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

The Mainpine Online Fax Service

5 November 2012

We've been discussing the future of fax technology in our last blog entries.  We've demonstrated just how critical good audio quality is to traditional faxing and why recent telephony developments such as VoIP are so problematic for fax.  We've explained why present attempts to cope with those recent developments, such as T.38, are not a reliable solution.  We've discussed how fax must become decoupled from voice communications.  And in our last blog entry we explained that on-line fax service providers will play an important role in moving forward by bridging the gap between phone network connectivity and internet connectivity.  For these reasons Mainpine has launched its own on-line fax service.

Some environments simply lend themselves better to faxing via the Mainpine on-line fax service than they do with faxing through a hardware modem such as the IQ Express.  For example, virtual servers are notoriously problematic with faxing through virtualized hardware modems installed in the host server.  Furthermore, the intent behind using a virtual server is disrupted in being tied-down to a physical modem and a physical phone line.  However, the intent behind a virtual server is maintained by using the Mainpine on-line fax service, and virtual servers do work well with it.

In some locations it is simply unfeasible to get a true PSTN connection on which faxes will operate reliably.  With the proliferation of VoIP services this is unfortunately becoming more and more commonplace.  Some telephone carriers simply have switched a lot of their long-distance services (and possibly their local services) to a hybrid PSTN/VoIP infrastructure.  It may be impossible for users in these locations to ensure that every fax sent will be carried on a medium that is reliable for fax operations.  The Mainpine on-line fax service is an ideal solution to this kind of a problem.

Some usages of fax server deployments are significantly more costly done with physical modems and physical phone lines.  For example, if the fax server is used primarily to send long-distance faxes, then chances are that the customer is paying more for the telephone line service than the Mainpine on-line monthly account service.  This becomes even more true when considering a fax server with multiple modems and multiple lines.

A typical phone line in the United States runs approximately $50 per-month.  Long distance charges are approximately $0.10 per-minute after that.  The Mainpine on-line fax service runs $40 per-month, and outbound faxing is also $0.10 per-minute.  (Inbound service is $0.01 per-minute.)  Only one Mainpine on-line fax service account is needed to send as many concurrent faxes as desired.  So, users who fax primarily to long-distance numbers will save themselves $10 per-month per-line simply by using the Mainpine on-line fax service.  For installations that would have used eight modems and lines that represents $80 per-month.

Note that Mainpine charges for fax call-time usage instead of by number of pages.  We feel that this is more honest because not all pages will require the same amount of time to be delivered.  Typically on-line fax service providers will do things such as reduce fax image resolution or disable color fax options because high-resolution and color faxes do take noticeably longer to deliver than short, simple, block-style fax images.  Their discrimination against these features prevents users from having access to those features even if they are willing to pay appropriately for them.  Because Mainpine charges for fax call-time there is no bias against these kinds of features.  Users of the Mainpine on-line fax service are able to use high-resolution and color fax images as desired.  Furthermore, when charges are assessed per-page rather than per-minute there is no incentive for the user to be conscientious about the layout of the content being faxed.  Due to per-minute usage Mainpine on-line fax service users who deliberately send fax image pages with small amounts of data on them will benefit directly for being careful.

Mainpine recommends two methods of interfacing with its on-line fax service:  1) through Windows Fax Service available on nearly all Windows operating systems, or 2) through HylaFAX communication - whether through the typical client usage or through HylaFAX+ "proxy" operations.  Configuration instructions are explained when the account is established.  Mainpine is also willing to work with application developers who would like to interact with the Mainpine on-line fax service directly (i.e. through SSH or HTTP protocols).

Mainpine offers a no-charge 14-day trial of its on-line fax service where the account service is waived.  Users are only required to pay for usage during that period.

In light of our recent discussions the reader may be asking themselves, "So, is this it?  Are accounts with on-line fax service providers the grand solution?"  The answer to that is no, it is only a part of the solution.  Fax technology must continue to be developed... not only to leverage on-line fax service providers, but also to enable direct communications over internet connections between fax devices.  The Mainpine on-line fax service is but a step into that direction, and Mainpine intends to be at the forefront of future fax developments.