As the number of mobile users grows worldwide, the amount of data traffic will increase as much as 20 times.

This is according to Ericsson’s latest Networked Society report, which finds that in the first quarter of 2012 there were 6,2-billion mobile network subscribers in the world – a 170-million increase from the same time last year.

Interestingly, Africa contributed a healthy 30% of these new subscribers, making it the second biggest growth market after Asia.

The major growth in the mobile phone market in the coming years will be in smartphones, the report found, with about 3-billion smartphone users expected by 2017.

Currently, smartphones account for only 10% to 15% of handsets in use, says Patrik Cerwall, head of strategic marketing & intelligence at Ericsson.

He adds that, while overall mobile data traffic will grow 15-fold in the next five years, the amount of data traffic via smartohones is expected to grow 20-fold.

Much of this growth will be driven by video, he adds, also the improvement in handset screen size and resolution – and the growing performance of the devices.

By 2017, Ericsson believes that 85% of the world’s population will be covered by 3G and 50% will be covered by 4G or LTE – although these will be predominantly in metropolitan areas, where 60% of the traffic demand comes from.

The report sees the tablet market as another big growth area.

Cerwall says that mobile PC or tablet subscriptions will be at the same level as mobile broadband subscribers by 2017.

“It is clear that the Internet is going to be a mobile phenomenon,” he says.