IP Puts New Spin on Fax
By Brandy Pfalmer
Even with the introduction of e-mail and its fast acceptance into the marketplace,
faxing continues to be the most widely accepted mechanism for transporting information,
making up a large part of a company’s phone bill. In fact, a study by the Gallup
Organization for Stamford, Conn.-based Pitney Bowes Inc. reports that 41 percent of the
corporate American telephone bill is fax, and staff labor represents almost 60 percent of
the cost of sending a typical manual fax.
These enormous figures may be the reason why companies have started looking for a
cheaper, more effective way to send fax, and fax over Internet protocol (FoIP) has piqued
their curiosity. FoIP enables faxes to be routed over the public Internet (Internet
faxing) or private managed data networks by two different methods: store-and-forward and
real-time fax. Remote printing is an emerging third.
Store and Forward
The store-and-forward IP fax method works basically as its name suggests, by storing
sent faxes in a gateway and forwarding them to a terminating machine. Developed by the
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the protocol T.37 that supports store-and-forward
FoIP enables Internet mail and fax to interoperate (see figure, "T-37 Model,"
below). By storing the fax, this system allows for multiple attempts at delivery until
successful. This redial feature makes store-and-forward FoIP a very appealing method to
users located in remote areas with poor networks. With these networks, latency is a huge
issue, and without this method faxes may be undeliverable.
Even with the best of networks, approximately 15 percent of fax calls don’t go through
on the first attempt because of human error, machines that are out of paper or a busy
line, says Bill Fallon, vice president of Net Moves Corp., formerly FaxSav Inc., Edison,
There is a drawback to store-and-forward IP fax, however. Uncertain delivery times
require people to change their expectations about the immediacy of faxing.
"What you are used to when you use a fax machine is as the paper is going in on
your fax machine, you believe the paper is simultaneously coming out at the other
end," says David Friend, chairman of FoIP service provider FaxNet Corp., Boston.
"That is the behavior pattern that people have about fax."
But delivery time is never certain with store-and-forward FoIP. "At some point
that fax [FoIP] will actually get delivered and that can be anywhere from 10 seconds to 10
minutes to never," he says.
In Real Time
Until recently, store and forward was the only method of FoIP, but customer demand is
urging developers to refine technology for real-time transmission.
Real-time FoIP is supported by T.38, a new protocol developed by the International
Telecommunications Union (ITU) to enable real-time transmission between two gateways in an
IP network (see figure, "T-38 Model," below).
"Real-time fax as an accepted protocol is not quite there yet," explains Ben
Feder, president and CEO of FoIP service provider .comfax Inc., New York. "If you can
get real-time voice to work over the Internet, because real-time fax is easier, real-time
fax will work over that same protocol."
At this point, real-time FoIP over the public Internet is very unreliable because of
delays that occur within the network. "I think the store-and-forward services can
[travel over the public network]," says Tony Dutra, vice president of strategy for
Chicago-based Open Port Technology. "But the real-time communication, I would never
recommend that it goes through the public Internet."
These delays, or "hiccups," occur in the networks when data that is coming
from the originating machine is not sent fast enough to the terminating machine. A common
technique to eliminate this problem is called "data spoofing." Data spoofing is
the insertion of idle bits into the network that tells the terminating machine that more
data is coming.
But data spoofing doesn’t solve legality issues that are enforced in several countries
when data or voice is being sent real-time. "The fact that it is real-time IP fax
[makes] it not legal in many countries," says Dennis Miga, chairman and CEO of
INTERFAX LP, Colleyville, Texas. "It may be legal in those 30 countries, but it is
not legal in those other 230 countries."
Recently, companies have announced intentions to unite the best characteristics from
store-and-forward and real-time faxing.
In July, NetCentric Corp., Cambridge, Mass., announced it intends to make enhancements
to its FaxStorm product, a turnkey, carrier-class IP telephony system that offers a wide
range of Internet fax services. These enhancements will enable FaxStorm to support the
T.38 protocol for real-time transmission as well as continue to possess store-and-forward
John Fleming, vice president of marketing and business development for NetCentric, says
that products with this enhancement will be released throughout 1999.
At the end of March, Open Port Technology, which has been offering store-and-forward
fax since 1993, announced a next-generation operating system for IP applications called IP
LaunchPad. The software allows providers to offer and manage several types of IP services
without requiring new network builds or investment in a variety of proprietary hardware
and software from different vendors. The first module of IP LaunchPad to be released, the
Fax Suite, has been in trial by more than 25 providers around the world and is expected to
be available this month. The Fax Suite allows providers to offer store-and-forward and
real-time fax as well as least-cost routing (LCR).
"It can be used by a virtual private network (VPN) provider who wants to provide
multiple virtual private IP telephony services, such as fax or voice, to its
customers," Dutra says. "More likely it is for a highly scaleable, massively
deployed service provider networks."
With a little bit of nipping and tucking, fax can fit very conveniently into what is
called remote printing, which is sending a document from a desktop and printing it in a
remote location primarily to a receive-only machine. Like any printer, the terminating
machine has notifications that will inform the sender that the machine is out of paper or
offline. In addition, through printing queues, remote printing can be used as a
"Fax over IP has become a broad, generic term, and underneath it we have three
competing alternatives: store and forward, real time and a remote printing solution. I
view print as a competing paradigm to deliver faxes over IP," says Russ Teubner,
executive vice president of marketing and product strategy of Esker US Inc., Stillwater,
Okla. "If your computer could somehow view my fax machine as a remote printer, you
could simply send me the fax from your computer to my fax machine no differently than you
would print a document."
Under the Printer Working Group (PWG), an alliance among printer manufacturers, print
server developers, operating system providers and print management application developers
that would attempt to make printers and the applications and operating systems work better
together, a subwork group has formed called Internet Printing Protocol (IPP).
"The IPP was originally designed [so] that from your computer you could print on
my printer across the Internet," says Richard Shockey, a member of the IPP and
technology consultant and principal of St. Louis-based Shockey Consulting LLC, a
consulting firm. "Layering fax on that infrastructure seems a reality."
"[Remote printing] deserves serious consideration because the dominant
manufacturers of printers are the same manufacturers of fax machines, such as Hewlett
Packard [Co. (HP)], Panasonic and Canon [Inc.]," Teubner says. "IPP is seeing
wide support by Xerox, HP, Microsoft [Corp.]–you name it, they know about and are
Shockey anticipates that by the third quarter or maybe even the second quarter of this
year consumers will see this protocol implemented in products.
IP gives traditional fax a facelift. A fax document can’t be altered in any way, but
with FoIP, it can be sent to e-mail, then forwarded, archived, edited and stored on a PC.
Menlo Park, Calif.-based eFax.com Inc. offers its basic faxing-via-the-Internet service
for free, but charges for enhancements, including the ability to send a fax from an e-mail
account to a regular fax machine.
"The initial plan for us is to start by offering a free fax-to-e-mail service to
anybody that has an e-mail account on the Internet, bridging the gap between e-mail and
fax machines," says Janice Kapner, director of marketing, eFax.com.
"There is still a large part of the world that communicates via fax–about 500
million fax users," she explains. "In comparison to that, there are about 100
million e-mail users."
But instead of competing directly with e-mail, it has become a part of FoIP, enabling
faxes to be sent to e-mail addresses and vice versa. This incorporation plays a major role
in FoIP’s continued growth.
A study conducted by Internation-al Data Corp. (IDC), Framingham, Mass., forecasts that
in 2002 the worldwide Internet fax service usage will be 7,745 million minutes, growing
from 71 million minutes in 1997.
Other factors contributing to FoIP growth are enhanced features and services. FoIP
providers are offering a number of enhancements, including fax broadcasting, toll-free
faxing and fax-to-tracking.
"Clearly, we are moving to a fax-over-IP world, initially for the cost savings
made available by tariff arbitrage and eventually due to the enhanced features and
services fax over IP permits," says Maury Kauffman, managing partner and enhanced fax
technology consultant, Voorhees, N.J.-based Kauffman Group Inc.
Brandy Pfalmer is assistant editor of PHONE+ magazine.