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The Evolution of Fax Technology

To understand how fax technology has changed with time, business owners and managers should investigate more than what can be done in the nearest supply closet. Fax machines were once at the forefront of communications technology, but many have forgotten that fact. These machines were in offices around the world, but most are now collecting dust.

Fax machines truly are not that old—at least, not compared to the first patents that were approved in the 1840s. While it’s a great idea to start online faxing, it is important to learn new things as a business owner. Read on to learn about the evolution of fax technology.

A Quick Fax Timeline

While the history of the fax machine goes back much further than most people would expect it to, the concept of faxing has remained relatively unchanged throughout the years.

Sending printed materials from one place to another through telephone or electrical wiring is what these machines were designed to do, but the inventor of the fax machine was far ahead of his time. While offices of the 1800s didn’t rely on instant connectivity the way they do now, that’s where this guide will start.

·      On May 27, 1843, Alexander Bain devised the first fax machine. The Scottish inventor applied for and received British Patent #9745 for an “electric printing telegraph”. This marked the first use of electronic signals to scan documents and reproduce them in other locations. As mentioned earlier, however, the business community didn’t see the need for such an instantaneous communication method, so it didn’t gain much popularity.

·      In 1880, the technology behind Bain’s invention was still a bit of a novelty, but it was inspiring other inventors. One British inventor, Shelford Bidwell, developed a “scanning phototelegraph”, which was the first machine to replicate pictures. Bain’s machine could only duplicate text.

·      1888 brought another refinement in faxing technology. Elisha Gray, an inventor in the United States, invented a “telautograph”, which was the first device to replicate signatures and other complex shapes.

·      With the implementation of the contributions discussed above, German inventor  Arthur Korn invented a “bildetelegraph” in 1908. This machine was used to send the first transcontinental fax between London and Paris, and it marked the breakthrough the technology needed to become more widely accepted. From here, fax technology began to outpace that of the telegraph.

·      On May 19, 1924, AT&T sent 15 photographs from Cleveland, Ohio to New York City via their proprietary transmission method. AT&T’s method was more reliable than that of RCA, which used radio frequencies.

·      In 1948, Western Union produced the first desktop fax machine. It began a period of technological adoption, simply because the machine was small enough to use in any of the company’s locations.

·      In early 1964, Xerox Corporation moved fax transmissions from the electrical wiring system over to telephone wires. Xerox patented LDX or long-distance xerography, which marked the end for other non-telephonic fax machines despite the technology’s high cost.

·      In 1966, Xerox refines its LDX technology to create the Magnafax Telecopier. This machine could send and receive high-resolution documents in less than six minutes, weighed under 50 pounds, and could be produced on a large scale. The Magnafax’s technology was left virtually untouched, with only minor refinements, through the 1980s. From there, it gave rise to the fax machines that revolutionized the modern business world.

·      In 1985, GammaLink founder Hank Magnuski developed the first computer fax interface. GammaFax, as it was called, was ahead of its time. However, it set the standard for the online fax technology used in offices today.

In today’s fast-paced and competitive business world, new employees are much less likely to know how to use a fax machine than they are to know how to check an email inbox. However, because fax technology is still used in some places without widespread internet access, it’s still essential. To balance these realities, companies around the world have come to rely on cloud fax technology.

Why Faxing Isn’t Going Away

The fax’s longevity is primarily due to its attributes, which aren’t easily duplicated. Many countries do not accept digital signatures, so faxes must be used to validate documents and financial contracts. America’s HIPAA law requires the protection of patients’ sensitive medical information, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act has modernized the financial system.

Many wonder why faxes still exist, and the answer is simple: these machines make confirmation easy. After sending a fax, users receive a confirmation page, which guarantees that the recipient has received the transmission. The confirmation page includes important information, such as the sender’s and receiver’s fax numbers, as well as the date and time the fax was sent. Faxing is the fast-paced equivalent of postal mail, which keeps receipt records. The same can’t be said for emails.

The FBI now accepts FOIA requests only by fax, as faxes are almost impossible to spoof. With the prevalence of malware and spam in email, most mass emails are immediately discarded without being read. According to industry statistics, the open rate of bulk email ranges from five to fifteen percent. Faxes are not run through spam filters, so they’re more likely to be read immediately and seen by the right people.

Fax technology has been around, in various forms, even before the telephone was invented. It’s far from obsolete; in fact, it’s evolving into a powerful, versatile communication tool.

The Future of Faxing

Many sectors, such as the legal and medical fields, are likely to continue using fax technology well into the future because of its safety and security, but its continued use goes beyond those industries. The fax machine has earned an undeniable and indelible place in the business world. Its sound principles persist despite the availability of alternate communication methods, and its history keeps it relevant.

While it is impossible to predict the future, it is safe to say that the fax machine's story isn't over yet. With cloud fax services and other technological advances, faxing will still be a viable option in the years to come.