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Fax MFPs Fax Servers, Hybrid Fax, VoIP Fax: What Are They and Why Are They Relevant Today?

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September 16, 2010

Fax MFPs Fax Servers, Hybrid Fax, VoIP Fax: What Are They and Why Are They Relevant Today?

By Erin Harrison, Executive Editor, Cloud Computing


Editor’s Note: The following is part one of a four-part series.

The term fax is the common abbreviation for facsimile and is generally interpreted today as a document transmitted over a telephone line. A Scottish inventor, Alexander Bain worked on facsimile in the early part of the 19th Century and he is credited as the inventor of fax.  A variation of Bain’s design was exhibited in London in 1851. The first commercial fax service was deployed in France around the time of the American Civil War. So why does fax remain a viable means of business communications over 150 years later and why has it not been replaced by e-mail, texting, voice mail, or other modern technical innovations?


To begin, the term facsimile means a document that is an exact copy of the original. This is one of the reasons a fax document has legal standing in most countries – a fax is an exact copy.   Technically, a fax can be sent in real time or in store and forward mode. This is also a critical factor in determining legality. Years of legal precedent have firmly established a “real time” fax as a legal document because it includes the date and time stamp of the actual transmission. Basically, when the originating fax device transmits the document to the receiving device, the devices conduct a “hand-shake” at the termination of the call to agree that the receiving device received all of the data. If this is confirmed, the transmission is considered successful. If not, the receiving device marks it as a failed transmission. The devices also retain the actual time. Although simple in concept, these factors are critical in the determination of legal standing for a fax document.

Although legacy fax technology has faced increasing completion from e-mail and other Internet-based forms of communication, fax continues to retain some major advantages. It is going to take a lot of time for fax to simply “go away.”   

According to FaxCore’s (News - Alert) Max Schroeder, one key differential is that fax is image-based and e-mail is text-based.  Again, a simple concept but one with major significance. A signature on a fax page is considered a legal signature but a signature image embedded in an e-mail is not unless it is conforms to some intricate rules. For example, the legality of an electronic signature is governed by the laws of a specific country or group of countries. The U.S. Code defines an electronic signature to include an electronic transmission of the document which contains the signature (i.e. fax) plus encrypted signatures using forms of asymmetric cryptography, etc. Sounds good but in some countries these signatures are not recognized by law or the laws of a specific country may differ from those of other countries. See where this is going – fax is just too simple

The advent of fax servers also made fax as simple as e-mail. Users can simply use the print-to-fax feature built into modern applications to send a document from their desktop. Plus they can attach other documents such as Excel that will also be rendered and included in the fax document. If the application supports multiple address formats for a single send, they can include e-mail address and fax numbers in the “To” field to combine fax and e-mail.  Of course, the faxed documents will be legal documents and the e-mail will simply be considered informational material.

Twenty-first century Multi-Functional-Peripherals (MFP’s) are now being integrated into IP networks and supported by 21st Century fax server applications, Schroeder said. VoIP systems can also be leveraged to support FoIP by some of these same 21st Century fax applications. 

We will cover more on that in our next segment of this series.


Erin Harrison is Executive Editor, Strategic Initiatives, for TMC, where she oversees the company´┐Żs strategic editorial initiatives, including the launch of several new print and online initiatives. She plays an active role in the print publications and TMCnet, covering IP communications, information technology and other related topics. To read more of Erin's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Erin Harrison







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