Does your business still need a fax machine?

If you had to match specific decades with their most characteristic sounds, you might pair the 1960s with The Beatles, the 1970s with Led Zeppelin, and the 1980s with a peculiar electronic drone: the once-ubiquitous hum of the fax machine. When it came to transferring paper documents, the fax machine offered unparalleled convenience and speed – that is, until the Internet made it possible to send documents anywhere in the world, rather than to a single fixed-line location. So why are almost 17 billion faxes still sent each year? And does your business still need a fax machine?

The fax machine: a survivor’s story

If you don’t send faxes yourself, you might be wondering who does. In fact, it’s not surprising that the fax machine has remained in use for so long given its early adoption in industries like finance and law, which rely heavily on ‘hard copies’ of important documents.

Herein may lie the secret of the fax machine’s survival: the T.30 fax protocol generates a digital signature which, unlike an email, provides incontrovertible confirmation that a document has been received. It also forces point-to-point document transmission, cancelling the fax if it detects a malicious third party. For both these reasons, faxes can be used as legally binding documents. Fax machines might be particularly appealing in regions where landlines remain more reliable than Internet connections.

Eliminating the paper trail

Still, it’s hard to argue that newer technologies haven’t made the fax machine obsolete. After all, with a fax machine, you can only receive documents in one physical location, which his hardly appealing to today’s increasingly mobile workforces. Moreover, legal contracts can be sent as scanned files with no loss of promissory force.

Of course, you do have to digitise a document before you can send it, but that’s easily done with a camera phone or a portable scanner. Once a file is in the cloud or uploaded to a service like Dropbox or WeTransfer, you can send it across the world in a flash.

Facing the fax

It’s true – fax machines, like the most resilient of fossils, have survived long past the date of their expected extinction (some time, perhaps, in the early 2000s). However, that shouldn’t convince you that they’ll be around forever. After all, seven times more emails are sent each day than faxes are each year. So if you have a fax machine, the time has probably come to embrace the new (and even not-so-new) technologies – from email to the cloud – which will allow you to send important documents with more speed and less noise.