Upcoming price rises on BT Openreach's 10Mbit/s wholesale Ethernet Extension Service (EES) could make short-haul radio connections as much as 60 percent cheaper than fibre, wireless networking specialist Red-M has claimed.

The company pointed to Openreach's published price list, which shows that 10Mbit/s EES line rentals will rise by 80 percent between June 2007 and June 2008. It claimed that this could make short-haul fibre uneconomic.

An Openreach spokesman defended the increases, saying they were being brought in as slowly as possible. He pointed out that Openreach was also cutting its connection charges, so that for the first year at least the overall cost of a fibre line would actually be lower.

"Our price rises are generally done in negotiation with Ofcom - it said Openreach's prices had to more accurately reflect its costs, so there was not a lot of room for manoeuvre available," he said.

However, Red-M managing consultant Andrew Barnard argued that a more realistic yardstick would be the total cost of ownership over five years, which would rise by almost 40 percent due to the higher line rental.

Barnard said that Red-M has responded by introducing a short-haul offering of its own, called Radio Extension Service (RES). He said this would use a mixture of radio technologies to offer links from 2Mbit/s to 48Mbit/s over ranges as high as 20km - although ranges over 7km tend to need masts or hilltops to gain line-of-sight, he added.

"The aerial is typically a six-inch by six-inch squarial on a small pole, mounted so it's not visible from the street. Line-of-sight is not required for lower ranges - we even have one installation where we bounced the signal around Canary Wharf," he said.

Several other UK companies also offer radio-based Ethernet bridging, or IT departments could buy and install their own point-to-point radio gear, but Barnard claimed that RES has the advantage of being designed as an outsourced package, like EES.

"RES is offered at a flat cost, generally with no extra construction costs - for instance, a 7km 10Mbit/s link would cost around £20,000 over five years," he said. He claimed that an equivalent BT fibre could be as much as £51,000, if you assume the two sites are on different exchanges, 7km apart, and add a 20 percent retail margin, or around £30,000 without the inter-exchange 'main link'.

He acknowledged that fibre still has its uses - connecting an organisation's sites around the country, for instance, or for higher speeds or ranges than RES can offer. He admitted too that high-frequency radio links can be affected by "exceptionally heavy rain."

Where RES scores is in short-haul IP-based links of between 10Mbit/s and 50Mbit/s, he said, for example connecting branch offices to a local hub which would then connect on over fibre.

"Radio is also good if you want to be up and running quickly, we say three weeks for installation, but it depends - we can be up and running in 10 days," he said.