STOCKHOLM/CAPE TOWN: The mobile industry in Africa is looking at a step change as low-end smartphones gain ground and mobile data traffic increases, according to two new surveys.

An appendix to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, from the Swedish communications technology company, said that mobile penetration in sub-Saharan Africa was currently around 70%, compared to a global average of 92%, but was set to increase rapidly.

Total mobile subscriptions were forecast to rise from 560m in 2013 to 930m by 2019. And over the same period, the proportion accounted for by 2G-enabled phones would decline from the existing level of around 85%. By 2019 some 80% of all mobile subscriptions were predicted to be for 3G and 4G networks.

A major consequence will be an explosion in mobile data traffic which Ericsson projected would grow 17 times between 2013 and 2019, significantly faster than the global average of ten times.

The report noted that GSM was now the dominant technology in all countries in sub-Saharan Africa and anticipated that LTE would grow only slowly as it would take time to be adopted in price sensitive markets.

Accordingly WCdMA/HSpA would be main mobile technology, built out to cover two thirds of the continent's population by 2019, with South Africa, Nigeria, Angola and Kenya at the forefront of this development.

A separate study from the GSMA, the industry body, said that mobile contributed over 6% of the region's GDP, higher than any other comparable region globally, and this would rise to over 8% by 2020.

"Despite the significant impact of the mobile industry in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, even greater opportunities are ahead," said Tom Phillips, Chief Regulatory Officer, GSMA.

"Beyond further growth for voice services, the region is starting to see an explosion in the uptake of mobile data," he added.

The GSMA pointed to mobile's transformative role in a range of areas including health, financial inclusion and agriculture, and, Philips argued, "there is scope for far greater growth and innovation, if the right conditions are established".

But he warned that a short-term focus by some governments on generating high spectrum fees and maximising tax revenue risked constraining the potential of mobile.

Data sourced from Ericsson, PR Newswire; additional content by Warc staff