For many years the convenience for the man in the street to sign up for a “fax to email” solution has created an absolute groundswell of “fax to email” users in South Africa. Unfortunately the system is flawed and expensive in my opinion.
This research on “fax to email” solutions is long overdue and I think the reason for me procrastinating so long, is that there really is no way to stop the momentum, as the free service to the fax recipient is just too compelling.
So what makes this so attractive for people is the fact that a five-minute process to sign up for a free “fax to email” solution far outweighs the cost of installing a Telkom line and buying a dedicated fax machine. I doubt very much that any research that is circulated to fax users will change the behavior of sending faxes to "fax to email" numbers. Of course advice to people sending large volumes of faxes is to rather ask the recipient for the email address and attach a PDF to an email.
There are rumours doing the rounds, about the amount of money being spent on “fax to email” solutions:
• Fax to email is charged at a rate of R1.83 per minute, billed per minute
• Fax to email seems to be much slower in receiving the fax
• The transmission cannot be 100% verified at the sending fax machine
• The Telkom rate for national fax to fax transmissions is charged at R0.57 per minute, billed per second.
We sent a couple of faxes to “fax to email” solutions, “fax to fax gateways” and “fax to fax” communications and this is what we found. (We have fax transmission slips to prove all of our facts.)
Let us start with a simple “fax to fax” communication. We used our all in one Samsung SC X – 4521F as our outgoing fax machine (not the best fax sending device, but it was sufficient for our testing) in all of our tests with a standard Telkom line. Our test fax document was a simple word document of two pages without any images.
Fax to fax
Our first test was to a local fax machine which completed transmission in 34 seconds. Our next test was to a fax machine in Port Elizabeth, a national call which took 36 seconds to complete the transmission. The great thing about the "fax to fax" communication is that it is 100% verifiable, the fax machine on the sender side connects directly through the Telkom line with the receiving fax machine, this communication is verified by the two machines communicating and if the transmission is interrupted the sending fax machine will receive an error message which will be printed on the transmission slip.
In short, the cost of the fax is approximately 34c for the national call and a few cents less for the local call and is 100% verifiable.
Fax to fax gateway server
Our next test was to a “fax server” solution on a network and to be more specific the fax gateway at CIPC offices. The fax transmission took 2 minutes at a cost of R1.14 and the communication between the fax machine and fax gateway is once again 100% verifiable. I would imagine that this fax gateway is rather overloaded and antiquated.
Fax to email solution
The rest of our testing was to “fax to email” solutions; in fact we used three different providers. The transmission times varied from 2 minutes 38 seconds to 3 minutes 48 seconds, which concludes the fact that these solutions are much slower than the simple “fax to fax” communication. This may be because the receiving device has a very slow communication speed (the communication baud rate - symbols per second or pulses per second) or the device at their fax server is overloaded or extremely slow. Either way the price of this communication ranged from R5.49 to R7.32, as this is billed per minute or part thereof. Rather expensive!
Now something more important than the actual pricing is the verification of the fax communication. You see the communication is not a simple fax machine to another fax machine; the communication goes from your fax machine to a fax receiving gateway which then sends an email to the users email address through the email solution provider.
The originating fax machine’s communication report will verify the communication between itself and the receiving “fax to email” server and this will be printed at the originating fax machine. The sender now assumes that the transmission was successful and that the recipient now has the document. The problem is that the communication from the “fax to email” server to the users email has not even begun.
Should this communication fail, there is no way that the “fax to email” server will communicate this back to the sending fax machine. However, I’m told is that the receiving user can request faxes for up to 3 years later from the “fax to email” server, my concern is that if the user does not know about the fax, they can’t request the same either. The problem here is that the communication could never be 100% verified. I’m also told that the date and time stamp of the original communication between the sending fax machine and the “fax to email” server is kept with the communication and stored on the server. The additional communication between the “fax to email” server and the email recipient is also recorded in the transmission stats.
Speaking to a "Fax to email" provider
I had a good instant message chat with Zirk Steyn of FaxFX and he confirmed various facts for me about the “fax to email” solution. The answers about the verification and costing were not clearly denied or admitted however the end result did confirm my suspicions of the costing and verification of the communication. It is understandable that the system has no way of communicating with the originating fax machine once the communication has ended. I would like to thank the Zirk from FaxFX for his time and information, it is greatly appreciated. He has agreed to allow us to share the communication I had with him which is attached below.
The end result of the research is rather sad, the “fax to email” solution is way more expensive than the traditional “fax to fax” communication. The communication is slower, although the “fax to email” providers do not confirm this fact. The communication is not 100% verifiable, although the communication along the way is all recorded, the initial confirmation slip at the sending fax does not verify the receipt of the email recipient.
Because the service is free to the receiver and extremely convenient, these “fax to email” solutions will be around for a very, very long time. My plea to the “fax to email” providers is:
• Allow the fax machine and the “fax to email” server to communicate at maximum speed thereby bringing down the price of communication.
• Work on a confirmation notification that includes the receipt by the email user in the transmission slip at the sending fax machine-if possible.
• Bring down the price of communication – R1.83 per minute is robbery.
There you have it – the rumours are true, I do hope something can be done.
Our IM chat with FaxFX
Department: Sales Live
Full Name: Malcolm Pearson
Your Question: Can you tell me how the “fax to email” is routed?
Staff: Zirk Steyn
09:57 Your Question: Can you tell me how the “fax to email” is routed?
09:57 Please wait, an operator will be with you shortly.
09:58 You are now chatting with Zirk Steyn (Technician) - Sales Live
09:58 Malcolm Pearson: Hello Zirk
09:59 Zirk Steyn: Hi. In a technical or monetary sense?
09:59 Malcolm Pearson: technical
10:01 Malcolm Pearson: I am aware that you get allocated a number
10:01 Malcolm Pearson: Then when people send you a fax at that number it is routed through your fax gateway
10:02 Malcolm Pearson: Then the gateway then converts it to a PDF or similar file and emails it to the recipient
10:02 Malcolm Pearson: what happens if the email to the recipient fails
10:02 Malcolm Pearson: how is the sender notified?
10:03 Zirk Steyn: When a person sends a fax to a number, it is routed through the telkom directory where the 086 number was assigned to through to a receiver in Johannesburg that translates the analogue data to an pdf document that is then emailed to the user email address
10:03 Zirk Steyn: if the email fails the user can log into their fax control panel and resend
10:04 Malcolm Pearson: Hang on, but the importance here is the sender, how is the sender notified that the fax failed?
10:05 Zirk Steyn: that part is analogue, if there is a failure they will not get a dial tone.
10:07 Malcolm Pearson: so in the first leg of the routing, the fax is to a fax gateway/receiver at telkom, so that is understandable, if that is busy or fails the sender knows.
10:08 Zirk Steyn: basically yes
10:08 Malcolm Pearson: But the second leg, where the Telkom receiver sends to the recipients email address, what is that goes wrong? According to the transmission slip at the fax machine the fax is succesful
10:08 Malcolm Pearson: what if that goes wrong - I mean
10:10 Zirk Steyn: after the telkom interface it all becomes digital as email. All faxes are stored on a server that only the email user can access for three years.
10:12 Zirk Steyn: if the email address did not receive the converted fax from the “fax to email” server it can simply be retrieved from the on line fax control panel by using the resend command as many times as required
10:13 Malcolm Pearson: Thanks Zirk, the issue is that there is no way of confirming 100% transmission end to end like a conventional fax to fax - am I right?
10:14 Malcolm Pearson: Also the date and time stamps will differ, as when the fax to gateway was confirmed will be different to the delivery time in the email in box - am I right?
10:16 Zirk Steyn: all logs are kept online for the user's review that will correspond with the data the analogue sender has. Unfortunately we can not guarantee email deliver as that fall under the realm of the email service provider.
10:16 Malcolm Pearson: OK, so my two assumptions are then correct?
10:17 Zirk Steyn: not the one about date stamps no.
10:17 Zirk Steyn: but from the user's email side yes.
10:20 Malcolm Pearson: The sender to gateway gets a confirmation slip which says fax transmission successful at 12:01:15. They assume the recipient already has the fax. However the gateway has still to send the fax to the person's email address - as you say depending on the mail provider - this may take 10minutes - so when they receive it it is actually 12:11:15, even though the fax stamp on the fax says 12:01:15 - am I correct?
10:21 Zirk Steyn: no, the online log that the fax server that translates the fax to digital will display the correct sent time that can be viewed by the “fax to email” user when they log into their online “fax to email” control panel
10:22 Zirk Steyn: it is an requirement to keep correct time logs by law
10:22 Zirk Steyn: as per ICASA regulations
10:23 Malcolm Pearson: OK, so the time and date stamp will be the same as the sender at the fax machine sees - even though in reality the time it arrived in the email was another 10 minutes down the line?
10:23 Zirk Steyn: thus the copy on our servers will always correspond with the original analogue sender
10:24 Zirk Steyn: yes, we have no part in the email other than sending the email to the “fax to email” users address.
10:24 Zirk Steyn: they have to ensure the email service provider they are using is reliable
10:26 Malcolm Pearson: OK, so the servers time will match the fax transmission slip - but the actually "real" time the email user gets it will need to be confirmed by the system log, which records when they got it and when they opened it?
10:27 Zirk Steyn: when the user opens the email up it will display the time that the analogue sender sent the fax in the received email.
10:29 Malcolm Pearson: Does the gateway server know the open time and read time?
10:30 Zirk Steyn: no, because the email user can choose to block that information to be sent (read receipt) by means of software settings or firewalls
10:31 Malcolm Pearson: OK, got it, more or less what I thought.
10:31 Zirk Steyn: if they do not block it, then yes
10:31 Malcolm Pearson: OK, that is positive
10:32 Malcolm Pearson: I am told the sender pays a premium for the sending, what is this per minute compared to a Fax and Fax transmission?
10:33 Zirk Steyn: there is no premium, you will pay the same rate to whomever the senders service provider is is be it telkom, mtn, neotel ect...
10:34 Malcolm Pearson: Is the 086 fax service not charged at a higher rate?
10:35 Zirk Steyn: a common perception due to "competition" lines that also use 086
10:35 Zirk Steyn: 086 is simply a pre fix set asside is SA for data transmission over analogue
10:36 Malcolm Pearson: OK, so if I fax a fax machine from a fax machine the costs will be identical to that of a fax machine faxing a “fax to email” solution?
10:37 Zirk Steyn: sometimes less, sometimes a bit more, depends on telkoms routing in a specific area
10:38 Malcolm Pearson: I have heard that the “fax to email” solution takes a lot longer to send the fax, is this true?
10:39 Zirk Steyn: it again depends on physical cable and peering routing as ste up by telkom, but fot the most part “fax to email” should be more efficient and faster
10:40 Malcolm Pearson: Why do companies like yourselves offer the service to the public if there is no extra money from the transmission to be made?
10:42 Zirk Steyn: we are a first tier internet service provider and use it as an additional service to users incl. ADSL, EMAIL, HOSTING.
10:42 Zirk Steyn: thus we do not bill for it
10:46 Malcolm Pearson: That is very kind of your company, so even if we just want the “fax to email” service, your company provides the service free of charge even though we don't use your paid for internet services?
10:49 Zirk Steyn: it is not a profitless system. We have a reseller system that you can apply for. You can then assign users “fax to email” numbers and earn R0.09 for each minute of faxes being received
10:49 Zirk Steyn: The method of gaining this profit does not however push up the rates from telkom
10:49 Zirk Steyn: as an example
10:51 Zirk Steyn: if you would like to do more in depth research for any article you are working on, FAX FX (www.faxfx.co.za) is the main backbone supplier.
10:51 Zirk Steyn: Fanie Olivier | FaxFX - Faxing Solutions Business Partner Manager
10:51 Zirk Steyn: T:: +27 86 727 2345 |C:: +27 79 710 2344|F:: +27 86 668 6698
10:52 Malcolm Pearson: Zirk, the article is on “fax to email” solutions and the confirmation of the transmission including the costs of the service
10:53 Malcolm Pearson: I would like to use our answer and question session here in the article, your feedback has been very helpful, thanks.
10:53 Zirk Steyn: Sure no problem.
11:01 Malcolm Pearson: Zirk is there a fax number you have that I can use to test the speed of the “fax to email” solution compared to a fax to fax?
11:02 Zirk Steyn: the best way would be to create a free email address from google, then go to our site (www.faxtoemail.co.za) and regester the email address.
11:03 Zirk Steyn: if you do not use the fax service for 90 days it will expire but not without sending you a notice
11:05 Malcolm Pearson: OK, thanks Zirk - your have been most helpful, the article is for www.tech4law.co.za, we offer technology advice for attorneys is South Africa
11:05 Zirk Steyn: I am subscribed. TX.
11:06 Malcolm Pearson: Excellent, keep well.
11:06 Zirk Steyn: same to you, cheers
The above article is my personal opinion and not aimed at or intended for any one provider, any contrary comments are welcome.