Categorized | Virtual Fax Services

Hardware and Software Internet 3.17. Virtual Fax Services

Faxes seem pretty easy. Buy a fax machine, plug it into a phone line, and there you go.

Well . . .

Faxes are central to your business, so you have no choice but to have a fax solution. You can plug a fax machine into your existing phone line or you can buy an additional line just for your fax machine. Either way, your fax machine is not always available. If you share a line with your fax machine, your fax machine is “off” every time you are on the phone, someone is leaving a message, or your sending or receiving a fax. Even with a dedicated line, your fax machine is out-of-service for sending or receiving a fax if it’s doing something else.

However, since faxes are, in reality, electronic documents, there is no reason why they can’t be sent or received without ever sending a piece of paper through a fax machine. That is what virtual faxing is all about. Rather than load a piece of paper in the machine and send it, you simply fax the actual electronic document (which is then converted into a fax, so you’re not really emailing the document). The same applies to receiving a document. Someone at the other end puts a piece of paper in the fax scanner, the fax machine digitizes it, and the digital file is sent to . . . your computer, your cell phone, or PDA. This saves you the telephone expense and, better yet, your virtual fax is “always on.”

Virtual faxing services are very inexpensive―as little as a few dollars per month. So any size business―from a shoestring to super-enterprise―can easily benefit cost-effectively from a virtual faxing service.

What should you look for in a virtual faxing service?

  • Area codes or toll-free: Virtual fax services either work totally virtually (faxes can only be sent electronically through email, Web, or a PDA) or virtually only on your end. If the other dude in the fax connection is plodding along with an old-fashioned fax machine hooked into a phone line, your virtual fax account will require a phone number―it’s through that phone number that your faxes go back and forth over the phone lines to those clunky old fax machines. If you plan to use virtual faxing for all your faxing needs, you absolutely need a service that assigns you a phone number. The service should offer numbers in your area code and, if you require a toll-free number, some services will offer those, as well.
  • Formats: Check the receive and send fax formats carefully. You should make sure that you either have the software to read and write those formats or that the software is easy to get. When evaluating formats, there are two considerations: receive formats and send formats. Often, the receive formats are very simple (usually PDF or text only), but the send formats can vary widely. Some services support huge numbers of send formats (making life easier for you); some only support standard document formats (Word documents, PDFs, TIFFs, etc).
  • Archiving: Not all services archive the faxes sent through their system, but archiving is like a backup. If your laptop goes kaboom, you can still access your faxes just in case they went kaboom with your laptop.
  • Auto resend: Almost every clunko fax machine comes with an auto-resend feature. If you are sending a fax and the receiving machine is busy or hung up, the machine will try a few more times. No virtual fax service, worth its salt should be without an auto resend feature.
  • Delivery confirmation: On a standard fax machine, the only real delivery confirmation you get is the fact that your originals have been passed through the machine. Virtual fax services should offer several different types of delivery confirmation to suit your needs, including email confirmation.
  • Recipients: Since this is virtual faxing, you should not have to send a fax to five people five times. The service should allow for multiple recipients. Be warned, however. These services don’t want your business if you’re sending “junk faxes,” so the maximum number of recipients is typically low (five to ten).
  • Fees: Finally, you’re on a shoestring budget, so you’re going to watch the fees. A low-priced service may not be the best value. Every service meters your usage and bills accordingly. Fees are based on a maximum number of pages sent and received or minutes used in any billing period (typically one month); exceed those amounts, and you end up paying a per-fax fee―just like you pay for extra minutes on your cell phone. Heavy fax usage can take a pretty hefty bite out of your bank account if you’re not watching the overage fees carefully. Did you catch that usage is calculated by the number of pages you send, not the number of faxes. Got that? Finally, all services charge extra for pages sent internationally―on a per page basis. Got that? International faxes are always overage. Most service typically charge an overage fee for ALL outbound faxes. Watch the fees!

3.17.1. MyFax.Com

http://www.myfax.com

MyFax offers virtual faxing for as little as $10 per month (100 sent and 200 received faxes per month). You can send and receive faxes through email, a Web interface, or even a PDA or cell phone. The service offers a Web interface, MyFaxCentral, that allows you to send faxes in a variety of document formats. MyFax can assign you a local area code number; all faxes you receive are sent to your email box―in fact, you can assign up to five email boxes to receive faxes through the service.

MyFax can assign you either a local area code or a toll-free number (Canada and U.S. only). Sending faxes comes with both an auto resend feature and delivery confirmation. You can send one fax to up to nine recipients simultaneously.

You can send and receive 178 different file formats (as of the date of the publication of this book). The service integrates closely with Microsoft Office 2007 and Outlook 2007. MyFax archives faxes for up to one year.

Like other services, pricing is based on a maximum number of pages sent and received each month. Overage charges are $0.10 per page (three times more expensive than the pre-overage amount) unless sent internationally. The lowest priced version offers 100 sent faxes and 200 received faxes for $10 per month ($110 per year); next up is 200 sent faxes and 400 received faxes for $20 per month; the highest level, at $40 per month offers either 1,000 sent faxes and 100 received faxes or 100 sent faxes and 1,000 received faxes per month.

3.17.2. Innoport

http://www.innoport.com

Innoport offers virtual faxing services as well has virtual PBX (virtual “Private Branch Exchange,” see 3.18 below), Find-me, Follow-me (see 3.18 below), and virtual voice mail services. Because they offer integrated services, we’ll deal with them all here rather than divide the discussion between this and the next section.

For sending and receiving faxes, Innoport assigns you one or more toll free and local phone numbers that you can either use for voice mail or faxes or both. If your number is set for both voice and fax, Innoport automatically distinguishes between a voices call and fax signal, so callers do not have to press any additional keys. Here’s the cool thing: because Innoport also offers virtual PBX services, you can also assign many of these services to your number, such as messaging, call routing, or call forwarding. Or you can go the whole PBX route and use the number to send callers to various virtual or real extensions.

When a sender transmits a fax or leaves a voice mail to your number, you receive the message in your email account (that’s right, your voice mail message goes to your email box―as a sound file). You can assign up to four email accounts for simultaneous message or fax distribution. If you’re not into listening to voice messages on your computer, you have the option of listening to voice mails over the phone.

You can send faxes from a Web interface or your email account. Innoport uses common file formats, such as Word documents, PDF, and TIFFs. In fact, you can send one fax from several file formats―you can have a Word document as pages one to three, a TIFF file as page four, and a PDF as pages five to seven. Innoport allows you to send one fax to multiple recipients.

In fact, Innoport does have a bulk faxing service with their higher plans. Charging $0.04 per minute, Innoport will fax blast a minimum of 500 pages (that’s one page to 500 people or 250 pages to two people, see?) using a fax number list that you’ve rented or provided.

Innoport offers four personal plans: Signature (350 inbound minutes, $4 per month), Marquee (500 inbound minutes, $6 per month), Omni (300 inbound minutes, $8 per month), and Toll-Free (no inbound minutes, $8 per month). Excess inbound minutes cost $0.04 per minute. Plans do not include outbound faxes, which are billed at $0.06 per minute―the Signature Plan does not allow any outbound faxes whatsoever.

Watch the fees. When faxing services bill by the minute, that’s a minute in which the phone is connected. So if you send a virtual fax to an email address, there is no charge. If Innoport has to dial someone else’s phone, then they charge you from the moment the connection opens to when it closes. If it takes one minute, ten seconds to send a fax, you get billed for two minutes. You have no way of knowing fax costs until they have been sent or received.

Business plans include PBX services along with voice mail and faxing; as above, you are assigned an allowance of minutes and overage charges will apply when you exceed the allowance. The Jump Start plan, at $10 per month offers (see 3.18 for a description of these services):

  • 2 phone numbers and 5 extensions
  • 200 inbound minutes on the first phone and 150 inbound minutes on the second phone; overage charges are $0.06 for a toll-free number plan; $0.04 for a local area code number plan; and $0.02 for the economy plan (you receive a number that’s not toll-free or in your area code).
  • $0.06 rate for each outbound minute
  • Auto attendant
  • Find-me, follow-me
  • Live extension transfer

The Corporate Plan, at $25 per month differs only in the inbound allowance: 500 inbound minutes for the first phone and 200 inbound minutes for additional numbers.

3.17.3. GreenFax.com

http://www.greenfax.com

GreenFax.com offers a complete virtual fax solution. You receive a personal fax number for receiving inbound faxes; faxes sent to your personal fax number are forwarded to you via email. You can also use GreenFax to send international faxes.

For receiving faxes, you are assigned a virtual local fax number (i.e., one with your area code). Because it’s virtual, there are no busy signals, so 10,000 people could send you a fax at the very same minute and you should get them all (which, as you might imagine, isn’t necessarily a good thing!) Faxes are delivered to your email box in PDF or TIFF format, so you can read them with Acrobat or any image viewer; the downside, of course, is that these PDF and TIFF files will be pretty hefty in file size. 10,000 faxes in one day will swamp more than a few hard drives. As a useful service, GreenFax.com archives all your faxes and will mail them to you on a CD every three months―for a fee, of course.

How do you send faxes? If you have a word processor, image editor, or whatever, you can fax all standard document formats from your own computer. Yes, if the folks on the other end have a standard old fax machine, your fax will go through just as if you had a standard old fax machine.

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One Response to “Hardware and Software Internet 3.17. Virtual Fax Services”

  1. Alex Coffey says:

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