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Should I Stay or Should I Go? The Pros and Cons of IP Fax and your Digital Transformation

February 2, 2021

You’ve made the move from the on-premises, copper-connected world to IP trunks and cloud-based services. But one item fell through the cracks – your fax service.

Chances are that since you’re reading this blog, fax is important for your business. Fax is often perceived as an “old school” technology, but it’s one that has deep roots in many businesses. It ties organizations to their vendors, partners, customers, patients and other key associates.

While numerous digital platforms and systems abound across the business communications ecosystem, they often run into trouble when it’s time to share data across organizations. One might be using one set of tools while the other operates an entirely distinct set of systems. This, as Jonathan Coopersmith explains, is why fax still remains alive and well across diverse industries and geographies.

So how do you reconcile traditional faxing with your organization’s digital transformation goals? Read on to learn more about the pros and cons associated to the most frequently used fax options - including fax over IP (FoIP solutions) - to decide which option is right for your business.

Option 1: Keep your legacy fax lines

Option 1 is essentially the null hypothesis – do nothing.

Pro:

  1. Option 1 is easy and requires no change to the status quo.

Con:

  1. Legacy fax lines can be expensive. You might have to overbuy volume to meet your needs. Per minute long distance rates can skyrocket.
  2. Long-term, many incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs - those are the original telephone companies serving your region) are phasing out legacy fax lines. Your organization may eventually be forced to make a switch whether you’re ready or not.
  3. Legacy fax means legacy equipment that you need to manage and maintain to preserve connectivity. Some of these technologies may be end-of-life and no longer supported. It may also be hard to find qualified people to perform the required management and maintenance.
  4. Keeping legacy fax lines and legacy hardware can run counter to your global business transformation goals.

While keeping legacy fax lines in place might seem like an easy solution, it’s ultimately going to cost your business more – in fax costs, management and maintenance. Plus, you may end up being rushed into a fax solution if your legacy provider decides to pull the plug on legacy fax support.

Option 2: Move to Desktop (email-based) Fax

When people think about moving their fax to IP, desktop fax is what often comes to mind.

Pro:

  1. Email-based fax can be particularly convenient if you have many office workers who need to send and receive faxes. Each user essentially has a fax machine housed within their email client, allowing them to seamlessly send and receive faxes.
  2. Desktop fax can be highly cost effectively if your organization only sends out a small volume of faxes on a semi-regular basis. If this sounds like your organization, moving from a legacy fax line to Desktop fax can offer attractive savings.

Con:

  1. Desktop fax is not real-time fax, so there can be some associated challenges like false positives. That means that you might think a fax has been delivered, only to discover after the fact that it was not.
  2. Desktop fax introduces an intermediary in the fax process – there’s no direct connection between the sending and receiving parties. This can be problematic if your business has certain regulatory compliance requirements to support (like HIPAA, FERPA, SOX, and others). Adding an additional step to the fax process also introduces another opportunity for data security to be compromised.
  3. Since desktop fax delivers faxes to your email address, you may find that existing business processes may need to be entirely re-worked when you make the switch.
  4. Desktop fax doesn’t really support high-volume fax requirements. So if you need to send out large quantities of fax, this solution may not be for you.

Desktop fax can be a good alternative to legacy fax for small businesses with low volume requirements. But for organizations with regulatory compliance requirements, data security concerns and higher volumes, this solution is not ideal.

Option 3: Real-Time T.38 Fax

T.38 is the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Standard protocol for real-time fax over IP.

Pro:

  1. Real-time T.38 fax is just that – real-time, with no intermediaries interrupting the connection between sender and receiver. This means fewer false positives, reduced opportunity for compromised data integrity, and easier compliance with regulations like HIPAA since data is not stored in transmission.
  2. In addition to being secure, T.38 fax can also be encrypted to offer an additional level of protection. This is a significant advantage over legacy fax, which cannot be encrypted. Make sure that you look for AES encryption for T.38 fax, which is the most rigorous encryption available on the market.
  3. Real-time T.38 fax is flexible. Whether you need to replace a single analog fax line, or have production fax volumes, there’s a T.38 solution for you. If your business has fax devices in place, you can connect the T.38 fax trunks to those devices to send and receive faxes as with legacy service. If you also have fax servers that support email delivery, you can configure your real-time fax to emulate the desktop fax experience for some or all of your users. The choice is yours!
  4. Compared to legacy fax, T.38 fax can offer significant savings – lower inbound and outbound costs because faxes take advantage of the Internet, plus the ability to scale to support your precise volumes, without the requirement to overbuy.

Con:

  1. Not all T.38 fax on the market is true T.38 fax. Some providers may deprecate the signalling to a voice protocol (G.711, for those interested) mid-transmission, which can lead to higher rates of delivery failure due to packet loss. If you’ve tried T.38 before and found it a bit inconsistent, this could have been the case.

T.38 fax combines the best of legacy fax with the best of IP fax, making it a flexible, affordable and reliable digital fax transformation option for many organizations.

Deciding to move away from legacy analog fax can feel like a daunting proposition. Fax is mission-critical for many workflows and business processes, and the options can feel overwhelming. But a clear understanding of the pros and cons of your choices – including not making the switch – can help streamline your decision-making process.

If you want to talk through your fax modernization options, our experts are here to help. Fill out the form here and one of our fax experts will connect with you shortly.

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