I can't stand fax. I can't. It's a technology that I just wish would go away. It kills me that fax is one of the main reasons I didn't drop my landline
in my move. Yet the reality is that fax usage is everywhere... and probably will be for quite some time if for no other reason than the complete and utter simplicity
of fax usage. Print out your message, or write
your message (you know... that thing we all used to do... take a writing tool (pen, pencil, crayon, charcoal, etc.), grasp it in your hand and make marks on some writing surface...), just stick that message in your fax machine, punch in the number and press Send. It's hard to get much simpler than that.
But the lack of fax has been a barrier to many a premise-based IP-PBX deployment. Everything's going great... people are looking at all the great things they can do with VoIP and Unified Communications, etc. They are figuring out distributed architectures that are all IP-based. It's all looking really cool technically and will save money, too. All is going well and then someone asks "What about the fax machines?" And so people wind up with kludge solutions using analog breakouts or local lines or attempting Fax-over-IP or keeping some TDM around or... or... or...
We as an "IP communications industry" have to figure out a way to address the "fax issue" if we really do want to build our big interconnect and move beyond the PSTN into a richer communication experience. (And the SIP Forum, by the way, has formed a FoIP Task Group to look at this issue.)
In this context, I was intrigued to see that this week the folks at Digium announced a new service called (Duh!) "Fax For Asterisk". Here's the standard blurb:
Digium's Fax For Asterisk is a commercial facsimile (Fax) termination and origination solution designed to enhance the capabilities of Open Source and commercial Asterisk as well as Switchvox. Fax For Asterisk bundles a suite of user-friendly Asterisk applications and a licensed version of the industry's leading fax modem software from Commetrex. Fax For Asterisk provides low speed (14400bps) PSTN faxing via DAHDI-compatible telephony boards as well as VoIP faxing to T.38-compatible SIP endpoints and service providers. Licensed on a per-channel basis, Digium's Fax For Asterisk provides a complete, cost-effective, commercial fax solution for Asterisk users.
Translation: You can send and receive faxes through Asterisk using either TDM or Fax-over-IP (T.38), licensed on a per-channel basis.
In a rather smart move on Digium's part, they've also rolled out "Free Fax For Asterisk" where you can get a free 1-channel license for Fax For Asterisk for an Asterisk installation. This will let people at least play with FFA and may be all that some small offices need.
I'm naturally intrigued by the FoIP side of the offering, which the FAQ dives into in a bit more detail. Unfortunately I've been doing some work on my home network and my Asterisk installation isn't operational right now, but I expect I'll be bringing that back online soon and expect I'll then be experimenting with this a bit more as well. So if I could get termination with a SIP service provider who offered T.38.... could I at least solve the receiving side of the picture? (And yes, I can also solve that through eFax and a zillion other providers.) The sending side still requires some hardware changes on my end to scan it in...
Now if we can just make it ultimately as simple as sticking the papers to send in the document feeder and pressing Send...
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asterisk, digium, fax, voip, foip, sip