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Fax at long last may join the digital realm

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Fax is set to join other forms of communication on the Internet. At first the differences may not be obvious - just using another network with the promise of reduced costs. But then, as with phones, the opportunities of going digital will begin to flow.

Fax use continues to grow. Fax's underlying simplicity of scan-sendprint makes it an accessible technology.

Recently 3Com Corporation estimated that 1.5 billion people worldwide have access to fax. It also estimated that around half of the time businesses are connected to the landline phone network is spent on fax.Changes to technology such as creating gateways between the phone and Internet networks won't be greatly expensive.

In most cases faxes will remain as scanned documents, sent as bundles of bits but not digitised so that their content could be data-processed.

(Character-recognition and similar software may change this. ) The potential to store-and-forward fax documents, as happens with e-mails, will cut into the problem of sending faxes to busy machines. In the short term, web fax could fulfil some of the roles of e-mail - fax is currently massively more widespread as a service.

In general, fax, e-mail, voicemail, future videomail and other digital communications are complementary.

Despite web fax's lack of digitised content, joining the digital realm will have advantages, particularly in information management.

Desktop software will become available for orchestrating the sending, receiving, storing and authorising of access to faxes. For construction, faxes can become a more integrated part of project information. While currently a paper fax may be indexed electronically, a web fax can be stored electronically too, then called up from the project database and viewed on screen as needed. Unified, mobile mailboxes accepting 57 varieties of digital communication, including fax, beckon.

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