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February 06, 2013

Why the Fax Machine Should Get an End-of-Life Notice

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Fax machines and fax technology should be scrapped – period. I know there are a number of companies that are still selling fax solutions in 2013, but they need to start planning an exit strategy and clear the deck of a technology superseded by numerous other options.

Once upon a time, fax was wonderful. You take a piece of paper, put it in a machine, it scanned and a copy magically appears at another machine over an ordinary analog phone line. In an era of typewriters and handwriting and phone lines, fax was cool, other than the need for special thermal paper on rolls.

By the 1990s, fax became annoying. You'd type up a document, print it out on the laser printer, sign it, then feed it into the fax machine. The weakest links at that time were the phone line and keeping track of all the fax paper generated. Nothing better than getting an hour of phone calls from a fax machine thinking your voice line is another fax machine, with the constant "beep....beep...beep" <disconnect> sequence.  

Fax cover sheets – how many trees died for fax cover sheets?

Computer manufacturers started merging fax with the printer and scanner combination to deliver the all-in-one, so you could fax directly to another machine without having to print out and even start to receive faxes as images, rather than having to print out faxes or end up sometimes losing them if the printer ran out of paper.  

Should we even talk about the misery of fax over IP, specifically emulating fax on a VoIP connection? There's a big Fax over IP working group over at the SIP Forum trying to establish standards for putting fax over SIP trunks and fixing T.38 and other stuff.


The solution is not to stick some more software fixes to keep an obsolete technology alive – electronic duct tape will only go so far – but to migrate enterprises from fax addiction to a standardized method of handing scanned images via e-mail. 

Fast forward to 2013 and we now have effectively have scanners built into our smartphones. Some banks now process checks – we're talking money moving from point A to point B – via an app. Take a picture of the check, the image appears on screen and goes to the bank to "clear" and you get next-day credit.

If financial institutions are willing to process checks via cell phones, why can't enterprise users get rid of fax machines and make a clean break to an e-mail/scanned image combination? This is the real discussion the Fortune 500 needs to have.

Imagine for a moment how much paper, toner, power and physical space businesses would get save by getting rid of the dedicated fax machine. Phone (News - Alert) companies might get annoyed at the loss of revenue on a dedicated analog line, but it also cleans out one less network headache as the world migrates to IP networks.

I'm not going to say that flushing fax is easy, but all of the basic technology bits are already available and off-the-shelf. Certainly, there need to be scanning/legibility standards, plus an acceptable "Caller ID"/digital signature for verticals with compliance issues (Financial, legal, medical). 

However, standards and solutions are available today.

Edited by Braden Becker
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