Fax communication has gone through a lot of major changes since faxing was invented, more than 170 years ago.
The history of faxing
The first electric printing telegraph was invented in 1843 by Alexander Bain, a Scottish engineer. That was the early stage of wire transmission. Alexander Bain, who is also known for inventing the electric clock, was the one who installed railway telegraph lines throughout Scotland.
While the first fax machines were analog, meaning they broke the message (that needed to be faxed) into electronic pulses, the 1960s brought major technological advancements which made possible the invention of digital faxes. Digital faxing uses the binary coding system to digitize the message. When it reaches the recipient, the message is changed back to its original form.
Traditional faxing was a huge success in the 1980s, when the Japanese from Canon came up with the first compact fax machines. They started to become highly popular, for both personal use and business purposes.
However, internet changed it all and radically transformed fax transmission. Internet-based faxing services started to take the place of traditional faxing and are now widely used all over the world.
What is internet faxing and how does it work?
There are a lot of names used to describe faxing via internet: internet faxing, online faxing, digital faxing, virtual faxing, e-faxing, web faxing, cloud faxing, PC faxing and others. All of them refer to the same type of technology: that of sending and receiving faxes using internet protocols instead of regular telephony.
While traditional fax machines can still be used to send and receive internet faxes, they are not necessary for sending online faxes. Virtual faxing uses email to send faxes and requires a fax server that needs to be hosted.
Online faxing can be used to send/receive faxes between:
- Internet fax services
- Conventional fax machines
So basically, with online faxing you can fax something from a traditional fax machine to a recipient that uses internet faxing and you can fax something to a traditional fax machine.
Because it is a hosted service, online faxing doesn’t require any special programs or hardware in order to work, except for an adapter in case you want to be able to use your old fax machine with it. The necessary adapter will be provided to you by your online fax service.
Virtual faxing works just like conventional faxing, except that it uses a web interface and not a physical fax machine. You have to sign up for an online fax service and the provider assigns you a fax number and you use your e-mail to send a fax via internet. You enter the recipient’s number, followed by the online fax service, you attach the document and you click ‘send’. All the popular formats are accepted by most providers: docx, pdf, rtf, txt, png, jpeg, tiff and others. You can also use most web browsers for the operation: Chrome, Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, etc.
The message you need to send can be either scanned or created directly as a digital file.
With Internet faxing you can send multiple pages in a single document, as a PDF, txt., etc. so you don’t have to send every page individually, as it is the case with traditional faxing.
Each fax you send over the internet is followed by a confirmation e-mail sent to the sender.
Pros of internet faxing
- Cost effectiveness. Online fax services eliminate a lot of costs associated with conventional faxing: the cost of the fax machine itself, the cost of paper, ink toners, etc. There is also the cost of the telephone service required. With internet faxing all you really need is a computer, an email account and an internet connection, which most people already have
- It’s environmentally-friendly, compared to traditional faxing, because it doesn’t require paper. Millions of trees are sacrificed every year for paper production
- It is versatile, can be used from anywhere where there’s an internet connection and can be used with traditional fax machines and mobile devices, too
- It is more convenient and easy to use. Sending a fax over the internet is very close to sending an email, which is something everybody knows how to do this day and age, whereas with conventional faxing you have to learn how to use the fax machine
- Internet faxing doesn’t require any storage space for all your shelves of files and for your fax machine. You save a lot of space with online faxing, because you only need a computer
Aspects to consider when choosing an internet fax service
There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the best online fax service. Most of them depend on your needs or/and business size. But there are some generalities anyone should pay attention to when choosing the best service:
- Aim for a scalable provider that offers multiple plans, especially if you are a startup. You don’t have to invest big right from the start. You should sign up for a more affordable plan and upgrade as your business grows
- Look for an online fax service that also offers a mobile app. Yes, it is also possible to send faxes over the internet straight from your smartphone/tablet. A lot of services also include a dedicated app in their offer and the app is usually compatible with both iOS and Android devices
- The service should include a digital signature feature, because signatures are one of the reasons why people still use faxing, for legal documents such as contracts, etc.
- Find out what kind of numbers the service offers. Most providers offer local numbers and toll-free ones, but some companies also offer international numbers, which is a useful feature to have
In terms of cost, internet fax services can be either free or paid. Free services usually have a lot of limitations, but for basic needs they can sometimes be enough.
Paid services are all over the internet and it is up to you to choose the best one for your particular needs. Most services offer plans that start at under $5/month for single users and also have a free trial (usually 30 days).