How Internet Faxing Works

Send and receive faxes directly from your laptop.
Send and receive faxes directly from your laptop.
Photo courtesy

In this era of paperless offices and digital documents, you'd think the paper-and-ink fax machine might finally be ready to retire. But faxing is still an essential part of doing business for certain types of documents (legal contracts, for example) and certain industries, such as public relations.

Desktop-fax software and services make it possible to send and receive faxes without ever touching an actual fax machine. With desktop faxing, any document you create on your computer can be sent to a fax machine via e-mail or the Web.

In this article, we're going to talk about Internet faxing; a kind of desktop faxing in which outgoing e-mail attachments are turned into faxes and incoming faxes are turned into e-mail attachments.

Internet Faxing Basics

With Internet faxing, any document that can be attached to an e-mail can be faxed to an analog fax machine. That includes Microsoft Word documents, PDF files and scanned images.

Internet faxing is a hosted service, meaning you don't need to buy and install fax servers, modems and special software. Instead, you subscribe to a third-party Internet faxing service that converts e-mails to faxes and faxes to e-mails for you.

Here are the three basic things you need to send Internet faxes:

Once you have all three, here's how you send a fax using Internet faxing:

You can receive a fax on your computer in much the same way:

  1. Your subscription Internet-fax service assigns you a toll-free or regular fax number.
  2. The sender dials that number and then sends the fax from a regular fax machine.
  3. The subscription service receives the fax, converts the data into an e-mail attachment and sends it to your e-mail address.
  4. To read the fax, you simply open the attachment.

Since e-mail is the only application required to send and receive Internet faxes, faxes also can be sent from a handheld device. Keep reading to find out more about Internet faxing from a PDA.

Internet Faxing From a PDA

Faxes can be sent to PDAs.
Faxes can be sent to PDAs.
Photo courtesy of Dreamstime

Internet faxing from a handheld device like a BlackBerry, Treo, PocketPC or Palm is also called mobile faxing. Just like with desktop Internet faxing, you'll need three things to be able to fax from these personal digital assistants, or PDAs:

  1. Internet connectivity
  2. Ability to send and receive e-mails
  3. A subscription Internet-faxing service

Getting Online

Handheld mobile devices use various methods and technologies to connect to the Internet:

  • Some PDAs have traditional modems that plug into a phone line or a cell phone for dial-up Internet connectivity.
  • Most PDAs have the ability to "sync" with a computer through a cradle or direct connection to the PC. If the PC is connected to the Internet, so is the connected handheld device.
  • Like higher-end cell phones and smartphones, PDAs can connect to the Internet through cellular carriers operating over wireless wide-area networks (WANs).
  • And, much like a laptop computer, a PDA with a wireless card can connect to the Internet through wireless local area networks (LANs) or Wi-Fi "hotspots," like those in most airports.

Once you have Internet connectivity on your mobile device, you send and receive faxes the same way you would from a computer.

Advantages of Mobile Fax

The most important advantage of mobile fax is that you can send and receive faxes from anywhere, any time with an Internet-enabled handheld device. For the sales representative or other worker who's rarely in the office, mobile faxing is yet another useful communications tool.

Mobile fax also gives you the ability to print documents from your handheld to any nearby fax machine. There's no need to buy a fancy mobile printer or worry about having the right drivers installed to use the printer at the hotel.

Printing to a fax machine is exactly the same as sending a mobile fax.

  1. Simply attach the document you want to print to an e-mail, and send it to the fax number of the closest fax machine.
  2. Your subscription Internet-faxing service will convert the document to a fax.
  3. Seconds later, the fax machine will print out your document.

Now that you know how to fax from a desktop, laptop or PDA, let's look at some reasons people use this feature instead of the traditional fax machine.

Internet Faxing Features and Benefits

Receive faxes on any device used to check e-mail.
Receive faxes on any device used to check e-mail.
Photo courtesy iStockPhoto

If your fax machine is connected to a conventional phone line, each fax you send is charged as a phone call. So, when you send a fax to a destination outside your local calling area, you pay long-distance charges. Internet faxing bypasses the need for fax machines and phone lines entirely. You usually pay a one-time, start-up fee and then a flat monthly rate based on the maximum number of faxes you plan to send.

Because you have no need to buy, install and administer hardware or software, you save money both on equipment and information technology personnel. And, since faxes are sent and received through existing e-mail applications, employees don't need extra training.

Security can be a concern with conventional faxes, because paper faxes often sit in the machine until someone -- not necessarily the intended receiver -- picks them up. That can't happen with Internet faxes because they go directly to the recipient's e-mail account.

Perhaps the most basic and most useful advantage of Internet faxing is never having to deal with conventional fax machines. You don't have to change toner cartridges or worry about busy signals. And, you don't have to worry about a fax getting lost in a pile of papers.

Other Internet Faxing Features

Most Internet faxing services also come with a Web site or Web interface to access special features like:

For more information about Internet faxing and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links