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Cloud Faxing

Faxing in the cloud is a phenomenon that has captured the interest of many businesses that want to outsource their faxing capabilities. Cloud faxing is the same as faxing through a fax server, except that a service provider furnishes the fax server rather than the business itself. This means that businesses, rather than installing and maintaining fax servers, merely have to pay a service provider who supplies a web interface for every user and the capacity to send and receive faxes. Internet fax is another term for cloud faxing, and it may also be refered to as email-to-fax and/or fax-to-email services. When Internet fax users receive faxes, they arrive in their email boxes, so the faxes can be kept confidential (rather than ending up in a fax machine out-tray).

Cloud faxing, in the end, isn’t really faxing that travels end-to-end in the Internet cloud. Rather, service providers generally carry fax phone calls over the public-switched telephone network (PSTN) and then deliver them to fax machines, fax servers or email boxes. It is when subscribers receive faxes that analog phone calls are terminated at the user’s direct-inward-dial (DID) number and then are sent over the cloud to the user’s email box. Of course, many voice-over-IP-protocol (VoIP) suppliers are starting to adding Internet fax services and they use FoIP (fax over IP) to send faxes. When sending faxes, providers offer the ability to attach files as TIFF images or PDFs and to fax them to any fax device in the world.

In any event, Internet fax services provide generally equivalent functionality to in-house fax servers in the form of services that are hosted by outside third parties and are available to users from a web interface or from their email interface. Competition in the outsourced, value-added messaging and communications space is intense and continues to intensify, as VoIP-style players enter the market space. The companies that compete here do so on the basis of pricing, reliability of service, customer support, service and software ease of use, scalability, product branding, geographic coverage, and technical support.

Suppliers provide fax-to-email services by giving users fax numbers that are direct-inward-dial (DID) numbers, which means that they automatically route faxes to the numbers given to individual users. Suppliers also offer users toll-free numbers at a premium price. In the past, the DID phone numbers were often from an area code that did not correspond to an end user's home area code, which meant that some users did not want to use the numbers because they wanted people who sent them faxes to have the familiarity of their home area code. This barrier has become less of an issue now that the country has had so much change in area codes over the last decade. Still, some Internet fax service providers continue to offer toll-free area codes and to offer people their home area codes and charge extra for such numbers. Most importantly, however, Internet fax service providers now offer prospects the ability to port their existing fax numbers to their services. This means that new subscribers can keep their fax phone numbers and do not have to change the numbers, nor advertize them. This number portability has greatly expanded the market for Internet fax because users no longer have to change their fax numbers and then advertise the changed numbers to people who might send them a fax.

The Internet fax services industry is divided into services that are aimed at enterprises, called enterprise Internet fax, and services that are used by individuals, called individual Internet fax. The enterprise segment saw revenues increase by 14.7% from 2008, when they hit $340 million, to 2009, when they reached $390 million. Key providers in the enterprise space include j2 Global Communications, the overall leader in Internet faxing, followed by Premiere Global Services, the leader in fax broadcasting, and EasyLink Services International, Graphnet, and Venali. Biscom and Esker are two leading fax server vendors that also offer Internet fax services, giving users the option to have hybrid systems that use fax servers for mission-critical faxing and fax services for normal desktop faxing. Hybrid systems also prove helpful when users want to use the fax services to set up their applications (then use the fax server for actual faxing) and when companies want to provide redundancy (using a fax service can be much less expensive than leasing lines from your telecom provider). Also, fax server vendors use SSL (Secure Socket Layer) to send faxes from the DID line to the end user emailbox so faxes are protected, whereas most pure Internet fax service providers do not offer such security. Another vendor, Etherfax, offers users a black box that works with any fax server and provides Internet fax service with total security so IT personnel need not worry about putting mission-critical faxes in the cloud.

In the individual Internet fax service market, revenues are grew by 7.1% from $420 million in 2008 to $450 million in 2009. Growth was down in 2009 because of the economy, which is affecting the volumes of traffic and therefore the amounts that service providers collect when users go over their allotted traffic levels. And certain segments, like users in the mortgage industry, have seen revenues fall off rather precipitously. j2 is once again the leader in individual Internet fax, while Protus is second, but gaining fast. Other US-based service providers of note include MaxEmail, GoDaddy, Comodo, uReach, RingCentral, Faxaway, Metro High Speed and MongoNet. The individual segment is driven in large part by price (where j2 is significantly higher than Protus) and by brand (where the j2 eFax brand is the by far the best known).

In general, users must consider the relative performance of FoIP servers versus hosted fax services, the security for their mission-critical information on faxes, the relative costs of Internet fax service versus FoIP servers, whether your business has enough IT personnel on hand and how important the information is that resides on faxes, when deciding on whether to go with a FoIP server or to fax in the cloud.

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