The most common oversight in the IP revolution is the F word

Don't forget about FAX!

Whether it is a company initiative or a government mandate, more and more organizations are leveraging IP for their communication services. The benefits are clear: providing a future-proof, IP infrastructure for centralized communications to save money and increase flexibility.

Within Europe and Australia, governments have adopted an “All IP Initiative” which mandates the elimination of analog, BRI and PRI telephone lines and the move to IP.

While the move to Voice over IP (VoIP) is in full swing, organizations often overlook an important part of the IP movement: Fax over IP (FoIP), faxing in an IP environment.

VoIP is a technology that is meant to optimize voice traffic over an IP network, whereas FoIP is meant to optimize fax traffic. While the two exist on the same IP network, they use very different protocols to transmit voice versus fax packets of information along the network.

VoIP vs. FoIP technology

VoIP is the standard for voice communications in most organizations today. But in the rapid transition to VoIP fax is often overlooked or ignored as many organizations presume fax will work just as effectively on IP Networks. But getting fax to work reliably has become one of the biggest challenges facing organizations as they switch from the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to VoIP.

VoIP networks use G.711 codec to transmit voice packets along a network. This popular VoIP protocol provides superior voice call quality over an IP network.  G.711 converts an audio signal (your voice) into compressed digital form for transmission (VoIP) and then back into an uncompressed audio signal for replay, done using Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP) pass-through technology.

While G.711 may be an excellent protocol for voice packets, it is not a viable or recommended protocol for fax packets.  Fax packets are very sensitive to network conditions. Because fax pass-through call data cannot be altered during its transport, these calls are more susceptible to IP problems than voice calls. As a result, fax packets are much more susceptible to packet loss, jitter, and delays. Any of these network conditions can cause illegible faxes, loss of fax packet content, and fax transmission failure.

Voice calls may experience some degradation from certain network impairments, and the parties involved on the call might not even realize the degradation is occurring. In addition, there are mechanisms in place for most compressed audio codecs such as predictive algorithms and packet loss concealment techniques that can assist in masking many network problems.

These techniques, however, do not protect fax pass-through transmissions. Instead, the recommended protocol for FoIP is T.38 IP Fax Relay. T.38 has its own built in error correction schemes to mitigate packet loss, jitter and delays on an IP network.

T.38 is the main driver of today’s advancements in IP faxing and is the protocol of choice for organizations seeking to use their IP infrastructure to reap the benefits of real-time fax communications. T.38 protocol support is built into almost every leading manufacturer of IP routers, IP-PBXs or media gateways. It can be supported via a class of intelligent fax boards that can provide either T.30 PSTN or T.38 FoIP output or via the fax server software directly without using intelligent fax boards.

Supporting fax in an IP environment

Successful FoIP deployments are possible. One of the biggest challenges for organizations faxing in an IP environment occurs when their VoIP or SIP Trunk provider does not offer the T.38 protocol on their network.  A limited number of providers offer T.38, so it is imperative that organizations perform due diligence with their VoIP provider to determine if the T.38 protocol is offered.

Some important things to remember about implementing FoIP in your organization:

  • Understand the FoIP protocols and how they are different
  • Understand the different deployment options for FoIP
  • Be prepared!
    • have a detailed implementation plan
    • test, test, test
    • plan to troubleshoot points of failure, if any

An alternative to faxing on a VoIP network: the cloud

A highly successful alternative to faxing on a VoIP network is faxing via the cloud. Cloud faxing eliminates all connections to onsite telephony and lift it out of the network and into the cloud. No need to worry about G.711 vs. T.38 or any other FoIP protocol. Bypassing the telephony network takes an enormous workload off of implementation, deployment, ongoing maintenance and troubleshooting.

Hybrid faxing combines an on-premises fax server with cloud-based transmissions. In hybrid fax deployments, the fax server software resides at your site (on-premises) and fax transmission is provided as a service (in the cloud).

The key strength of hybrid solutions is that the service portion typically includes eliminating the connection of the fax server to the telephone network–often the most complex and confusing part of deploying fax solutions–removing this responsibility from your IT and telecommunications staff.

Other strengths include: all the benefits of an on-premises fax server (ownership, data storage and location, integration capabilities, etc) with the ability to leverage the strength of cloud faxing (flexibility, scalability, no busy signals, built-in disaster recovery and automatic failover for fax transmissions).

Cloud fax is a pure service model, with no fax software, hardware or telephony required to reside at your site. Faxes are sent and received via email. Strengths of cloud fax deployments include: fastest and easiest deployment, limited resources required, Web Services APIs typically available for integrations, unlimited and instantly scalable capacity, no busy signals, built-in redundancy and automatic failover for faxing.

How will the IP revolution affect your fax environment?

The important thing to remember is not to forget about faxing when the switch is made to an IP environment.  Successful FoIP deployments are possible, but why not let the cloud do the heavy lifting – and all of the faxing – for you?

Amy Perry

Amy Perry is the Director of Product Marketing for fax and secure messaging solutions with OpenText Business Network. Her 20 year career has crossed between Product Management and Product Marketing in the CPG and software industries.

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