FoIP (Fax over Internet Protocol) is the technology that enables fax machines to communicate with each other via a packet-based network. FoIP is the logical addition to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), the technology that allows the use of a broadband Internet connection to make low-cost phone calls. With VoIP your voice is converted to data packets that are sent through the Internet and converted back to audio on the receiving end.
The same principles can be applied to faxing over the Internet, with a few major differences. Faxes are already digital, so the conversion to analog can be skipped. However at the same time, traditional fax machines are unable to interact by themselves using the IP protocol, so in order to deliver fax documents over IP networks, a new set of protocols has evolved, such as T.38 (an standard for sending FAX across IP networks in a real-time mode) or T.37 (an standard for sending FAX across IP networks in a “store and forward” mode).
Using FoIP in real-time mode a fax is transmitted via the Internet by separating the digital data that originates from the fax machine into packets for transmission, as opposed to the traditional method of converting the fax data into an analog signal that is then sent over the PSTN. Digital data requires less bandwidth than analog data, so FoIP turns out to be more efficient than analog faxing.
In theory you don’t even need to buy a new fax machine to use FoIP. By using gateways between phone lines and the Internet you could get traditional fax machines to transfer data over the Internet. But if you want to skip traditional phone lines altogether, you can use a dedicated FoIP machine that connects directly to the Internet. Apart from the advanced technical features such machines possess, the transmission is faster because it is routed entirely via broadband channels.
Among the “store and forward” methods that offer almost the same functionality are Fax to Email and Email to Fax. With this approach, fax data is transferred as an e-mail attachment using an e-mail Internet protocol such as SMTP. This method have been most commonly employed when using a computer to emulate a fax machine. When the data arrives at the other end, the e-mail client is configured to print out the pages. Not exactly what we typically understand a fax document to be but the result is just the same, if not better in terms of quality.
Another big advantage of FoIP over traditional faxing is the capability of managing and storing documents. Organizations that deliver documents using fax over IP can automatically archive the information, enabling them to become almost completely paperless and at the same time fully searchable.
All these technological advancements have produced that in recent years more and more companies have begun to adapt these types of FoIP solutions. RackNine has deployed dozens of these installations across Canada that provide our clients with the facility to have their email, fax and voice calls all within an integrated portable environment (anywhere broadband Internet access is available), while at the same time reducing costs. Compared to traditional phone lines, you can save up to 85% off your monthly bill by installing a VoIP / FoIP solution.
Configuring a FoIP server is very similar to VoIP, and in fact you could send IP faxes using an already implemented VoIP server equipped with some software modifications. Another possibility is installing from scratch a specialized server that is optimized for both VoIP and FoIP applications.
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