A window into the technology and business of fax...

The Future of Fax

19 October 2012

In our last blog we discussed the present and future need to decouple fax communications from voice communications.  In the past, when the only network connecting most homes and businesses was the telephone network, driving fax communications on the telephone network through voice communications was necessary.  However, in modern times many homes and businesses have two different networks connecting them: telephone and internet.  Indeed, some are still only connected to one network, but increasingly that one network is the internet and not the telephone network.

Despite what fax naysayers have been claiming for many years now, fax is not dead - neither is it going to die without something else to take its place.  The core of fax communication, the immediate transfer of documents and images between two locations, still is under high demand in many work environments.  E-mail communication can't fully replace fax communications for numerous reasons that I'll not trouble the reader with at this point (and rumors have it that e-mail, itself, is dying), but suffice it to say that the fax industry continues to be profitable and serve a valued service to its users.

What must happen, however, is that the fax industry must transition away from the historical tether of riding in the telephony wagon.  The internet is already very good at communicating data alone.  There's no reason to continue holding onto the apron-strings of voice channels when the content medium is perfectly capable of delivering fax data without the enormous complexity that is modulation/demodulation or SIP/T.38.  In the future a fax machine will make a network connection through the internet (just as your web browser made a network connection to the web server hosting this blog) to send a fax to another fax machine, and the whole communication will happen outside of telephony equipment.

Envision a "futuristic" fax machine, call it a dual-purpose document sender.  It looks much like a traditional fax machine, but it's not connected to a phone line; it's connected to the local computer network.  The traditional keypad is replaced with a full keyboard, perhaps in miniature, and you'll type in recipient addresses of the form " This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ", " This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ", " This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ", or merely "3604626292".  After placing the document in the tray, the user then chooses to press either the "E-mail" button or the "Fax" button.  You can imagine what happens after that.

However, in order to bridge the chasm between fax traffic for the telephone network and fax traffic for the internet, internet-based fax service providers will play a vital role.  The fax document sender will identify when the document is to be sent with a direct network connection or when it is to be sent through the fax service provider.

[Those readers who are astute on the subject of fax technology may say that the framework for this technology already exists in ITU T.37 (which is an email-to-fax technique but can easily be used for scan-to-email).  However, T.37 isn't real-time and doesn't provide immediate receipt confirmation.  The type of fax operations that we envision above are real-time and provide immediate receipt confirmation using most of ITU T.30 fax protocol.]

Hence Mainpine has taken the first-step in creating an infrastructure which will begin to move the fax industry into the future:  the Mainpine Online Fax Service.  We'll discuss this next time...