By Max Clarke

The UK’s retailers are being held back by slow and unreliable mobile broadband connections- to the tune of £1.3 billion.

Shopping on mobile phones, or m-commerce, represents a rapidly expanding avenue of retail, but gaps in the coverage of 3G mobile broadband services have resulted in 16% of the country being effective “m-commerce not-spots”.

“Mobile shopping represents a massive opportunity not just for retailers, but for the economy as a whole," commented eBay's UK retail director, Angus McCarey. "But our research shows that consumers and retailers are missing out as the cost and reliability of mobile broadband prevents shoppers from spending.

Were the current teething troubles in the burgeoning industry addressed, mobile shopping, eBay research suggests, could deliver a £4.5bn boost to Britain’s economy by 2016 and a further £13bn by 2021.

"Growth in Britain is going to come from small businesses,” said mobile broadband campaigner, Rory Stewart MP, “and it will be driven by mobile broadband. In rural areas, our businesses depend upon online activities, e-commerce and increasingly eBay and m-commerce. This is another fantastic example of why we must take this opportunity to expand mobile broadband coverage as far as possible."

The rapid growth of smartphone use should, eBay’s report goes on to suggest, be better harnessed by businesses and broadband service providers to deliver sustainable growth in retail. The introduction of high speed, fourth generation, or 4G, mobile broadband will greatly enhance this growing sector.