- Fax machines may seem outdated, but faxing remains useful in many industries, especially healthcare and government work.
- Online services offer fax capabilities without the need to purchase a machine or maintain a dedicated phone line.
- Most online fax services enable you to receive, send and archive documents; and tools are provided that bring this technology into the 21st century.
- This article is for those looking for easy and affordable ways to fax documents.
It may seem dated, but faxing remains a viable technology. Businesses of all sizes still send and receive faxes, especially companies in the healthcare field and those that work with government agencies. The fax machines of yesteryear, though, have largely been replaced by digital office solutions. Scores of companies provide online services that allow you to send and receive faxes through your email account. Rather than having to print and file paper documents, you can store them securely in the cloud. Many offer additional money- and time-saving features.
If you or your company are looking to incorporate an online fax service into your office’s workflow, here are some things to keep in mind.
How online fax services work
Traditional fax machines worked by translating scanned documents into an audio tone that was transmitted over telephone lines. They required a separate phone number and a bulky machine to do so. Today, faxing can be done online, and without a dedicated phone line or extra machinery.
Online fax services take a digital file and send it using a special email address that includes the recipient’s fax number (such as email@example.com) or through the vendor’s website.
When sending online faxes, your service provider translates the uploaded documents into the proper format and then sends them to your recipient’s fax machine. Similarly, when receiving faxes, the service provider translates the faxed document into a digital format that’s readable online, then delivers it to your email inbox.
Did you know?: The first fax machine was invented in the 19th century, a decade before the first telephone.
How to choose an online fax service
The specific offerings of online fax providers may look similar but there are a few key points to keep in mind when choosing one.
1. Assess your needs.
Knowing the volume of faxes that you need to send and receive is key to finding the right service provider. Some of the inexpensive plans have a lower monthly fax limit. Conversely, power users will want to spend a few dollars more to avoid overage charges. Consider what you’ll realistically send and receive in a month to choose a plan that fits.
2. Contact various vendors.
Reaching out to vendors is a good way to evaluate not just their product, but their customer service. Pay attention to how customer service representatives discuss company offerings. Are they upfront about the costs? Do they succinctly explain the included features? Are they obviously trying to push you into a sale? It’s important to know how you’ll be treated if things go sideways. Spending some one-on-one time over the phone can help illustrate how that would go down.
3. Understand fee structures.
Hidden fees and unexpected costs makes budgeting difficult. While most online fax service providers list their pricing on their website, it can take extra digging to find out about other charges – such as setup fees, long-distance fees and overage costs. Be sure to learn all about the costs: advertised and hidden. Even if the company doesn’t require you to sign a contract or long-term agreement, it will hold you liable for all fees – including those you unwittingly incur.
4. Request free demos.
Most online fax providers offer a free product demonstration or trial period. Take advantage of this offer to test the service beforehand. Some of the services are far-more user friendly.
Tip: Assess your needs against what the vendor offers in terms of fee structure and features. Then complete a demo to make sure the service meets your needs.
Benefits of online fax services
An online fax service can be a beneficial option for small businesses that need faxing capabilities for several reasons. Here are some key benefits to an online fax service:
Keeps costs down
With an online service, there’s no need to purchase, operate and maintain a separate machine with a dedicated telephone line. Plus, uploading files directly to the service saves time and money while reducing paper waste.
Easy to use
You don’t have to be in your office or near a fax machine to send and receive documents. Managing incoming and outgoing faxes with an online fax service is as simple as having access to a computer or installing an app on your smartphone.
No equipment required
Leave the phone line and bulky machine behind. All you need to send faxes online is a desktop computer or a mobile device.
Key takeaway: >Online fax services allow your business to send and receive documents with little financial commitment.
Online fax features and options
Along with the ability to send and receive faxes, online services usually offer several features to enhance their usability and security. However, some cost extra. Here are a few of the most common features and options you’ll find.
Organizations such as healthcare companies and government agencies prioritize data security and often consider faxes more secure than email. To safeguard your transmissions, most service providers include some form of data protection – including SSL or PGP encryption, password protection and HIPAA compliance. Some vendors charge extra for these features, so it’s important to know what questions to ask.
Toll-free or local fax number
Many online fax services offer a toll-free or local fax number. Most services offer long-distance and international faxing too, yet it often comes with an additional fee based on the destination country.
Storage and archive
Some services limit the number of faxes you can store, while others limit the amount of time a fax can be archived. Check the specifics of your service before committing to a plan.
Some services offer tools that will seamlessly integrate with your current technology, such as Microsoft Outlook. Other options make using the tool easy, including a mobile app with alerts, preset delivery times, electronic signatures, customizable cover sheets, and the ability to fax multiple recipients at once and forward incoming faxes to multiple email addresses.
FYI: Online fax services offer the benefits of a traditional fax machine, such as a dedicated number and secure transmission, while offering additional tools that bring faxing into the modern office.
Pricing for online faxing services
Among the many factors to consider when looking for an online fax service, price often looms the largest. In our research, we found that nearly every online fax solution operates on a monthly subscription model. Base fees start around $6 per month and can reach much higher for heavy users who require multiple features. This price usually comes with a set amount of incoming faxes, outgoing faxes or pages per month.
If you send or receive more pages or faxes than your monthly limit, companies charge overage fees of several cents per page. Some services may charge one-time setup fees, but more often free trials are offered.
As an alternative to a monthly fee, some faxing services offer a pay-as-you-go plan. In this model, users pay for each fax they send. Naturally, this type of plan makes the most financial sense for entities that don’t send many faxes each month.
Since faxing is still widely used to send sensitive documents to customers or vendors in foreign countries – including technologically advanced locales like Japan – some services offer international faxing capabilities for an additional cost. The price varies by location, but be ready to pay several dollars for each international fax you send – depending on the country to which you’re faxing.
Key takeaway: There are many available pricing models for online fax services.
Online fax service FAQs
If you still have unanswered questions about online fax services, you’re not alone. Below we’ve answered the three most common questions about this technology and how it may help your business.
Are there free online fax services?
There are several free online fax services available, including FaxZero, PamFax and Microsoft Office’s built-in faxing tools. However, these free services may limit the number of pages you can send or receive each month. They may also charge additional fees, such as a per-page faxing fee. Many of the paid services offer free trials.
What equipment is needed to send faxes online?
All you need is an internet connection and a device. Online fax services don’t require the same equipment you used in the 1990s, like a stand-alone fax machine and a dedicated phone line. Simply open up your laptop, log in to the online fax service of your choice and send your documents.
Fax or email: Which is better?
It’s less about which is better and more about which is best suited for your business’s needs. While fax and email may seem like very similar services – especially now that faxing is conducted online – key differences remain. The biggest involves security: Faxing is generally regarded as more secure and less likely to be hacked than email, which is why industries that handle sensitive information, such as healthcare or government bodies, still fax.
Our online fax service best picks
No online fax service meets everyone’s needs. To help you get started, we’ve selected our picks for the best online fax services to showcase the vendors that consistently demonstrate strong performance in various specialties.
Faxing isn’t dead, it’s evolving
Some still think of faxing as an antiquated technology. But online fax services can help you affordably incorporate this useful communication method into a modern office environment. If your business still needs to send and receive faxes, online fax services offer a more convenient and cost-effective way to do so.