The ultimate guide to online fax – 2017 edition

Online fax has quickly become a modern alternative to using a traditional fax machine.

These systems bring a fax into the 21st century. Popular features are email faxing (even from Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo! Mail); integration with popular programs such as Outlook, Word, and Dropbox; as well as a whole host of features such as signature stamps, automatic resending, HIPPA support, and more.

Fans of online faxing systems point to their convenience as well as the benefits of not having to maintain traditional analog landline telephones, separate fax machines, and costs with long distance and international call costs.

On this page

Signing up and setting up

How to get an online fax number

An online fax service provider will provide a fax number for their service, as well as all the software to go with it. The provider will also manage the sending and receiving of the faxes, allowing you to access them from your computer or smartphone.

Local numbers

Most (but not all) providers will have local fax numbers available.

Local fax number availability is good in high population areas. Areas of lower population density may have less selection when it comes to the fax number.

Regions with a newer area code overlapping a region may see limited availability of the “older” (and often more popular) area code.

Toll-free & vanity numbers

Toll-free numbers (fax numbers that are no charge for the calling party) are widely available. They are a helpful feature for business as customers can call from across the country without incurring costs.

Toll-free users may want to consider a secondary local line. When dialed from outside the country, a toll-free number will not be toll-free and may not be available to the international caller. Local phone numbers do not have this problem.

Vanity fax numbers are fax numbers can represent as a word on the fax keypad. Some providers allow for vanity phone numbers. They may be available at an extra charge.

Porting an existing number in

Most providers will allow an existing fax number to be ported in. Check with each provider for specific instructions on how to port a number into their service.

In the case of an existing fax number, we suggest trying the service first to ensure that it meets the business’s goals.

On thing to be aware of is that when a fax number ports there are times when it is unavailable for up to a day. Porting delays are a problem with all phone numbers, not just with online fax services.

Common features

Online fax services have many of the same features as regular fax machines. The extra features bring faxing into an today’s age with features that are more compatible with today’s technology.

Sending a fax with email

Email integration is a core feature of online fax services.

Faxes send through email by sending an email to the fax provider.

The phone number is the username of email (the part before the @ symbol), and the domain is the fax provider’s domain (the part after the @ symbol).

The subject line and body of the email become information attached to the cover page.

Any attachment to the email becomes the body of the fax.

Faxing with email is helpful to offices that send to mix fax and email recipients as both types of addresses can be combined into one message.

Receiving a fax to an email address

Received faxes can forward to an email address.

When a fax is received, an email arrives in the designated email inbox from the fax provider.

The subject line and body of the email contains information about the transmission, and the fax message attaches as a PDF file.

Smartphone apps

Most fax services provide smartphone apps.

While apps sound like they’d be a good idea in the fax world, we’ve found that most smartphone users prefer to use their existing email interface to send and receive faxes.

Web app

A web app interface allows for access from the browser.

Most online fax service web portals are similar to a web email interface such as Gmail or Hotmail. There is an inbox with received faxes and a sent folder with sent ones.

Like a webmail interface, fax drafts can be prepared and edited before sending them.

Desktop software

Most (but not all) fax providers provide desktop software to send and receive faxes.

The desktop software functions very much like the web interface – there are an inbox and a sent box and an area for drafting emails.

With some fax providers, desktop software is required to update and adjust settings (such as cover page customization) that are not available through the web interface.

Cover sheet customization

The fax services automatically places most of the cover page information into the document. Advanced settings through the fax provider put data such as the sender’s name, address, and phone number in the correct places.

Most include custom cover page logos and full cover sheet editing capabilities.

Integration with a larger suite of phone services

Most service providers have the option to bundle their fax services with a larger suite of phone lines and virtual office products. Others have a partner organization through a sibling company that offers a similar product.

For some users, it helps to mix both voice and fax features into one package.

“Bridge” to an existing fax / printer

Bridging is a rare option only offered by a few providers. Some service providers have an option to use a bridge that directly connect a regular fax machine to the online fax service. Faxes that are dialed out travel through the fax service and faxes that arrive print on the fax.

The biggest difference between a bridge and a regular phone line is that there is no phone line infrastructure to maintain (and pay for). Also, as all faxes travel through the online fax service, there is reduced concern about re-dialing for busy signals, long distance and international charge, and other problems traditionally associated with traditional faxing.

File attachment support

Fax services vary in the file types they support.

Some support a wide variety, and others support a smaller group.

We urge people who are purchasing a fax service to check to make sure file types will be compatible.

All providers we’ve looked through offered at least the basics of PDF, Word, and Excel documents.

Auto re-send

When you get a busy signal sending a fax, do you just wait there to try the transmission again?

With a fax service, the system automatically re-tries the call for you. There is little need to sit and wait while the call is redialing.

When the other fax machine successfully receives the fax, then a confirmation message is emailed.

Scheduled delivery

Scheduled delivery allows for preparing a fax and pressing “send later” to have the fax sent at the designated time.

It’s a helpful feature if you’re composing a message late at night and don’t want to make someone’s fax line ring until the morning.

Lower long distance and international rate savings

As online fax services operate over the internet, there are lower rates for dialing across the country or overseas.

Most online fax packages include dialing to anywhere in the country (as well as nearby countries) at the same rate as a local fax.

As well, international rates with an online fax provider are often far less than they are with the local phone company.

HIPPA compliancy

A small handful of fax providers claim that they are compliant with the HIPPA standard.

The health care industry (as well as others that need to reach a certain level of information privacy) often uses HIPPA.

International and local support

United States

Online fax is widely available across the lower 48 states, especially in urban areas.

At the time of writing, outside of the lower 48 states, Hawaiian fax numbers were available through all providers, and Alaska by half of them.

As for U.S. Territories (Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands), local fax numbers were not available from any of them.

Canada

Online fax availability in Canada is very good. The only providers we’ve found that do not include Canadian fax service are vendors that stay exclusive to the United States.

Canadian local fax numbers are available across all provinces, however none of the territories (Nunavut, Yukon, Northwest Territories).

Most Canadian fax systems are compatible across the continent and include calls to the United States as part of their standard packages.

United Kingdom

UK service availability is good, with fax numbers available for all countries (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland).

One note for users in the U.K.: check with international rates to calls on the European continent. Service providers who may be very competitive domestically or within North America may have less competitive rates for international calls.

Australia

Australia has fewer fax service providers than the countries mentioned above. However, providers are available.

Fax numbers are available for various parts of the country.

Other countries

Many countries are available worldwide including most of the more populous countries of Europe (Germany, France, Spain, Italy) and Asia (India, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia).

Notable exceptions would be Russia and China. These countries may have domestic providers that we do not follow, however the information in this guide can be used for an online fax service in any country.

Faxing with a computer

As online faxing involves an internet connection, a computer or smartphone will be needed.

Windows

We consider Windows compatibility with online fax services to be very good across all operating systems (XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 10).

All fax providers we’ve looked at have compatibility with the operating system.

With some fax providers, Windows is the only way to set up some advanced features.

Mac

We’ve found fax service compatibility with Mac to be varied.

With some providers, features such as cover pages need to be configured on a Windows computer first. Once configured, then faxing can be done without problems.

Some Mac users may want to look at a service from the perspective of how well it works from a web-only approach.

Linux

We’ve found fax service compatibility with Linux to be lacking.

Our best advice to Linux users is to look at any service provider from the perspective of web-only.

The advanced features of some providers may require set up on a Windows computer.

Faxing with a smartphone or tablet

We’ve found that most smartphone users use email instead of the apps for each fax service.

iOS (iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch) & Android

iOS and Android apps are one of the most popular types of apps. Availability is widespread among providers.

 

Blackberry & Windows Phone

Blackberry and Windows Phone apps are on the decline. Our best advice to Blackberry and Windows phone users is to evaluate a service provider based on only on their email client access.

Email integration

Hosted email services (such as Outlook, Office 365, Windows Live Mail, Mac Mail, and Thunderbird) have little direct integration with the exception of Outlook. Some online fax providers have direct integration with Outlook, however those that do not still have the ability to send a fax as an email.

Webmail services (such as Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo! Mail) have little “direct” integration. However, all are compatible with an online fax service through email fax capability.

Software Integration

Office Suites (Microsoft Office, Google Docs, Open Office)

Some providers offer direct integration with Microsoft Office (Outlook, Word, Excel, and more). All providers that we’ve looked at are compatible with Office file formats.

Google Docs and Open Office generally do not have direct integration (with the exception of Google Drive). However, the exportable document formats (in the case of Google Docs) and Open Office file formats (the open document formats) do have compatibility with some online fax providers.

File sharing services (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.)

A few providers such have compatibility with file sharing and storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox. This compatibility lets you send faxes directly from the shared folder.

Administration and management

Logs

A way to keep track of documents that have been sent and received, as well as the time that the transmissions occurred.

Unlike many traditional fax machines, online fax logs do not delete in a power outage.

They are a standard feature in the world of online fax, although providers have different policies on how long they store the information.

Contact integration

Some services allow for contact list integration with an existing address book, making it easier to keep track of fax numbers and contact information.

Block junk faxers

Tired of those full page ads for cruise vacations?

A block number feature can help keep nuisance faxes out of the office, and cut down on per page costs in the future.

Network infrastructure & connectivity

With an online fax, there is little network infrastructure to maintain.

For users familiar with VoIP (Voice over IP or phone over the internet) who may have had to adjust network traffic levels, fax services upload (or email) the file to be faxed to the online fax system, and it is then faxed. The amount of network traffic involved is similar to sending or emailing those files.

Common problems

Who’s watching the online fax machine?

One different with an online fax compared with a traditional fax machine is that there is the need for someone to “check” a folder.

With a traditional fax machine, shared with the rest of the office, there is almost a team atmosphere of checking for new faxes. If someone is expecting a fax, they go to the fax machine to see if it has come in. If it hasn’t, and someone else’s has, then they deliver it to their desk.

As online fax services act more like email, a received fax usually needs to be routed to someone who is checking the online fax who then prints it off or forwards it to the person for who it is intended.

Some people prefer the older method; others prefer the newer method.

External control of infrastructure

With a local fax machine, all infrastructure is under control of who owns the fax machine. There is a local phone line to keep in service, a fax machine to maintain, and toner and paper to load.

With an online fax, all infrastructure is under control of the service provider. They take care of the fax lines, software to updates, and storage and use of the fax service.

Some people find it comfortable to have that infrastructure under their control. From their perspective, if the fax machine runs out of toner, at least it is in their power to make sure more is kept in stock (or to go to the store for more).

Other people find it comfortable to have that infrastructure outside of their control. From their perspective, there is someone else that is thinking about all the fax “stuff” and it lets them focus on what is more relevant to the business.

There’s no “better way” just different ways.

Internet connectivity needed

With an online fax service, internet connectivity is required to access faxes that have been sent and received. With a traditional fax machine, only the phone line is needed to keep the fax machine operating.

If the internet is unavailable, then an online fax service keeps watching for faxes.  It is only the ability to access them that temporarily stops.