During my first year of graduate school, I was using the department copier one day to make handouts for my class. While the machine whirred off my pages, one of the professors came into the small room where the copier was kept. I stumbled all over myself to make space for him, pushing my things aside and nervously telling him I would be done momentarily.
“It’s okay, lad,” he said to me in a heavy English accent. “I don’t use the copier. I am here for this.”
He pointed to an antiquated ditto machine in the corner of the room. He cheerfully proceeded to operate what I had assumed was a forgotten piece of office equipment. I was fascinated as I watched him spin the handle of the machine, producing pages with nearly illegible text that slapped into an inky, wet, slightly malodorous pile.
The ditto machine was inefficient, dirty, and — I clearly remember thinking — a complete waste of time. I could have printed 200 copies of my handout by the time he had spun two dozen pages off that drum. I had often heard of people going to great lengths to avoid change, especially technological change, but seeing it first-hand like this was a revelation that bordered on the comical.
Choices for Fax Solutions
Companies burdened by aging fax infrastructures often act like my professorial friend, clinging to outdated technologies while ignoring better alternatives. And no wonder — these companies often boil their choices down to two mutually exclusive, and not very appealing, possibilities:
1. Perform expensive hardware and system upgrades in-house. (The “reinvent-the-wheel-at-our-own-expense” option.)
2. Adopt a telecom-based solution that may or may not fit into the organization’s current business model. (The “square-peg-in-the-round-hole” option.)
The first choice usually is dismissed quickly once the numbers are crunched. Provisioning multiple servers with upgraded fax cards can run into the tens-of-thousands of dollars. Add to this expense additional application servers, licenses and fees, utilities, dedicated fax lines, data storage, service contracts, and IT resources to care for it all, and the cost of upgrading even a modest in-house fax system can be prohibitive.
The second choice seems a more logical course. Companies that look into newer telephony technologies such as VoIP (like Vonage or MagicJack) are impressed by the savings garnered by eliminating dedicated voice circuits and sending their voice traffic across the internet. Naturally they would like to extend that same savings to fax. Yet, the promise that VoIP brings to voice does not translate completely to fax.
The Problem With VoIP For Fax
VoIP calls are broken into individual streamed data “packets” that follow various routes across the internet before being reassembled at the call destination. If one packet is lost, it is usually not perceptible to the human ear; or if it is, then it is heard as a very brief moment of silence in the conversation. While this “jitter” is an acceptable error situation for voice, it is not for fax. Silence causes havoc for fax machines, causing them to disconnect or lose track of what is being transmitted. Dropped packets translate directly to fax pages with missing data, lost pages, or mishandled transmissions.
The latest generation of fax machines attempt to combat jitter with silence suppressors and Error Correction Method (ECM) techniques, often with mixed results. Silence suppression can inadvertently block the fax signal by misjudging when the signal starts and stops. Machines employing ECM can request that a fax transmission be resent so that missing data makes it through. This only increases the overall cost of the fax, and is no guarantee that the ensuing transmission will be jitter-free.
Businesses that have adopted VoIP and want to use it for faxing often end up encouraging their carrier to adopt the latest specifications for faxing over VoIP (or FoIP). The problem with these specifications — known as T.37 for Store and Forward FoIP and T.38 for Real-Time FoIP — is that they are too loosely written to be adequately and universally implemented, and so the carriers tend to avoid them altogether. This leaves customers having to settle for spotty fax service from VoIP providers that don’t have a true FoIP solution. Even if a VoIP provider does offer fax services based on these specifications (or their interpretation of them), the customer must upgrade their fax equipment to the latest generation of machines, since the new specifications don’t work with older, analog fax equipment.
Hosted Faxing to the Rescue!
Fortunately, small-to-medium sized companies don’t have to settle for expensive system rebuilds or ill-fitting services when considering how best to use fax. Hosted (“cloud”) online faxing solutions such as eFax® provide base plans with the option to pay for extra usage as needed, which supports lean business strategies. These solutions provide a flexible, digital service for sending and receiving faxes by email using your PC, laptop, smartphone, or tablet. Furthermore, they replace expensive in-house fax systems with a predictable cost model and capacity that scales to your organization, whether you have five employees or 5,000, or send one fax per day or 500.
Online Faxing Features
The leading hosted fax service providers include features that make it a valuable addition to any office, small or large:
- Send/receive faxes as email attachments.
- Preview faxes before sending them.
- Available local, toll-free, and international numbers.
- An easy-to-use web interface.
- Custom digitized signatures.
- Secure, encrypted faxing available.
- Full address book for your contact information.
- Faxing from multiple email addresses.
- Quickly search your stored faxes using keywords.
- Send, receive, or view faxes from your favorite device: computer, tablet, or smartphone.
- Share large files up to 3GB in size (available with eFax).
- Lifetime storage for both sent and received faxes (available with eFax).
Online Faxing Benefits
Hosted faxing solutions provide immediate, tangible benefits to your organization, including:
- Elimination of overhead — Do away with the recurring capital costs of in-house fax systems, including phone lines, data storage, equipment, and license fees, as well as soft costs for paper and toner.
- Better resource allocation — Hosted fax means someone else takes care of the technology upgrades, network monitoring, and security administration, freeing your IT staff to focus on mission-critical work without getting bogged down in keeping your own legacy system working past obsolescence.
- Workplace flexibility — Employees can send faxes via email or the web using their PC, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
- Improved productivity — Instantly share faxes between employees and clients.
- True “green” performance — Eliminate the need to file or search for paper faxes.
- True scalability — Port your existing fax numbers or add local, toll-free, or international fax numbers whenever you need them.
- More security — eFax's enhanced security option provides an encrypted method for viewing your faxes.
Finally, services like eFax allow you to keep your fax and voice needs separate. Adopt VoIP into your communication infrastructure confident that your fax service will operate without interruption, and without having to worry about whether your VoIP carrier supports, or will someday support, a true fax over IP protocol. Don’t hang on to fax systems and equipment that fail to meet your company’s needs.
To learn more about eFax, you can download the iPhone or Android apps now.