What is an online fax?

An online fax system acts as a virtual fax machine that can be accessed through the internet.

Different terms

An online fax is often called an “internet fax,” “email fax,” “web fax,” “VoIP fax,” “e fax”, “PC fax”, “virtual fax”, or “cloud fax”.

While each of these terms is relatively interchangeable, they each have their specific meanings that make them slightly different.

How to get an online fax number

Most online fax services can be set up by signing up with a chosen provider. Either a toll-free, vanity, or local phone number can be selected.

An existing phone number can be ported over to the service once it is established.

Larger enterprise level systems, can use an online service or a self-hosted system.

How an online fax service works

Online fax services work through the service provider hosting the fax lines as well as the software used to send and receive faxes.

Instead of having a piece of paper printed out when you receive a fax (like a traditional fax machine), you access the online fax provider’s servers to manage your faxes.

Configurations include options such as faxes automatically arrive over email or automatically print to a printer. These features vary by service.

Common features

Common features with an online fax service (but not necessarily available on all services) are:

  • Sending and receiving faxes through email
  • Sending and receiving faxes through a web interface
  • Adding a signature stamp to a fax
  • Editing cover pages for faxes
  • Sending faxes to multiple people
  • Integration with software such as Microsoft Office
  • Archive of sent and received faxes
  • Smartphone (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry) applications
  • No phone line needed
  • Integration with printer and scanner
  • Toll-free, vanity, and local phone numbers

Benefits over a traditional fax machine

There are some benefits that an online fax service provides over a traditional fax machine.

Some of these benefits include:

  • The ability to send and receive faxes from anywhere there is a phone connection
  • Lower costs by not having to pay for an extra phone line.
  • Lower international transmission costs by using VoIP technology instead of traditional telephone lines.
  • Less paper use by not printing out faxes that don’t need to be.
  • No paper used (unless you choose to print the fax).
  • No ink or toner used (unless you choose to print the fax).
  • No hardware to purchase (assuming you already have a computer and internet connection).

Challenges compared with a traditional fax machine

Some users feel that an online fax service poses some challenges when compared with a traditional fax machine.

Some of those challenges include:

  • Learning to use new technology – while online fax systems have been around for more than a decade, for some users (especially ones that may be anxious about computers and the internet).
  • Feeling of “less control” – with an online fax service, the fax provider does the “work” of managing the infrastructure (phone lines, server, software, etc.). For some users, having their fax machine and phone line helps them feel more in control of their documents.
  • Some users prefer to use paper as much as possible.
  • In some situations (such as very low volume home use), a fax machine can be a more cost-effective option.