Biz Features

Faxing: The Dinosaur That Won’t Go Extinct

by . April 11th, 2014

10 Reasons Fax Machines Still Exist – Despite Our Best Efforts To Kill Them

When was the last time you used a fax machine? I’ve personally never in my nearly 30 years of existence ever found the need to use a fax machine. Granted, they became obsolete before I finished high school.

The Museum of Obsolete Objects Presents – The Fax Machine:

Or did they? While fax machines often come across as some quaint relic of the 90’s they continue to be a part day-to-day business. This is truer in some countries than others, particularly in Japan, where the widespread use of fax machines continues to puzzle many outsiders.

Even in the United States, a little over 1-in-20 people continue to use fax machines at least semi-regularly, even when there are plenty of digital alternatives. What’s more, thanks to security and legislative issues, they are still clinging to life. Walk into any office supplies store and you will find new analog fax machines.

In a rant on InfoWorld, Paul Venezia asks ‘Consider what a fax machine actually is: a little device with a sheet feeder, a terrible scanning element, and an ancient modem. Most faxes run at 14,400bps. That’s just over 1KB per second — and people are still using faxes to send 52 poorly scanned pages of some contract to one another. Over analog phone lines. Sometimes while paying long-distance charges!”

OFFER: Dead Fax Machine (Monrovia)
He continues,‘The mind boggles…If something as appallingly stupid as the fax machine can live on, it makes you wonder how we make progress at all. Old habits die hard. It just goes to show you: Bad technology generally isn’t the problem; it’s the people who persist in using that technology rather than embracing far superior alternatives.”

Old school faxes are clearly on the way out. But why the heck are they still around? However Venezia felt at the time – and how he felt is something most techies commiserate with – fax machines persist for several pretty solid reasons:

10.) Fax Numbers Lend Credibility to a Business

There’s no inherent logic to it, any more than a business is any more legitimate because they have a website or business cards. However, if customers ask for any of these things and you don’t have one, you might have blown it.

9.) Reliable Internet Connections are still Lacking in Many Areas

In the United States for example, broadband access is only at around 70% – and not all broadband connections are equal. Dial-up internet in this day and age is unfortunately the only option for many Americans if they want to go online.

8.) Some People Don’t Even Use the Internet at All

As of February 2014, an estimated 87% of Americans are now online – the highest it’s ever been. How many of you are surprised that number isn’t higher? It still leaves 13% of Americans who simply don’t go online or simply have no access – period. For the internet-deprived who do have access to a landline however, a fax machine might be the most convenient way they could send and receive images and documents.

7.) Some Industries are Still Reliant on Them.

Lawyers, realtors, insurance companies, and everyone else who needs to receive authentic, non-handsigned documents rely on fax machines.

TechCrunch author and NPD Group analyst Ross Rubin explains “…their endurance is in part a testament to the failure of digital signatures that would allow us to e-mail certified copies of contracts and similar documents…As with electronic voting machines, there remains a level of societal skepticism over the viability of digitally certified documents.”

6.) Legal Issues 

The very nature of fax technology – specifically the T.30 fax protocol and others in the series – is difficult to intercept, and it’s impossible for most practical purposes to block or change the document between the sender and recipient. It’s for this reason faxed signatures are legally binding in many jurisdictions.  While the NSA could likely intercept faxes, you could avoid having to go through all those 3rd party servers emails typically go through.

Government agencies also use them extensively. For instance, under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) regulations, analog faxes are an acceptable way to communicate. E-mails are acceptable, but a series of security standards and levels of encryption need to be met. For many, using a fax is much simpler, than taking the extra effort required for a HIPAA-compliant email.

5) Security

While you might get the occasional spam fax, there’s hardly going on with fax machines on the malware front, given the inherent nature of fax protocols. They’re about as likely to get malware as your landline. For anyone concerned about phishing and privacy, this can be a huge plus.

Arguably, some internet-based alternatives offer the same level of security, but depending on whom you talk to, either legislation needs to catch up, or this type of tech does not offer sufficient enough security. Either way the fact remains that electronic signatures are not universally accepted as legally binding. Yet.

Take note that if your machine is in a location where prying eyes can look at the documents, security is pretty much a moot point.

4.) They’ve Been Grandfathered In

For businesses that bought fax machines and other legacy systems from a time that there were no alternatives, there might not be much incentive in upgrading if their existing machines work fine. And since there are enough of them around and some feel they might need them at some point, they continue to exist- as perhaps the world’s most persistent legacy system.

3.) They’re Simple to Use

While online alternatives to fax can be fussy, requiring multiple steps before you are able to send anything, sending a fax couldn’t be easier. Just feed the machine, enter a fax number, and you’re done. It’s pretty much similar to the reason why some people still wear mechanical wristwatches when everyone’s got a phone with a far more accurate clock.

2.) They’re Reliable

This goes back to #3 and #7. While even broadband internet can be glitchy, we half expect our landlines to survive anything short of a nuclear war. This is also a huge reason why businesses might still have landlines.

1.) They’re Entrenched the System

They became so widespread, and entrenched and still do their jobs well enough that few people who have them care about replacing them. It’s arguable that points 10 through 2 are just gravy. How entrenched are fax machines? A recent survey by GFI showed 1,008  US respondents, 85% said they use faxing, as do 74% of the 1,005 UK workers polled.

  • 72% of offices use paper based fax machines
  • 54% of respondents say faxing is a central part of their workflow
  • 27% use electronic faxing – including 12% who use online faxing. Leaving 25% who still use the analog machines.

Granted, it’s not mentioned for sure if the workers who used fax machines used them frequently. Clearly the frequency of use would change depending on the industry. Still, those  aren’t small numbers for a technology you’d expect to be dead by now.

Should I Get a Fax-Machine?

Receiving a FAX

If you already have one, then you probably shouldn’t get rid of it. But if you were starting your home office from scratch, there really isn’t much of a practical need for it anymore, except in some very narrow instances.

There’s absolutely no lack of alternatives to analog faxing and the only reason you should consider one is if you need to receive any significant volume of legally binding documents.

How long until faxes to disappear for good? Given their continued capacity to surprise us, we doubt anyone can say for sure.

photo credits: shalf via photopin cc; kalleboo via photopin cc


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.