Facsimile machines in the way we know them have been around a very long time. Most people remember them sprouting up like weeds in offices in the mid-1980s and they’ve been around ever since.

Most people, including myself, hate faxing. The process is slow, the image scan quality is poor, and if we had our way we’d ban fax machines like asbestos. Unfortunately, offices around the world still use them daily, so we still have to deal with them.

Why is faxing still required in 2010?

Answer: Because the internet isn’t secure enough for the transmission of sensitive documents as far as lawmakers are concerned. Two examples of this are the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Being that an emailed document is by nature transmitted unencrypted, acts like the two I just mentioned prohibit sending sensitive data that way.

In other words, if you’ve ever had an argument with an office where you said, "Can’t I just email a PDF? I can have the documentation to you in under a minute!", and they reply with "No, we’re not allowed to accept that", now you know why.

When would you be required to fax something?

For those of you out there that have ever refinanced a mortgage (of which I’m sure there’s a lot of you), you’ve most likely had to fax a ton documents, mainly in the form of applications and/or bank statements.

Other instances that require faxing include forms for state and federal offices. No matter how hard you try, they will never accept an email for anything and must have the paper – even if the documentation in question is the most insensitive thing on the planet.

Ways to fax

Scan/buffer/send

All-in-one scan/print/fax machines have this capability. You scan the documents first on a flatbed scanner, those scans are send to the buffer which acts as a print job, then the job is sent via phone line to the destination.

The reason this is the best way is because there is the highest probability of your fax going through correctly the first time.

However there’s one problem with this setup – it requires a phone line. Many don’t even have that anymore and elect to go with a cell phone as their only phone.

UPS Store

This is a nice place to fax because they will allow you to email it to them. Call up, state you want to fax something and need to email a PDF to them. They will give you the store email address to send it to. Send it, then drive over. They will fax out the document, you pay accordingly, get your confirmation receipt and it’s a done deal.

Online

You can fax for free or via a subscription service on the internet.

The free ways: faxZERO, scanR, PamFax, MyFax, Popfax

The paid ways: Many of them

Which is the most convenient and has best bang for the buck?

The free online methods obviously serve the best both for convenience and cost effectiveness, however you may not be comfortable sending faxes containing sensitive documentation that way, which is totally understandable.

A home all-in-one scan/print/fax machine is still the best of all worlds, assuming you have a phone line to hook it up to.

What about a plain paper fax machine for the home?

You could buy one of these if you wanted, however it’s a bit of a white elephant. Chances are all you want is a cheap fax machine and use it just for sending and not receiving. The cheapest decent fax machine you can buy is around $70. However for just $80 more you can buy an all-in-one laser printer that does print/scan/fax, and you’ll use that regularly whereas your fax machine will be doing light duty at best.

Also bear in mind that an all-in-one takes significantly less desk space compared to having a separate flatbed scanner, printer and fax machine.

Interesting tidbits about faxing

  • The fastest possible fax transmission can be sent at 33.6 kbit/s using what’s known as V.34bis. However it’s almost worthless to have considering the vast majority of fax machines use V.29 or V.17 which is 7200bps to 14.4 kbit/s.
  • There is such a thing as color faxing. The standard is called ITU-T30e. But it’s not widely adopted.
  • If using an online means of sending a fax, the best type of document to send for conversion is a PDF because it has the best printer-friendly layout, therefore the best fax-friendly layout.

What’s your take?

Even with the acts listed above, do you believe the ancient technology of faxing is truly necessary in today’s world?