Background

Some people still have a need to send and/or receive faxes. This is obviously not possible using a conventional fax machine if you don’t have a phone line.

The alternative is to use computer-based solutions. For incoming faxes, this is available in the form of fax to email services. For outgoing faxes, this can be done either through email to fax services, or through software on your PC which allows you to print from almost any application to a fax.

For those people looking at Voice over IP (VOIP) phone systems to replace their phone lines, like the services we are looking into at the moment on behalf of the community, there is another possible solution. There are devices called VOIP adaptors available, which apparently allow you to connect conventional analogue phones and fax machines to a VOIP service. We have not tested this, though, and have heard claims that this might not work reliably over wireless internet connections.

Incoming fax

As mentioned above, incoming faxes are possible through fax to email services, where all faxes sent to your fax number get delivered to you as an email. These services are available at no charge on 086 phone numbers from many providers. These services are free to you as user, since the sender of the fax pays a premium rate for sending faxes to these numbers, and the provider makes her money from revenue sharing on these calls. These services are usually subject to regular use to keep the number active. Two possible providers to consider for this service are FaxFX (faxfx.net) and SishaFax (sishafax.co.za), which both provide an outgoing service as well. One very nice feature of FaxFX is that you can supply them with 5 of your favourite digits, and they will try and find a fax number that matches.

Note that sending a fax from outside South Africa to an 086 number is not possible in many cases. Apparently this does work with FaxFX’s numbers, at least from some countries, though.

Incoming faxes to email on 011, 012, 021, 031 & 041 numbers is also possible, but there is a monthly fee associated with such services. This might be a more professional approach for businesses, though. These services are available from companies like WebAfrica (webafrica.co.za) and Virtek (virtek.co.za).

The emails you receive from these services typically contain your fax as a PDF or TIFF attachment. IF you have a choice, I would recommend that you opt for PDF files. While TIFF files work just as well, the viewers for these files are not all equal. Many viewers, including the default Windows image viewers, do not handle multipage TIFF files, and instead they show you the first page only, with no indication that there are additional pages. There are good products available that do handle these files correctly, though. Irfanview from irfanview.com is great graphics viewer for Windows, particularly for multipage TIFFs. On Linux various viewers exist. For TIFFs, try kfaxview (Most likely part of the KDE Graphics package for your distribution), or convert them to PDF using tiff2pdf (from libtiff.org).

Outgoing fax

For outgoing faxes, you will need to get your documents into electronic format first in order to send them via your PC. If the document is already in electronic format (for example a Microsoft Word document you wrote), this is not a problem. If you need to fax a paper based document, you will need to scan it first. Outgoing fax services do attract a cost per document or page sent, and in some cases a monthly fee. These services are available in prepaid and postpaid offerings.

There are two ways of sending a fax from your computer. The first involves installing software on your Windows PC that acts as a print driver. You can then print to this virtual printer from almost any application, and the printout gets sent to a fax server by the software, from where it gets faxed to the recipient. Such services are available from providers like FaxFX and SishaFax on a prepaid basis.

The second option is to use an email to fax service. With these services, you send an email to a specified email address, and attach the document you want to fax. These documents have to be in a supported file format. Most of these services support files in PDF, Microsoft Word (.doc), Microsoft Excel (.xls), plain text, HTML and various graphics formats. The destination fax number is usually specified either in the email address or in the subject line of your message. Such services are available from SishaFax, WebAfrica and Virtek. Internet Solutions also have a service which gives you an incoming 086 number together with an outgoing email to fax service, for which they charge you credit card on a post paid basis - see is-ecommerce.co.za for details.

For email to fax services, I would strongly recommend that you send your files in PDF format, as you have more control and certainty over what the resulting faxed document will look like. With Word, Excel or other formats, the document might not fit onto a page correctly, and may end up not looking the way you wanted. PDF Creator from pdfforge.org allows you to print to PDF from any Windows program that is able to print. This does not yet work on Windows Vista, though. Try CutePDF from cutepdf.com instead. CutePDF requires Ghostscript (ghostscript.com), which is also available from the CutePDF website. On Linux you can print to PostScript from most applications, and convert this to PDF with Ghostscript’s ps2pdf (ghostscript.com).