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The Facts about FAX

January 16, 2017

© 2016 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
Ministry Business Services, Inc. President
Reprinted from inSIGHT

Fax (short for facsimile) is a tool that sends scans over telephone wires. How is that different than emailing a scanned file? Why do some still insist on sending and receiving faxes rather than scanned attachments via email? That doesn’t seem to make sense! Let’s talk about it.

The History of Modern Fax Technology
Believe it or not, the earliest fax technology predates the telephone! The first facsimile patent was issued on May 27, 1843 (British Patent 9745, for Alexander Bain’s “Electronic Printing Telegraph”). Fax technology has gone through many improvements, but it is very old technology. The modern fax machine was developed more recently– in the mid-1900s.

The first time I used a fax machine was on a job in 1975. I was amazed that I could send a document almost anywhere immediately. What a timesaver! The process was:

  1. Clip a copy of the document to a drum,
  2. Connect the fax machine by putting a telephone receiver in to a modem’s acoustic coupler,
  3. Dial the receiving number, and
  4. Press send. The drum them rotated at a fairly high speed as it was scanned, digitized and compressed, and then transmitted.

How Does That Differ from Email Scans?
Many government agencies and legal authorities still insist on receiving documents via fax rather than as digital scans. What they probably don’t realize is that a fax is a digital scan. The difference is in how it is transmitted–or in how it used to be transmitted.

Fax machines connect to telephone lines, and those phone lines that are older are a spec referred to as POTS (POTS means Plain Old Telephone Service) lines. POTS lines are like those that once connected homes and businesses via copper cables, and they are analog. But the world has been replacing analog lines with digital lines for some time, and now most homes and businesses are connected by digital lines. These are the same lines the internet connects over.

So, when fax technology was younger, it only transmitted over analog lines. But more recently, faxes transmit their digital images over digital lines just like email does.

It’s Time for Fax Technology to Go the Way of Rotary Phones
Since faxes and emails both transmit digital images over the same digital communication lines, there is no longer a good reason to only accept faxes. Emailed scanned attachments are the natural successor to faxes.

Many authorities now accept attached email scans, but some still don’t. They’re stuck in but we’ve always done it that way mode.

We see the impact of that thinking in how our clients implement new phone systems! New phone systems use VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology, but many clients tell us they still need to maintain analog fax lines. The usual reasons are that their bank or some other authority requires them to use fax technology. Those lines cost hundreds of extra budget dollars per year, and shouldn’t be necessary!

What Can You Do?
A common saying is that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. I recommend telling those who insist on the use of fax that you no longer have that ability; that all optional analog lines have been disconnected and that you no longer have a fax machine. Let them know that you can scan whatever they need and send it as an email attachment and can also receive email scan attachments, and chances are very good they will allow you to do so!

The savings will be hundreds annually, and the money saved by letting go of ancient fax technology can be much better spent on programming that helps accomplish your organization’s mission!

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