(Note: this review was written back in 1999 and preserved for historical reasons.)
There is nothing more frustrating for a business traveler than trying to send and receive faxes when on the road. Having your most confidential business dealings exposed to the world of front desk clerks, or just plain lost in transit, makes any trip aggravating. Trying to stay put in one place long enough to receive a fax can be tough, especially for executives on the go.
Fortunately, there are several Internet faxing services available that can make things easier, using either your existing email software or the web to send and receive faxes securely and with less trouble. While Internet faxing isn’t new, in recent months these providers have added functions and made their products easier and cheaper to operate.
The best solution for sending faxes is to use a fax modem (on your PC, but that may not be practical when you travel and are expecting a fax. Enter the Internet fax providers. Some providers offer services for both sending and receiving faxes, others specialize in one direction only. The sending/outbound services work in one of four ways:
- an email gateway maintained by the service provider. You compose your fax as an email message, and send to a special email address that is maintained by the fax service provider which transforms your message into a fax. This is the easiest method to use since there is nothing to learn and you can send messages to mixed fax and email addresses.
- a Windows printer driver on your local PC. This is best if you compose your faxes with Office applications such as Word.
- a series of CGI scripts you install on your own web server. This is good if you want to install a fax gateway quickly on your local network.
- a web form hosted on their web site which you fill out to send the fax, great for occasional use.
One of the advantages of the outbound services is the low rate for sending international faxes, as compared to the cost of using ordinary dial-up voice phone lines. If you do a lot of international faxing, you should considering using these services exclusively for your faxes. Other advantages over traditional paper-based faxing is that some services send confirmations on successful transmissions to your email box, and you also don’t waste time trying to send a fax to a busy fax machine — the services will make several attempts to send your fax.
But these services are for sending faxes. There are other service providers for receiving faxes. They typically assign you a fax number in another area code and route the faxes to your own email box (as an attachment) or to a place on their web site where you can view your faxes. You may require special viewing software to see the attachment fax image, or you may be able to use Windows Imaging or your web browser to view them. These services range from free to fee, depending on whether you want to use their supplied phone number or choose one which has an area code closer to your home. And some of the providers also offer 888 or toll-free fax numbers at an additional monthly cost.
Speaking of fees, you will end up paying in some cases an initial account setup fee, and either a per-page cost for your fax or a monthly charge that will cover a certain number of faxes. These all compare favorably with the cost of sending ordinary faxes over regular phone lines, around ten cents per page or less.
The table reviews several different providers and which technologies they support. (NB: Most of these have gone away.) Of the three described in detail below, Jfax has the best range of both inbound and outbound technologies and NetMoves/FaxSav the most complete outbound offerings. eFax is a good first-time solution for outbound users as well.
Jfax was one of the original fax providers and has the most complete range of services. They began with the rock star Jaye Muller who was frustrated at missing his faxes when he traveled. They offer two different inbound services, both of which do not require any additional viewing software. You can get a free fax number in a random area code, or if you desire a specific area code in one of 60 different locations (or a toll-free number) you can obtain one for a monthly fee of $12.50. They also offer an outbound email gateway under their Jfaxsend.com domain. This also has a $12.50 monthly fee.
NetMoves used to be called Faxsav, another long-time fax provider. They recently dropped their fees and offer a great many services for less than $5 a month, including an inbound fax number at their area code, special Windows print driver faxing software (Faxlauncher), 100 free pages both inbound and outbound per month. If you use more than your 100 pages, the cost is five cents per page. If you want to specify the area code for your inbound number, that will cost an additional $3 a month. NetMoves also has other outbound services, including CGI scripts (FaxProxy) to turn your web server into a fax machine and an email gateway (Faxmailer)
eFax was the first company to offer free inbound faxes to the public, but unlike Jfax you will need to download their viewing software to see your faxes, which arrive as email attachments. They have also an arrangement with eGroups such that each eGroup will have access to their own fax number allowing physical documents to be sent to the discussion groups. They offer toll-free fax numbers, which cost $30 per year, an initial fee of $5 and 10 cents per page received. They do not currently offer any outbound services.
In our modern 21st century age, it seems like the last bastions of fax technology are in the medical and legal industries, both still somewhat paranoid about theft of precious information. I rarely send faxes any more, but when I do, it is usually local. So I keep a PCI modem card connected to my home phone line to send those rare faxes.
For the rest of us, email attachments work well, though sometimes encryption is necessary.
David, thanks for the trip down memory lane. I remember using both jFax and eFax
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