Fax away with "faxaway"
by Sigi Rindler
If you have expected the usual Akihabara report, I'm really sorry to disappoint you this time... I have decided to give the Akihabara trips a rest until I can be assured that more than 2 lost souls will show up. Admittedly it wasn't the best month (Dec. 14) and it was cold, but you have missed one of the best bargain hunts ever. Auctions of various now goodies for a fraction of its value and other back-alley sales... which I'd rather not tell here.<g> Anyway, if I happen to visit Akihabara alone over the next couple of months, I'll still report the news.
Two months ago I have written an overall report on "callback services" in Japan with all its pros and cons. This time I'd like to continue where I had finished, but it involves faxing via the Internet.
First I'll have to explain the differences about "faxing" since many people misunderstand this term.
a) Traditional fax transmission
You can send a document (text and graphics) from your fax machine to another fax machine or to a computer which is equipped with a fax card. In the first example the other party receives the transmitted image on a sheet of paper, while in the second case the image gets stored on the computer's hard drive. This file can then be printed and represents the fax copy.
To transmit fax copies, official telephone carriers or callback services with clean phone lines can be used.
b) Fax transmissions by using the Internet
The same as above can be achieved by partly using the Internet. Here we have two options. One is by signing up with a provider that offers this service and transmit documents by the traditional way plus the Internet; the other option is sending e-mail to a fax machine.
1) How does the first option work?
You send a document from your fax machine to the designated provider in your vicinity (local call, otherwise it becomes too expensive).
This graphic file will then be sent to the nearest Internet access point of the country you are calling. From there to the final destination, normal phone lines will be used.
Fax service companies advertise that their prices are much lower than using KDD (during peak time)... but who falls for this nonsense anyway. I have quickly found out that faxing with certain callback services is still cheaper to most destinations!
The provider stores the data as a graphic file on his hard drive and converts these data into an Internet compatible format. Let's stop here since this option is not economical for a small-scale business, unless you fax 2,000 to 3,000 pages every month...
2) How does the second option work?
Finally there is the "e-mail to fax machine" option. Every other person I tell about this feature would say: "Why would I ever need this when I can send everything by e-mail for free?"... Well, these guys are just thinking from today to tomorrow!
I find it a big merit since I can cheaply communicate with people who do not use a computer but have a fax machine. For example, my folks in Austria or former colleagues in Germany have either no computer, or they are not yet connected to the Internet. The main reason is that their telephone monopolies are partly or entirely owned by these governments. The costs are outrageously high, depending whether you live in a big city or in a village far out in the boonies.
My mother has no computer but a fax machine, and my sister has a computer (no Internet connection) with a fax card. It's no big deal for a computerized nation like the USA. However, Europe is still in its cyber infancy years...
Today I'd like to talk about this particular "e-mail to fax machine" thing since it has been developed to a point where it can be described as nearly perfect!
When I used this service for the first time around 2 years ago, you could only send ASCII (plain English) text, foreign language characters would be replaced by gibberish, and graphics were simply ignored.
Although there are several providers which offer this particular service, I am going to talk about the very first and apparently the biggest and most advanced provider of its kind. The company is called "faxaway", a subsidiary of the giant callback provider "Kallback". There is another well-known provider which I haven't tried yet. If this provider offers different or even advanced improvements, I'll continue this sequel in the next issue of the newsletter...
How to sign up?
It's as easy as buying anything else with a credit card. All you have to do is filling in the form on their homepage, have them deduct 10 US$ from your credit card, and you are set for faxing wherever you want to.
For the very first time you may try faxing for free (see the offer in their homepage), and when you sign up, the company will give you a present worth US$5.00 which will be added to your pre-payment of US$10.00. There is no sign-up fee, nor any monthly minimum fee to pay. How does it sound? All necessary information can be had on their homepage (http://www.faxaway.com) like the "World Wide Rates" for more countries listed than you have ever heard of.
Some rates per minute in US$:
If you don't have to call Norfolk Island or Wallis & Futuna for US$3.16... or use one of the Inmarsat locations (US$9.54), it's a pretty good deal if you ask the stingy Mr. Akihabara!<g>
And how does "faxaway" work?
Type your e-mail in English, French, or Japanese, then type <firstname.lastname@example.org> in the To: field of your mailreader.
Example how I send e-mail to my own fax machine: <email@example.com>.
If you want to input the name of the receiver in order to check to whom the fax has been sent, you MUST use this pattern: <firstname.lastname@example.org>. You want to attach one of your favorite cartoons? No problem... convert the JPG file or whatever format is has into a TIFF file and attach it. (TIFF = Tagged Image File Format). The TIFF converters support Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and all other non-Roman languages. I wonder why the description that I have read doesn't mention Korean, Thai, or Urdu. I guess that the language doesn't really matter. If a language cannot be sent in its natural form, all you need is converting it into a TIFF file. The only drawback is that it takes longer to send (via the Internet to "faxaway", not the re-converted fax copy itself).
Fax rates tend to be extremely high in countries where native language text files require double-bit processing. For example, a TIFF file can now be sent from Japan to the United States via "faxaway" for as little as US$0.11 per page. I almost forgot, with "faxaway" you can directly transmit MS Word files with all its formatting commands maintained...
Once your data arrive in Seattle (USA headquarters of "faxaway") they are relayed via the Internet to the nearest access point of the fax receiver. From there, local phone lines are used to call the destination fax machine.
If you dial the wrong number or the fax is busy, the computer will attempt several calls before giving up. If no connection can be established, an automated message will be sent to you via e-mail informing you that the fax could not be transmitted. If the transmission was successful, the e-mail message says that the fax had been successfully transmitted. Furthermore, you'll see how much the call was, and it also shows you the remaining amount of US$ in your account. The minimum charge for a successful call is the 1 minute rate to the country you are calling, thereafter it counts in 6 second increments.
I have send a short test message written in Eudora plus a couple of lines in MS Word (with bold face and underlinings), plus a TIFF file (180K) to myself. About 20 minutes later I received 3 pages by fax. It's digital quality print, the letters are a little smaller than those on a typewriter, and accents on foreign letters come out beautifully. Each file comes on an extra page. When I checked my e-mail again, I was surprised that everything had been sent within one minute (35¢ to Japan). Sending these messages would have taken about 2 minutes with the conventional method.
So far I have tested the service by sending to fax machines with dedicated telephone lines and to computers with fax cards that have dedicated phone lines also. The company says that it won't work with fax machines that are connected to voice/fax switching devices. Maybe there are models that won't work, but it did the trick with my mother's fax/phone combination and switched automatically over.
Last important message!!!
Since the deadline for this report is already 5 minutes to 12, I don't have the time to rewrite it. Initially I understood that I needed to convert GIF or JPG files into the faxable TIFF format. This is not required at all since "faxaway" has them built-in already. I wanted to see how "faxaway" handles attached GIF and JPG files. About 10 minutes later I received really crisp pictures of these image files.
Not much to say anymore, except that I LOVE this service!_
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