VODACOM is targeting 25-million data customers by 2014, the company said in its annual report released yesterday.

It added 5-million active data customers in the year to March, taking the total subscribers to 15-million and "lending credence to our target of 25-million", CEO Pieter Uys said.

According to Vodacom, mobile data is set to play a vital role in lifting economic growth, creating jobs and improving the quality of life in underdeveloped countries.

"Mobile data use in sub-Saharan Africa is tiny compared to other regions, so this is a huge opportunity for us and we are driving adoption of mobile data services in all our countries," said Mr Uys.

Of the 15-million data subscribers, 12,2-million are in SA, while the rest are in Mozambique, Lesotho, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Vodacom spent R8,7bn on voice and data networks in the year to March, and will invest more money this year. Its data revenue increased 27,1% to R8,1bn for the year. Lower data prices stimulated higher usage, Vodacom said.

Smartphones are steadily becoming the primary device for internet connectivity in Africa.

"As the cost of smartphones continues to come down and as the popularity of other data-hungry devices like tablets continues to grow, I don't think it's exaggerating to say that we really are only at the beginning of something big. And the really nice thing about this coming connectivity boom is the virtuous circle that comes from internet penetration driving economic growth, economic growth driving employment, and employment driving further growth in data usage," said Mr Uys.

He said this year the company would focus more on "unlocking the power of the internet".

"This is crucial for economic development and job creation, but it also means that we're developing a whole new generation of data-using customers."