The Answer to sending and receiving a fax over VoIP and 3 Alternatives

We’ve been receiving a number of questions about sending and receiving a fax over VoIP (Voice Over IP) lately using a normal fax machine.  IT IS possible to do, but it’s not quite as simple as plugging the machine into a phone jack.  However, don’t worry, it’s not complicated either.  YES! The fax machine still has a place in our business world, so I’ll tell you how you can keep using yours, and I’ll also tell you about some alternatives that may pleasantly surprise you.

Brief History:

The first commercial fax machines began to appear during the 1960s.  At the time, you could transmit one page every 6 minutes.  Slow by our modern standards, but still faster than mailing a letter or sending out a carrier.  In the late 1970s, and 1980s, the fax machine really went “viral”; unlike disco, they haven’t disappeared completely.  On youtube, there’s a really great episode of an early 1990s show called The Secret Life of Machines on the fax machine. It’s about 25 minutes in length, but I think, well worth the time!

Why can’t I just plug my fax machine into my VoIP system to send a fax over VoIP?

  • Traditional fax machines utilize a protocol known as T.30, which is designed for analog phone networks.

  • To fax over VoIP using a fax machine, a protocol known as T.38 must be used.

A VoIP network is brilliantly optimized for voice communications, but not for fax.

In a simplified explanation, VoIP works like this;

Fax over voip transmission over the internet

1) Your voice is encoded into a digital signal.

2) The digital signal is chopped up into “packets”, which are chunks of compressed data that contain information about where the information needs to be sent. The packets are routed via whichever paths are least congested.

3) The packets arrive at their destination and reassembled.

4) The digital signal is then converted back to analog sound.

VoIP works well for voice because: Even if packets disappear along the way, the signal can still be reassembled and the user won’t notice since each packet only contains a small piece of data. (Our brains can fill in micro-gaps in audio).

Unfortunately, VoIP doesn’t work so well for fax because: If packets disappear, or if there’s a delay, the standard fax machine WILL notice and the fax will fail.

In general, faxes just don’t work so well: In my own experience, I’ve still had many failed faxes using standard telephone lines, and I’ve come pretty close to recreating the famous fax/printer destruction scene from the movie Office Space (I’ve lost count of how many times).

IP systems use “packets” and there can be slight delays and packet loss.  The T.38 protocol compensates for internet anomalies by sending several redundant copies of each packet.

How can I use my fax machine to fax over VoIP?

There are devices called T.38 gateways which act as a “converter” for your traditional T.30 based fax machine.  The gateway takes your fax machine’s signal and translates it into a protocol that is internet friendly.

Illustration of a Fax over voip

Result: Standard, familiar, fax machines can be used on both ends; transmit/receive in real time.  To the user, it will have the same feel and responsiveness as if the fax were sent the whole way over traditional phone lines. It’s seamless.

Alternatives to using any fax machine at all:

If you’re tired of standing by your fax machine and waiting for an expected fax, then you may love these alternatives.  I think you’ll also love these alternatives if you’re looking to go “green” and save paper, toner and power.

1) Internet fax services: you can send and receive faxes via your computer and email. These do usually cost some money, but they save on equipment, consumables and allow for archiving of documents. Some are even HIPAA-compliant for use by those in healthcare.

    • Callifi faxing for businesses and HIPAA-Compliant
    • E-Fax is one that has consumer solutions and HIPAA-Compliant ones
    • faxZERO
    • NOTE: I don’t have experience with any of these services, and I am not endorsing them. They’re just a starting point for your reference.

2) Steadfast Telecommunications also provides fax alternatives.

  • Outbound faxes can be sent via Steadfast’s Webportal.
  • Fax Server MultiTech Systems produces devices which allow faxes to be received over IP and then delivered to the recipient’s e-mail as a PDF. Faxes can be sent through any application by pressing the print button.
  • If you would prefer, Steadfast can also allow you to use your current fax machine through an adapter on our VoIP system.

3) Scan and email: At our office we have an all-in-one printer with an auto-document feeder. I just place a stack of sheets in and they can easily be scanned to a PDF.  If you’re like us, and have such a machine, you make much use of it.  After something is already a PDF, it’s just one more step to email it. Also, if you have a physical document, it’s fairly common to scan it for archival purposes anyway.  At that point, why bother with a fax machine? You would have to fax and scan separately. What a waste of time!

Final Words:

Businesses do seem to love their fax machines. However, if you do an internet search, it’s easy to find many reasons that you should use your old fax machine, and just as many reasons why you shouldn’t.  It’s a decision that’s up to each individual business and their needs.  I think that it’s worth checking out some alternatives since you could possibly save some money, time and frustration.  Going back to the movie Office Space, check out youtube for the fax machine scene. There are many reenactments by people who have switched to alternative options and no longer need their machines.

We want to know what you think about faxing over VoIP and its alternatives!

Does your business send and receive faxes on a regular basis?  If so, does your business utilize a traditional fax machine?  If your business does use a traditional fax machine, what do you think of some of the fax alternatives, after reading this article?

If your business has been using fax over VoIP, what do you think of it?

You can write your comment in the box below.