Voice over IP

What is so different about an IP Fax?

This article attempts to communicate the differences between a normal fax and an IP fax. It tells you why an IP fax server is required, what are the options of sending and receiving fax through IP and what are the advantages and disadvantages of using an IP Fax.

So, along with everything else, even a Fax machine wants to be IP enabled!

Analog Faxing:

Think of the olden days, where faxing was so simple. All you need to do is, take the document(s) that you want to fax (if you don’t have the hard copy, take a print out), go to the fax machine, keep one paper press the number, wait for the fax tone, push start and then it slowly goes inside and you get a confirmation. Just repeat the process if you have multiple pages, or if the other side is saying they did not receive anything! The fax is sent, and you can also sit near the fax machine with a serious face for quite some time and convince people around you that you are doing a lot of work!

Well, IP fax may be coming in very soon in to your company where you can still send faxes, but sitting at your cubicle!

What is an IP Fax?

Simple. It is an IP enabled faxing system that enables you to send faxes and receive faxes over the IP network. You can send faxes to analog fax machines too but if the other side also has IP fax capability, the fax can be entirely sent over an IP network. There is even an IP Fax server to coordinate the entire process for larger organizations to ensure that the process of faxing is centralized.

Why IP Faxing?

Why replace that RJ-11 with the RJ-45? Why replace the analog fax machines (which were so cheap) with costly MFP(Multi-Function Printers) that support IP Network connectivity? Or, why complicate the whole thing with a seperate fax server? Here are the reasons:

¤ Analog faxing is old fashion and like VOIP, FOIP is the latest fashion 🙂
¤ You are going to save costs. No. Don’t believe in that marketing lingo, yet.
¤ IT department wants to take control over everything that is telephony, including faxing. The IT department would rather be happier leaving faxing to the administration department!

¤ It gives centralized control for all the faxes that is coming in to and going out of the organization. For example, you can route a fax coming to the reception to a particular extension number to a Multi Function Printer nearby. Or just send it to their desktop folder. Or send it to their email address. Of course the receptionist need not do all that, the fax server will take care of it! None of the employees can any more say that they have not received a fax.

¤ Even if they manage to lose the electronic document that they got through the IP faxing system (Yeah, some of them do come around saying that their hard disk crashed!), there is a back up of all the faxes sent or received from the company, and you can retrieve it from there. Of course, you need a fax server to coordinate and some disks attached to it, to store.

¤ Make the employees even more lazy by allowing them to right click a document from their desktop, and send a fax over IP. Or use the faxing software (which needs to be installed on the computer). Or they can open the document and Print it to “Fax server” instead of networked printers. Or they can go to the MFP, scan hard copies and send it from there to any fax number.

¤ Integrate with enterprise applications like ERP/CRM systems and set up automatic faxing based on certain events – like all the purchase orders when approved by the boss, need to be sent to be sent as a fax to the vendor company automatically, based on their vendor code. Of course, you can scan them and send it as an email attachment automatically using document management systems but this one is for those companies which want a hard copy to be sent to them via fax for legal/agreement purpose along with any soft copies. Or for those companies which insist on receiving the Purchase orders in hard copy fax.

¤ You can also set up rules like send a fax tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM only. Or, all the faxes for an employee first need to go to the manager, and after their approval, could be sent to the employee.

What exactly is this FOIP?

Yes, there is something called as FOIP, and you guessed it right – Fax Over IP. Earlier analog systems used a protocol called T.30 for all the analog fax machines so that they could communicate with each other and send and receive faxes, irrespective of the make of the fax machine. So, the IP Fax machines are now coming up with a standard called T.38 or FOIP that enable them to do the same thing, but on an IP network. This is useful especially for companies that have full IP infrastructure for telephony and those companies that need to send long distance and international faxes.

Is FOIP interoperable with Analog Fax?

Yes. In fact, the new standard T.38 is written with T.30 as its base and can be structured in to T.30 by IP Swithes, routers etc. to allow the IP Fax to be converted in to its analog format to be sent over PSTN lines. But, additional modules and hardware might be needed for this to happen from your IP PBX. There is an IP Fax server that integrates with the IP network, IP Telephony switch, Multi-Function Printers etc. to make this happen.

Why MFP’s? Why not Network Laser Printers?

Multi Function printers are currently supported by the IP Fax vendors as they have the scanning ability along with the printing facility. Of course, these models should support connectivity to the IP Network and the analog fax module which is built into the MFP’s can also be used to convert the IP faxes they receive from the fax server in to analog fax format and send it to any analog fax machine. But this needs specific hardware and connectivity modules supplied by the IP Fax vendor. There are only certain MFP’s that are certified to work on an FOIP environment. You may be able to print to the laser printer, but not send faxes from there.

The whole systems can be integrated with corporate directories like Active Directory etc. and the corporate IP PBX (with some additional interconnectivity modules).

Sometimes, all this makes you think how much you cherish the existing analog faxing! Such a simple and cheap system and a wonderful way to show your colleagues that you are working by faxing from the reception. Who knows, even the CEO might have noticed you working, when he walked in! IP Fax takes away all those oppurtunities for sure, but can save some time during those rare moments that you are actually working 🙂

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