The Internet is reshaping every form of communications medium, and faxing is no exception. The latest twist: Internet faxing services that let you send messages to any fax machine from any Web browser or email, and others that give you a "personal fax phone number," then forward any documents sent there to your e-mail inbox.
The Fax Machine - Workhorse in the '80s and '90s.
It enabled you to send a document to anyone, anywhere, at any time, and know that it was received instantly. It was a godsend in the 1980s and everyone had to have one. But it has become an expensive bit of machinery that will cost you money every time you use it. Smart organizations are now reducing or eliminating the fax machines they use in favor of electronic services. The fax machine costs you in paper, toner, phone bills and repairs. It is like a taxi-meter in that regard, and the bill keeps growing and growing. Currently most of the documents that you fax are created on a computer. If you fax them through a fax machine, you must print out the documents, manually create a cover page, and you must go to the fax machine to send the documents. Every time you receive a fax, you must retrieve it from the community fax machine, rather than having it delivered directly to your PC workstation like any other document. Many people still use fax machines today. The alternative is to use fax services from companies that provide Internet fax services.
Fax Machine Costs
The fax machine is considered a simple tool by many, which is probably why they haven't replaced it yet. Anybody can stick a document into the auto feeder, dial a phone number, and send the document at 14.4 or 33.6 Kbs. But it costs to send a fax.
Among the actions employees must take to fax a document, labor is the greatest hidden operating cost. Labor is a key factor because your staff is more expensive than phone calls, and it makes the biggest difference in fax costs. Most businesses neglect to factor in the costs of actions such as employees walking to the machine, waiting to use it, the faxing process and the employee's return trip to their desk. All of this takes time. And in the world of hidden fax operating costs-you guessed it-time is money. Also, keep in mind that it isn't unusual to find executives with six-figure salaries performing some of the same fax-related tasks as clerical workers. When that happens, those labor costs can be as astronomical as some of those six-figure salaries. Costs also incurred are lease and maintenance charges for fax machines as well as sending charges for making fax phone calls. These depend on the rates you pay and the speed at which your fax machine and the machines you send to can distribute faxes.
How Internet Faxing Works
Ever heard of eFax? You sign up for a fax number. When people send you faxes, they're auto-forwarded to your e-mail Inbox, where you can read them, trash them if they're junk, or print them out only if necessary. Not only do you save paper and ink, but you don't need a fax machine or a second phone line-and you get your faxes wherever you happen to be in the country.
Together, in principle, these Internet fax services offer all the advantages of fax -- a universal system for quick and convenient distribution of anything you can put on paper -- without making you spend your money on a fax machine, fax supplies or fax phone fees.
In the business world, any time that you can save money, your customers will ultimately save money too. That is why Internet faxing is a good idea. Internet faxing is the practice of using your email (or a website) to send and receive faxes. The speed and efficiency of email, coupled with the lower costs of sending broadcast faxes via email is more desirable than making lots of phone calls.
Sending and Receiving faxes over the Internet with your regular fax machines sounds cool, but so far, today's standard fax machines do not yet know how to speak Internet - you can't use them over the Internet. Some of the newer models will have this capability, but it will take time to gain worldwide acceptance. In the meantime, there are a number of services that bridge the gap between traditional faxes and the new world of Internet-based communications.
A number of companies, such as eFax, Faxaway, Internet Fax Provider and MaxEmail, allow you to send or receive faxes over the Internet. These services are either free or charge a monthly fee.
However, many of these services are limited in what they can do:
Require people to dial a long distance number to send you a fax [eFax, MaxEmail]
Attach their own advertising to your outgoing faxes to cover their cost [eFax]
Don't offer fax numbers in all local area codes [eFax, MaxEmail]
Don't work for handwritten faxes (unless they are scanned in) [all]
Still, Internet faxing provides many advantages. Convenience and better resolution are the two main pluses. They allow you to send and receive your faxes entirely with your email service - the best thing to happen to the business world in the last 10 years. You can send and receive faxes anywhere you can access your existing email account: from your home, office, client's office, hotel, airport or cottage. Or even better, a web-based interface that keeps track of everything you've done with your faxing business and allow you to do cheap and efficient broadcast faxing.
Some of the advantages of Internet faxing:
To send a fax, simply send an email. It will automatically be converted to a fax and delivered immediately
To receive a fax, simply check your email. All faxes sent to your fax number will be forwarded to your email
Web fax - For people who need to fax their information to thousands instantly. Send thousands of faxes in minutes from our website - Broadcasting.
Avoid tying up your computer or telephone lines
No software to download or hardware to buy
Easily distribute press releases, product and pricing information, newsletters
Sending to International phone numbers is cheap - the charge is based on the destination country
Easy and convenient - faxes are sent and received over the Internet from the office, at home or on the road. Your Internet "Fax Machine" is available 24x7 and is never busy.
Toll-Free is cost effective - some virtual fax numbers are toll free so that no matter where your customers are, they will not pay any additional long distance charges and your North American clients and contacts can reach you free of charge.
Privacy - You are the only person to see your faxes, giving them the same privacy as your email.
Portable - You can receive your faxes at multiple email addresses simultaneously and you can send and receive faxes while traveling.
Receive faxes directly in e-mail - Faxes are receivable and retrievable anytime, anywhere. Faxes are not misplaced and privacy is ensured.
Send faxes directly from e-mail. - Eliminate manual faxing. Faxing is integrated into workflow and faxes are delivered faster and at less cost.
Immediate Implementation - No unique client/server or software is necessary, only standard e-mail capability. Minimal to no user training.
Unlimited scalability - Support as many users as required without purchasing additional fax machines.
Combine multiple document types into one fax - Fax multiple documents as easily as sending an e-mail.
Account code tracking - Budget and cost management is simplified.
Automatic retries for busy or incomplete deliveries - Eliminates need to continually check progress of a fax.
E-mail notification of incoming faxes - Users know immediately when a fax has arrived.
Delivery confirmation via e-mail - Users always know when their faxes have been delivered.
Quick Summary of the 4 big services
Efax - (http://www.efax.com/) Undisputed leader in the field of Internet faxing. Offers free version. Free version doesn't provide you with a local number. Regular service is expensive. Offers many other products - remote control of computer, etc. Requires proprietary fax viewer software to view faxes. The most local area code numbers available in the US.
Fax-away - (http://www.faxaway.com/) Competitive regular service. Web faxing not supported. Many customizable features and options for sending. The personal fax number they assign you is not local - they are all in some location where the area code is not local to you - just like the free eFax service - not too useful for your customers.
Internet Fax Provider - (http://www.internetfaxprovider.com/) Offers toll-free numbers which can be used anywhere in the US with the first 50 faxes per month included in the monthly rate - very convenient for the people sending faxes to you - they will not pay any additional long distance charges. Best rate for broadcast faxing. Many customizable features and options for sending. Comprehensive Web faxing features.
MaxEmail - (http://www.maxemail.com/) Offers local numbers in the US. However, you will find that only the major cities are covered. No web faxing available. Good receiving plans.
These fax services use the Internet to mimic real fax machines - that is, they deliver your fax to a recipient's fax machine, anywhere in the world, just as if you had dialed it yourself. Most of these services charge anywhere from 10 cents to 20 cents a page. That's more than you'll pay to send a fax across town, but it's much less than you would pay to dial an overseas phone number, even for a short fax.
Most major e-fax vendors offer additional features, including broadcast faxes, the ability to route incoming faxes to you as email attachments and monthly billing.
On the sending side: Most Internet faxing vendors allow you to send faxes by attaching files to an email. When the Internet Fax server gets the email, the emails get converted into a fax coversheet with the recipient's fax number pulled from the "To:" address. The attached files then get converted to TIFF or PDF files for easy viewing by the recipient. The service will then deliver the converted fax to the recipient's standard fax number.
On the receiving side: Most Internet fax vendors will provide you with a phone number that you can then give to your customers. This number can be a local number (if you are located in or near a major US city) or a toll free number (available everywhere.) People will send you faxes to that number in the standard way. The service will then convert the fax to a PDF or TIFF image (or in the case of eFax, a custom image for viewing w/ their software) and send to your email as an attachment. You can then view the fax with any standard Windows Image viewer.
In the future as more fax machines include built-in Internet connectivity, faxing might give email a run for its money as a cheap, convenient way to send documents. Until that time, however, e-fax services will provide the best alternative to picking up the phone and sending faxes the old-fashioned way.
In summary, after reviewing all of the major Internet faxing service vendors, I have found the best service to be the one provided by Internet Fax Provider (IFP). IFP has the best rate plans and offers toll-free numbers that include 50 free faxes per month. I don't go over 30 faxes per month, so it certainly makes sense for me - because with the toll free number provided, my customers don't have to pay long distance charges when they send me a fax. IFP also has the best broadcast sending rates and regular sending plan with the most features. And it was the simplest to use (you don't have to use all the available options.)
For free Internet faxing, I found that eFax offers the best plan. But of course, it puts limitations on the service and you don't get a local fax number. Also, if you live in a big city and you would like a local fax number, then eFax is the best solution. That is if most of your customers are local, because if not, they will pay toll charges when sending you a fax.
Internet Faxing Services Reviewed
The following services provide some type of Internet Faxing:
Installable software helps consumers and businesses get more out of their wireless phone, home phone, and Internet-connected PC by 'bridging' calls between these devices.
More of a cell phone solutions provider - requires custom software.
Data On Call
The company offers a comprehensive suite of fax services including electronic faxing (inbound and outbound), web/fax integrations, developer APIs, fax broadcasting, fax on demand, and custom applications.
Only offer 858 area code and toll free. Expensive. Broadcasting at 8cents/min.
E-mail to fax and fax to e-mail services. Users receive a unique phone number, accepting voice mail and faxes.
Difficult to understand, No price structure setup
Small Business Integrated Desktop Messaging - E-mail to fax, fax to email and desktop faxing. The service was previously named FaxSav.
Large corporate solutions - not meant for small businesses or individual users.
Send faxes, Receive faxes, anywhere you can get email.
They have a free service with limitations. Standard service is expensive.
E-mail to fax, desktop to fax, broadcast fax, and fax to fax via the Internet. Its U800 service allows users a personal toll-free number, which automatically forwards faxes and voice mail to e-mail.
International send rates are standard. $30/mnth, $0.15/min
Internet fax & unified messaging service. Faxaway gives customers faxing tools at their desktop.
No local numbers available. Competitive rates and many features and options.
Send via web, receive as email
Ad supported. Only web-based interface available.
Allows you to send and receive Internet faxes. Provides middleware for other Internet fax vendors.
Limited local numbers available. Good send rates. Limited features and options.
Internet Fax Provider
Email-to-Fax, Fax-to-Email, Broadcast faxing. Best Internet faxing solutions and rates available in the US. Simple to use with powerful options.
Offers toll free numbers with 50 free incoming faxes included.
Best rates for broadcasting service. Web-based interface included.
Offers a variety of Internet and Telecommunications-based services - including E-Mail Paging, Web and E-Mail Fax Services, Remote Site Monitoring & Internet Voicemail. Focus is not on faxing services. Competitive rates - meant for large corporations.
Allows you to send and receive faxes via the Web or e-mail and includes voicemail. You can receive notification of incoming faxes and voice messages directly to your digital phone.
Expensive service. Offers local fax numbers, but not as many as eFax and not as convenient as a toll-free number with free service.
OURFAX, is the world's first, easy to use, ad supported 100% FREE service, that allows any email user in the world, to send faxes directly from their email address, to almost any fax machine in the world.
Free - Ad supported, Amateur website
Super Fax is a small internet fax device that replaces your fax machines, receive your faxes, and emails them to you, on your email address.
$495US per unit. Still need a fax line
ZIPFAX.com will allow you to send from your desktop e-mail to fax machines. It offers text only with no attachments.
You must prepay for online postage with a minimum opening balance of $9.99. Rates are 14 cents per page for most US states.
About The Author
Ellen Farrell - former telecommunications specialist in Telecom. Have reviewed many telecomunications products for large and small business. Worked with large Telecom service providers in marketing and development. Currently review technology for business development in Northeastern US.