Fax over IP (FoIP) and T.38: A rebirth of fax technology

Many businesses and professionals believe that fax is dead. And they are correct to the extent that traditional fax technology is dead. But its digital cousin, Fax-over-IP (FoIP) is still in use by many businesses and its use is growing steadily. More businesses are being attracted to this newer and improved version of fax technology. So the question arises what FoIP brings to this old technology? why businesses still love this 25+ years older technology? Why email and SMS have not been able to completely replace fax?

T.38 is a protocol for sending faxes over the Internet in real-time. This communication is sometimes referred to as Fax over Internet Protocol (or FoIP). One of the reasons for still using fax in businesses seems to be its flexibility. Many businesses are using it for decades and it is easier to use when the employees understand it's working and other businesses also able to communicate and share documents with it. Another reason is security. Emails and SMS are not as secure when it comes to sharing confidential and legal documents. Particularly, when the signed documents are sent. The signatures sent through emails are not widely accepted. Signatures sent over the fax are widely accepted and given legal binding all over the world. This is not true with all other technologies such as email and SMS.

Flexibility is the key

FoIP uses the Internet to send and receive faxes in an easier and modern way particularly when you know that you can also send and receive your faxes through emails. This means it is very useful for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). No hassle to install a fax machine. You can buy a virtual fax number and online email2fax and fax2email service from a hosted online fax service. Where ever you go, your digital fax machine goes with you. FoIP is equally useful for large organizations too.

But Reliability is Still an Issue

FoIP using T.38 does work but it is not as reliable as it should be. The real reason behind this is because T.38 was not designed for fax communication. Since voice communication over PSTN lines were used for both voice and fax. But when VoIP came, it was natural to try it for fax communication. When a fax is sent through the internet using T.38, there is always some percentage of packet loss. This results in reliability issues. If you are sending a single page using T.38, there is a good chance that it will complete (usually at a one percent packet loss). But when multi-page fax with 10 or more pages is sent, the chances of failure will increase exponentially.

T.38 is a good beginning but maybe it's time for the FoIP community to take a good and hard look at the reliability.