Do I have to keep my fax line if I switch to VoIP?

Most offices used to have a dedicated analog fax machine, connected to a separate phone line, often located in a central location such as a copy room. Since it was obviously impractical for each employee to have his or her own fax machine, this served a valuable purpose. However, this approach has limitations. It becomes necessary for employees to physically go to the fax room to send or receive a fax, which takes additional time. But more importantly, sensitive information becomes vulnerable. When a sensitive fax is received, it is received in a public area, and could be vulnerable to snooping.

If you have moved to a VoIP environment, you may need to switch to a new fax environment as well. Traditional analog fax machines do not work well over VoIP, because of different signaling mechanisms. Sending a fax via analog fax machine over a VoIP line can be done, although there is likely to be a loss of quality due to the inherent packet loss of the system, and in most customer-facing environments, this is unacceptable. You can certainly choose to bypass your VoIP system and attach your analog fax machine to a PSTN phone line. Alternately, it is possible to attach a VoIP gateway to a fax machine, to allow the fax to be sent over the VoIP network. This however, is an incomplete and inelegant solution that does not take full advantage of the additional features offered by VoIP.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) presents an alternative, which is much more efficient and private. Fax-over-IP is a more modern alternative. VoIP allows for many features to be incorporated into the phone system that are not possible over an analog system, and digital faxing is one such feature. There are two basic options for sending a fax over your VoIP system. A larger company may wish to have its own fax server, which functions as a sending and receiving engine, and routes incoming faxes to each employee’s desktop. A smaller company on the other hand, can make use of a digital fax service.

An Internet fax service typically charges a low monthly rate, with a certain number of free faxes each month with an incremental charge for additional ones. No dedicated telephone line or hardware is required. In most cases, faxing can be done through a simple web interface, and most services support multiple file formats, including PDF and TIFF. The document to be faxed can be sent directly from the desktop computer; or alternately, if it is a paper document that is not available in digital format, it can be easily scanned into the system so that it can be sent out as a TIFF file.

There are numerous advantages to running faxes through the VoIP system through either a fax service or an on-premises fax server, not the least of which is the fact that it is no longer necessary for employees to leave their desks to send or receive one. In addition, most fax software allows for integration with common desktop productivity applications, so for example, a document created in Microsoft Word could be faxed directly from the Word interface. Also, common problems with analog fax machines, such as paper jams and other types of malfunctions, are eliminated.