessions and added the Monday evening sessions after its success last year with Eric Schmidt of Google. "We did it for the first time last year and it was packed with people so we decided to try it again and add a couple more keynote speakers in the evening. I think we will get the same reaction," O'Hara said.  

what will be the big news at MWC this year?The GSMA is expecting attendance at MWC to soar above 50,000, more than the 49,000 MWC logged last year. The number of exhibitors, meanwhile, remains steady at slightly over 1,300 companies.

The GSMA this year is reviving its popular App Planet program, which it debuted last year, to attract more developers to Mobile World Congress. O'Hara said last year the App Planet attracted about 6,000 developers, and this year the association is expecting more than 10,000. In addition to application-specific exhibitors and programs for mobile developers, App Planet will feature developer events from companies such as Microsoft, RIM, Samsung and Nokia.

And perhaps one of the biggest coups for the GSMA is the co-location of Apple's MacWorld Mobile event, a developer-focused confab that will take place Thursday, Feb. 17. Apple typically has a very low-key presence at wireless events so this will surely be an attractive option for developers.

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 and Phil Goldstein as we bring you the latest news from all the press conferences and keynotes as well as from the slow floor. Look for some interesting executive interviews and a few surprise announcements in our newsletters and on our MWCLive mini site next week. --Sue