It's a little early to start dismissing the fax. Even with the rise of electronic mail in business, the use of fax machines and computer fax software is expected to grow, not wither away. A four-year study of fax usage by The Gallup Organisation found that 60% of large and midsize companies are faxing more than they did last year, often choosing the fax machine over other messaging options such as email, voice mail or overnight courier.
"The advent of email isn't eating into fax usage except in intra-company communications," says Maury Kauffman, a managing partner at Kauffman Group, a consultancy in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
In particular, users bought stand-alone fax machines in record numbers last year, according to Andrew Johnson, an analyst at Dataquest, a research firm in San Jose, California. And the use of fax toner, which is necessary to print all those faxes, is up 12% from last year, says Peter Davidson, principal at Davidson Consulting in Burbank, California.
Still, multifunction products -- those that combine fax and similar technology such as scanners, copiers or printers -- will be the growth factor, not stand-alone fax machines, Johnson says. "I think faxing has been an overlooked part of a communications strategy," Kauffman says. "Because no one is responsible for faxing, there is no dedicated decision-maker, and people can't decide whether it belongs to information systems or telecommunications."
Users who are loyal to their fax machines say the technology is faster and more reliable than email. And they say sending complete documents as email attachments still isn't as easy as faxing, especially for critical financial or legal documents that require signatures.
A good example of this is the recent legal brouhaha over World Wide Web browser software between Netscape and Microsoft. The battle was fought by fax. Netscape's lawyers faxed their accusations of browser-licensing irregularities to the press, and Microsoft responded with its own volley of faxes.
Also, some global companies with offices outside the US rely on fax machines for their communications.
New services in the US from vendors such as Faxaway, NetXChange Communications and Open Port Technology route faxes over the Internet to cut long-distance connection charges. "You send a lot of text for less money than mailing and you can connect small businesses and others that don't have email or whose email address you don't know," says Gary Lane, a Faxaway user at Lane in Garden Grove, California.