Moving to All IP? Beware of how it will paralyze vital communications

In the rush to ‘All IP’ services, one vital communication method is in danger of being overlooked

It’s been talked about for a while by many providers, but the end is now most definitely in sight for many provider’s PSTN and ISDN connections. Large public carriers across the globe are beginning to ask permission of government to switch off their analog lines. Voice over IP (VoIP) now offers the same, and often better, quality of voice calls and telephony providers are keen to remove the cost and complexity of managing two communications networks. In the rush to ‘All IP’ services, one vital communication method is in danger of being overlooked: your fax communications.

There’s a quiet revolution happening in Europe. Some are calling it ‘All IP’ – Deutsche Telecom and Orange especially – and it represents the final curtain for PSTN and ISDN connections. POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) is soon to become ROTS (Retired Old Telephone System) – and it’s going to happen sooner than you think. Telecommunication service providers want to deliver all their services over a single IP infrastructure and VoIP is now mature enough that it stacks up well against traditional voice calls.

Deutsche Telecom set itself the incredibly aggressive target of having moved all its PSTN customers to Voice over IP by the end of 2018 – although that date seems likely to slip. The UK incumbent provider, BT, has announced PSTN and ISDN switch off by 2025, which sounds far away but will be here before you know it. Are you prepared?

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.

So, what’s all this got to do with fax?

The short answer is that All IP poses a major issue for anyone who has fax at the heart of their key business processes.

Swisscom, the large European telecommunication provider, let the cat out of that particular bag with its advice on Fax over IP (FoIP) to business customers. It states that neither they nor any provider can guarantee the success of fax transmission using VoIP. The provider gave this rather ominous conclusion, “Swisscom therefore clearly recommends that customers no longer rely on data transmission via fax protocol for company processes, where possible, and switch to alternative solutions. This applies to business-critical processes in particular.”

What?!?

It’s worth taking a moment just to let the full implications of that statement sink in. That sounds a lot like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Let’s think for a moment why, how, and where you use fax within your business today. For most organizations, fax remains a vital way to securely exchange documents with suppliers and partners. It’s a significant input and output method for business process and workflows that run your business. I’ve had customers tell me, “When fax stops, our business stops.” Does that sound like a technology that you should flippantly dismiss at the risk of your business grinding to a halt?

In fact, a recent IDC report entitled Fax Market Pulse: Trends, Growth and Opportunities found that fax usage in many companies was growing year-on-year – some by an average of nearly 30%! IDC found that fax was playing a pivotal role in the digital transformation strategies of many companies, saying, “Digital fax technology will play a role in transforming an organization’s document-centric business workflows by integrating with the document-intensive workflow automation ecosystem,
enabling new connections, streamlining secure communications between stakeholders, and contributing to overall digital transformation initiatives.”

Well, it will as long as your telecommunications carrier is willing to provide a service that will guarantee effective fax traffic.

But, Swisscom is right about one thing: VoIP networks that don’t support fax protocols cause major issues when the network doesn’t have to technology to support fax protocols. The results are jitter, latency, packet loss and complete fax failures. If you’d like to understand the technical issues, I set them out in a previous blog that you can read here. Suffice to say that the way fax communications are structured does not work perfectly with the communications protocols commonly used with VoIP.

When I say that it doesn’t work perfectly, what I mean is that it can result in a failure rate of over 25%. How would that affect your business when you rely on the fax exchange of purchase orders and invoices, advanced shipping notices, trade confirmations, claims forms or sensitive patient information? It would be crippling and completely unacceptable, and no business could hope to operate efficiently under those circumstances.

The fog is clearing, you need the cloud

The growing number of All IP initiatives means that when you make the move to VoIP, you need to be aware of its impact on fax. If your VoIP provider cannot support the T.38 faxing protocol, find an alternative solution to help you maintain fast and secure fax connectivity with customers and suppliers across the globe.

The answer is to move to a cloud fax model. Cloud fax services – such as OpenText Cloud Fax – use a network that is independent of the underlying voice technology used by an organization. Users can now send and receive faxes within their email client from their desktop, use a mobile device to exchange faxes, and integrate with back-end systems to exchange faxes to support business processes.

This not only eliminates the challenges of sending fax over VoIP networks, it improves the efficiency, performance and security of your fax operations if you select an enterprise cloud fax solution. Enterprise fax solutions go far beyond the simple pay-and-go model of low-end cloud fax services to deliver the enterprise-grade services that you need. Security, data integrity, information governance and integration with other enterprise applications – such as ERP – are built into these solutions.

With more and more organizations looking to exploit the benefits of VoIP – even before All IP initiatives – now is the perfect time to explore your options so that fax continues to be the effective communications platform at the heart of your document-centric business processes that it has always been.

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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