Gavin Macomber is the CEO of Cloudli.
Ask any millennial about using a fax machine, and you’ll likely get a blank stare … or worse. The fax machine is a symbol of a bygone era, replaced by apps and the internet. At least, that’s conventional wisdom.
However, many might be surprised to learn that 9 billion faxes were sent last year in healthcare alone, and it’s still a big global industry. Fax today is used across businesses of all sizes, from home offices and solopreneurs to the enterprise giants of the Fortune 100. The sectors relying most on fax include healthcare, financial services and mortgage companies, legal, manufacturing, transportation and logistics. But even sectors that don’t rely on fax find themselves needing the technology.
So whether you work in a fax-centric industry or only need to send faxes on rare occasions, you’ll need to account for fax one way or another. Of course, faxing has changed over the years. Today, there are three main fax service options for most businesses: walk-up faxing using a fax machine or multi-function device, virtual services leveraging email or an API and real-time T.38 fax line services for high-volume faxing.
Before choosing which faxing solution is right for you, consider the pros and cons of each use case:
Option 1: Walk-Up Faxing
Walk-up faxing can be supported by legacy copper phone lines or by converting existing fax machines and MFDs to IP by installing an ATA and using IP fax lines. For example, a small law office where legal assistants need to fax out and receive agreements and contracts due to the fact that faxed signatures are accepted as legally binding might use walk-up faxing.
Pro: Walk-up fax maintains the comfortable status quo for users.
Pro: If you convert your legacy devices to IP fax with ATAs, you can usually reduce your fax costs, as IP technology makes long-distance faxing highly affordable. (Note that walk-up faxing with legacy fax lines can get expensive, as per-minute long-distance rates can add up fast.)
Con: Walk-up fax requires you to print documents first and hard-copy them, which can be problematic when it comes to their management and security.
Keeping walk-up fax lines in place can be an effective solution for some organizations that want to preserve the same fax experience for their users. In this scenario, using an ATA to access IP fax connectivity can be an effective and reliable solution that may cost less while preserving the user experience.
Option 2: Virtual (Email-Based) Fax
When people think about moving their fax to IP, virtual fax is what often comes to mind. Virtual fax can be particularly useful in environments where people are often on the go and need to send faxes remotely. Real estate agents are a great case in point; the ability for realtors to send and receive offers and acceptance from anywhere enables more efficient transactions for their clients. In today’s explosive market, time is of the essence, and the ability to fax from anywhere can help get deals done.
Pro: Email-based fax can be particularly convenient if you have many offices or remote workers who need to send and receive faxes. Each user essentially has a fax machine housed within their email client, allowing them to seamlessly send and receive faxes anytime, anywhere.
Pro: Virtual fax can be highly cost-effective, as a variety of virtual fax plans are available in the market to meet a wide range of user and volume requirements.
Con: Virtual fax introduces an intermediary into the fax process; there’s no direct connection between the sending and receiving parties. This can be problematic if your business has certain regulatory compliance requirements to support (for example, HIPAA, FERPA and SOX).
Virtual fax can be a good option for organizations looking for a digital-first, work-from-anywhere fax solution. But for organizations with regulatory compliance requirements, data security concerns and higher volumes, this solution may not be ideal.
Option 3: Real-Time T.38 Fax Lines (Trunks)
T.38 is the IEEE Standard protocol for fax over IP and can be deployed via SIP trunks to replace legacy fax connections that support high-volume fax servers. (Full disclosure, my company offers this service, as do others.) Its use case is frequently seen in healthcare. In fact, a staggering three-fourths of medical communication in the U.S. occurs by fax.
Pro: Real-time T.38 fax is real time with no intermediaries interrupting the connection between sender and receiver. This means no delays in receiving delivery status results, reduced opportunity for compromised data integrity and easier compliance with regulations like HIPAA because data is not stored in transmission.
Pro: In addition to being secure, T.38 fax can also be encrypted to offer an additional level of protection. This is a significant advantage over legacy fax, which cannot be encrypted. Consider looking for AES encryption for T.38 fax.
Con: Not all fax over IP on the market is T.38 fax. Some providers may carry the media (fax image data) over a voice protocol (G.711, for those interested), which can lead to higher rates of delivery failure due to packet loss. Similarly, not all T.38 fax solutions are equal. Consider your options carefully to ensure your provider has the expertise to deal with the quality demands made by fax.
Faxing remains alive and well around the world. There are a variety of options available that are flexible, affordable and reliable. Making the move away from analog solutions can save money and offer enhanced convenience and functionality to the solution as well. Depending on your needs, there’s a fax solution for you. So, happy faxing!