Faxing Over IP: Why is This So Difficult?

By Brian Ferguson

Faxing Over IP

Evaluating, purchasing and implementing a Unified Communications (UC) system is a big project with its share of technical and financial considerations to make. While some UC deployments can seem complex, it’s surprising to realize that oftentimes, the most “complex” obstacle to overcome is… faxing. Ah yes, faxing. Faxing has been around in one form or another since the American Civil War era and has been handled by telephone systems since the 1960’s – and it’s a thorn in the paw of most UC deployments. Why is this the case? A more pressing question may be, considering all the advancements in email, document sharing, and electronic signatures, why do we still need to fax?

First, let’s understand why fax is still around. There are two industries in particular that are driving the continued use of fax: healthcare and legal. Healthcare professionals are bound by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), which requires all communication between providers and patients to be secure. Many recent security breaches have shown that email is not quite there yet, so faxing documents is the primary option for healthcare organizations. In the legal world, courts are much more likely to accept fax documents as opposed to email. Attorney A. Paul Genato of Princeton, New Jersey-based Archer and Griener, P.C says, “…some court rules accept fax signatures in lieu of original signatures and have not been updated to include signature copies sent via email.” Until document security improves, the legal system will continue to be cold on email and fax will continue to live on!

So what about faxing over IP? Why is it such a challenge for IT to implement? The answer to this question is that faxing has never been a perfect technology. How many times have you gotten the dreaded “Fax transmission failed” confirmation sheet, even with a fax machine connected to a dedicated analog fax line? I’m sure the answer is much more than once. Now, take that same process and put it on your data network with all the other traffic, and you have a recipe for trouble. The protocol used for faxing over IP is called t.38 and it has proven to be sufficient for companies where faxing is not a priority, but not for businesses reliant on fax as a key facet to their success. Unfortunately for IT staffs looking to deploy a new phone system, faxing may still need to be a consideration for you. If your company doesn’t use fax too often, modern IP fax options either built into a phone system or sold separately from a 3rd-party will work just fine. If you are in healthcare, legal, or another industry heavily reliant on faxing, you may want to consider doing fax the old fashioned way, with a dedicated analog fax line.

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