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Fax boards vs. carriers: weighing price and function.


Like it or not, the fax revolution has arrived.

Group III facsimile terminals are a quick way to send notes, business letters and documents, graphs, and handwritten memos between almost all business locations.

Some organizations, however, have noted that widespread use of fax has resulted in lowered efficiency.

Maybe fax machines aren't the quickest way to distribute time-sensitive documents to large groups of recipients.

You take time printing out a document, walking to a machine, filling out a cover sheet, and sending the document.

The time it takes to send the same document to many locations can be excessive. Fax machines sned messages one at a time.

You can't personalize the cover sheet for multiple addresses. This hinders senders who require each recipient's name, and only that name, to appear on each message.

It's hard to bill back endusers for messages sent from a centralized fax terminal.

Computer Link

If the document is created and available on a PC or mini or mainframe system, some of the disadvantages of standard fax machines can be eliminated by use of fax boards or service bureaus or carriers providing fax services.

Fax boards--generally used in PCs, and conforming to the same CCITT specs as do Group III fax terminals--let you send a PC-stored document over the telephone network work to another PC fax board or Group III terminal.

Transmission can be immediate or at a specified later time. The fax board and software dial each destination phone number, "handshake" with the destination fax device, deliver each page, and then disconnect.

If the destination terminal is not available on the first try, the software keeps dialing every few minutes.

By setting parameters in the software, you control the number of attempts and the intervals between them.

The software logs attempts and delivery/non-delivery of the information.

Fax boards generally permit transmission of graphics included in word-processing and spreadsheet applications, as well as some "PC paint" programs. They also let you "scan" a document into the PC and use this image for transmission purposes; this is useful in providing logos, letterheads, and signatures in documents to be sent.

The big hangup in fax boards is what you need to know about how to control and operate the system.

Using a fax board requires several steps to release the document and to monitor the log, to make sure all destinations were obtained.

The PC may be required to run this program after-hours if all transmissions have not been completed. This may slow or stop other applications being run.

Speed And Cost

Some fax boards have a top speed of 4800 b/s, half as fast as most Group III terminals.

This doesn't mean they can't interface, but their longer transmission time will hike your phone bill.

Messages addressed to multiple sites are still delivered one at a time.

The elapsed transmission time of important, time-critical information to the last locations may be unacceptable.

The fax board cannot differentiate among a busy telephone number, a ring/no-answer condition, a voice recording, or a wrong number resulting in a voice answer.

Because the unit may retry 15 times before canceling, after-hours delivery could result in waking someone up every 15 minutes for two or three hours.

Some fax boards don't let you personalize cover sheets for each address of a multiple-address message, or add pilot lines on every page. Most recipients require these capabilities. They want to make sure the correct number of pages has been received so they can go ahead and distribute the text. They don't want to have to read it to make sure it's all there and in order.

If a transmission is interrupted, most fax boards will re-queue and resend the entire message. When you send to an overseas site, this can occur several times for a long fax. This results in higher costs for international faxing.

Delivery of messages may not provide the "legal" proof of arrival which some documents require. Integrating a fax board into a multi-user environment may mean extra programming. An operator will probably be needed to monitor canceled calls and requests for repeals.

Carrier Advantages

With a value-added fax carrier, multiple-addressed messages can be simultaneously delivered, reducing overall time to distribute a document to multiple sites.

Fax cover-sheet information sent to each recipient can be personalized.

Some carriers provide the ability to use prestored company logos and/or signatures.

Carriers provide for alternate addresses, which can be other fax numbers and even other services (such as telex).

Some carriers offer cut rates for off-peak delivery.

Use of a carrier provides better proof of delivery in cases involving legal issues. Carrier records can support you in court cases.

Some carriers provide text-enhancement features that permit the message prepared on y our computer to be delivered to a mixture of fax and other devices (telex of DDD terminals). The fax carrier word-wraps lines of text and provides any necessary character translations needed for the receiving device.

Some carriers can provide mail-merge functions that allow you to send a "form" message with different insertions for each address. This allows personalization of the message text and cover sheet.

Carriers provide cancellation notices and sometimes actual delivery reports listing time and date of delivery as well as destination identifier. Some carriers can provide comprehensive reports covering an entire day's traffic.

Carriers will generally provide billing data to allow the user to internally charge the call to the department, project, or user level.

Some carriers will resend a fax message in its entirety if a transmission is interrupted. Others save you money by resuming the transmission with a short cover page and resending the missed page with the proper number on it.

Carriers simplify recurring broadcasts by storing distribution lists. These contain all information required for each address, including "attention," "from held," etc.

Some carriers provide their own customer-service number, so that requests for re-transmission because of quality problems can be handled directly by the carrier.

Carriers can interface directly to many E-mail and/or LAN systems. This relieves you of operatons problems associated with supporting an off-net delivery system and provides the efficiency of a corporate-wide resource.

Many carriers can assign a telex number for your office and deliver any inbound messages to your fax machine at no additional cost. Your office can thus have a telex identity without the investment.

Carrier systems will try multiple attempts to deliver the message.

Some carriers will detect voice answer and not wake up the wrong recipient over and over. Some carriers can send messages with wide-carriage requirements (up to 132 characters per line). Some can process other file formats, such as Postscript.

Carrier Disadvantages

Generally transmission costs are higher than sending messages directly from a fax terminal or fax board.

Overhead, labor, and hardware savings offset these higher costs for volume fax users, for whom the added value of the enhancements and more timely delivery of broadcast messages make use of a fax carrier cost-effective.

Some carriers do not have all the features mentioned. You have to check carefully to get those you want.

Finally, the user loses direct control of message status until the carrier reports delivery or non-delivery.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Cohen, Larry
Publication:Communications News
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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