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Fax: Why and where it still matters

Kevin Jacoby's picture

by Kevin Jacoby on 11/11/2022
Blog Category: devices

Could old-fashioned fax technology be a part of your 21st century business strategy? 
The answer depends on who your customers are, what they do—and whether they need a physical facsimile of their colonoscopy results. 
Today some people fax through a mobile app, like sending an email with an attachment. For others, it’s still about loading a slice of dead tree into an oversized, beige phone and sending it over copper wires via a 3G modem.
What these users have in common is that they work in industries with stringent requirements for document confidentiality and verifiability. Mainly, that’s law and healthcare. 
To fax or not to fax
In case you wondered, the fax dates back to 1846. That’s when a Scottish gent named Alexander Bain brought the technology to life, calling it the Electric Printing Telegraph. 
More than a century later—1964, to be exact—Xerox put out the first commercialized fax machine (see photo below, courtesy of Pinterest). 
Xerox fax machine of 1964
Xerox’s first commercial fax machine (lower right) 
By 1970, many other companies had entered the fax-machine fray. We were sending each other thermal-printed paper documents like it was going out of style.
So what made the fax machine obsolete? In a word, email. Once we could attach printable documents and quickly shuttle them around the globe via the internet, finding a good excuse to send an actual fax took a lot of work. 
Fax, RIP? 
So why isn’t fax well and truly dead? The answer has much to do with The U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, commonly known as HIPAA and pronounced “hip-ah.” 
HIPAA governs all U.S. medical practices and demands a degree of compliance that keeps Alexander Bain’s 1840s electric doodad in service even today. 
The act is quite stringent when it comes to shuttling patient data between two or more medical practices. This policy favors faxing’s inherent real-time data transfer, encryption and instant delivery confirmation. 
What’s that, you say? Dozens of modern communication methods provide the same things? Maybe someone should send HIPAA a fax about that. 
Modern faxing
Today you no longer need a fax machine to send a fax. Myriad app developers will be happy to sell you a $4 app that handles faxes from your mobile device. 
Using these apps is simple. Just scan a document with your phone’s built-in camera. Enter the recipient’s fax number. Then hit the send button. You’re done.
Despite what the HIPAA folks might say, this process does provide end-to-end encryption, real-time data transfer and instant confirmation. 
If you or your customers are looking for an excellent once-in-a-while fax app, The New York Times Wirecutter reviewers have recommended HelloFax. More recently, Dropbox purchased HelloFax and renamed it Dropbox Fax
With Dropbox Fax, the first 5 pages are free. After that, you can send up to 10 pages for 99 cents, and then 20 cents per page after that. Dropbox also offers monthly and yearly fax plans; they start at just under $10 a month and $100 a year, respectively. 
For those businesses that still do a lot of faxing, Wirecutter recommends another service, SRFax. This email-to-fax service is positively HIPAA-compliant. 
SRFax uses your phone’s camera to scan text for faxing
SRFax is also well suited for the legal sector, which relies on a fax’s ability to stand up in court as a time-stamped exhibition of evidence.
A sexy beige box?
It may come as a shock to anyone under the age of 35, but you still can buy an actual fax machine. While these devices come in many shapes and sizes, all connect to copper phone lines and spit out slices of dead tree.
In the case of the nearly $400 Brother FAX4100E IntelliFax Plain Paper Laser Fax/Copier, the spitting of dead trees happens as fast as 1 page every 3 seconds. 
Brother FAX4100E fax machine
Brother’s FAX4100E can fax, print and copy
We’re not talking about that gas station receipt shiny paper with illegible type, either. The Brother fax produces laser-printed, high-resolution text and images on the best paper your office manager will spring for.
Fax as a business line
Tech providers could turn 21st-century faxing into a viable business strategy. The medical and legal vertical markets aren’t going anywhere. And you can bet HIPAA isn’t going anywhere, either. 
Many businesses and institutions will continue to rely on fax technology for the foreseeable future. While the faxing public may constitute a small percentage of the population, they still need apps, machines, paper and ink. 
Maybe it’s time to fax them an ad.
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